A visit to Milan cannot be complete without seeing the Navigli and what better way to admire them but by bike?The 5 Lombard Navigli - Bereguardo, Grande, Martesana, Paderno and Pavese - are the oldest artificial canals in Europe.

 

Built starting from the XII century, they enabled Milan to connect with Lake Maggiore (through the River Ticino), with Lake Como (through the River Adda) and with the city of Pavia and the River Po. They were important waterways for transport and for irrigation. The Candoglia marble used for the construction of the Milan Duomo was also transported along the Navigli from the quarries in the Val d'Ossola.

Over the centuries, a great cultural heritage sprung up along the banks of the canals: noble summer residences, mills, castles, abbeys, plus, beautiful rural and natural landscapes. But let's take a look at the 5 cycling routes along the waterways that bring sport, nature and art together.

 

THE NAVIGLIO GRANDE

BIKE RIDE FROM MILAN TO ABBIATEGRASSO (20 km)

 

The Naviglio Grande connects Milan’s Darsena dockland area to the Ticino.

Our bike itinerary, however, starts from the Porta Genova station because the lively Navigli area is now almost entirely pedestrian, packed with restaurants and bars serving at outdoor tables. What's more, due to the numerous events taking place in the area, cycling around can be difficult.

This route is not actually a cycle path but a service towpath, completely flat and paved, but without a parapet (be very careful if you are with children) and may be used only subject to strict rules, such as the 15 Km/h speed limit.

1. FROM PORTA GENOVA TO THE CHURCH OF SAN CRISTOFORO

Starting from Porta Genova station, with the Naviglio on the left, you can’t miss the Church of San Cristoforo. A complex consisting of two churches (13th and 14th centuries). On January 1st, 1489 Gian Galeazzo Sforza and Isabella of Aragon’s wedding cortège disembarked here. The future bride had from arrived Naples to wed Ludovico il Moro, the scion of the most opulent court in northern Italy. The evocative position of the church, close to the Naviglio and next to the pedestrian bridge, makes it a very popular subject for painters.

Two historic sports clubs - Canottieri Milano and Canottieri Olona - are both located along the towpath.

2. FROM CORSICO TO TREZZANO SUL NAVIGLIO

The next stop after Corsico is Trezzano sul Naviglio, an agricultural village that grew up around two convents - one Carthusian and the other Cistercian - still visible today, even if now transformed into private homes. The real cycle path begins from here, parallel to the ring road. Cyclists can stop to fill their water bottles at the Casa dell’acqua, a public drinking fountain equipped with taps with carbonated or natural chilled water.

3. FROM TREZZANO SUL NAVIGLIO TO GAGGIANO

Soon after Trezzano sul Naviglio, you’ll glimpse the first meadows of Milan’s Parco Agricolo Sud. The coloured houses in Gaggiano are reflected in the tranquil waters of the canal, gently welcoming us into an agricultural environment. Gaggiano is an authentic architectural gem, meticulously restored by the Municipality and its residents. Of particular note is the Villa Marino with its frescos, the first and most apparent testimony of the series of villas and country residences built by the nobility and the wealthy middle class along this stretch of canal. Generally attributed to Massimiliano Stampa, it was subsequently purchased as a summer residence by the Genoese financier Tommaso Marino (hence the name), who became much more famous in Milan for having commissioned the construction of Palazzo Marino, now the seat of the Municipality of Milan.

4. FROM GAGGIANO TO ABBIATEGRASSO

In Gaggiano, the cycle path continues on the other bank of the Naviglio up to Abbiategrasso, where the canal curves northwards, entering the Ticino valley and its magnificent natural park. Continuing west, we arrive at Castelletto, a once fortified location where the majestic seventeenth-century Palazzo dei Cittadini belonged to a noble Milanese family and the seventeenth-century Casa della Regia Camera, or del Custode, which was the seat of the Naviglio Grande’s Commissioner.

If you then continue for 1 km you’ll reach Abbiategrasso, our final destination, where you can admire the basilica of S. Maria Nuova, accessed via an irregular-shaped Renaissance quadriporticus and you will see, on the facade, the wide harmonious nave of the stone pronaos, left unfinished in 1497 by Donato Bramante.

Strolling through the pedestrianized historical centre you will come across a fifteenth-century house with a wooden balcony in via Borsani 2 and, in via Annoni, you can visit the former monastery of S. Chiara, a small neoclassical gem renovated as Pia Casa degli Incurabili rest home by Leopoldo Pollack, architect of the Villa Reale in Milan.