I capped my Italy travels this year in the great city of Milano. And even though I’ve been coming here for a long time, I enjoyed some great new sights. Here’s a first-time-ever listing that will be part of the new and improved Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook for 2014.
Milan, while far from any major lake or river, has a sizable port. It’s called “The Big Canal.” Since 1170, a canal has connected Milan with the Mediterranean via the Ticino River (which flows into the Po River on its way to the Adriatic Sea). Five hundred years ago, Leonardo helped further develop the city’s canals and designed a modern lock system. Then, during the booming Industrial Age in the 19th century—and especially with the flurry of construction after Italian unification—the canals were busy shipping in the marble and stone needed to make Milan the great city it is today. In fact, a canal (filled in in the 1930s) once circled the walls of the city and allowed barges to dock with their stone right at the building site of the great cathedral. And in the 1950s, landlocked Milan was actually the seventh-biggest port in Italy, as its canals were instrumental in the rebuilding of the bombed-out city. Today, disused train tracks parallel the canal, old warehouse buildings recall the area’s working-class heritage, and former workers’ tenements—once squalid and undesirable—are much in demand and being renovated smartly. While recently rough and characteristic, today the area is trendy, traffic-free, and pricey—thriving with inviting bars and eateries.
The canal district, with its lively restaurants and bars lining the old industrial canal that once so busily served the city, is an understandably popular destination for dinner or evening fun. To get here, ride the Metro to Porta Genova, exit following signs to Via Casale, walk the length of Via Casale one block directly to the canal, climb halfway across the metal bridge, and survey the scene. To the left, on both sides of the canal, are plenty of great places to eat and drink. The best bars line the canal within a half-block of the bridge.
Eating at the Canal
Consider ending your day at the port of Milan. The Naviglio Grande has a bustling collection of bars and restaurants where you have your choice of memorable and affordable options that will come with a great people scene.
La Vineria is a fun place, serving wine from giant vats and cheap and fun plates of cheese and meats to a cool crowd with streetside seating (open daily, June-Sept dinner only from 15:30, Oct-May lunch and dinner except no lunch on Mon, Via Casale 4, tel. 02-8324-2440).
Pizzeria Tradizionale is a local favorite for pizza (open daily, at the far end of canal walk, Ripa di Porta Ticinese 7).
Ristorante Brellin is the top romantic splurge, with a dressy crowd and fine food. The menu is international while clinging to a bit of tradition (€14 pastas, €24 secondi, daily 12:30-15:30 & 19:00-24:00, behind the old laundry tubs at Vicolo dei Lavandai, tel. 02-5810-1351, www.brellin.it).
Osteria Cucina Fusetti is a charming little place serving good Sardinian cuisine. What’s that? Giuseppe speaks English, and enjoys explaining (€8 pastas, €15 secondi, closed Sun; near the curved bridge with the zigzag design at the Japanese restaurant, go away from canal to Via Fusetti 1; mobile. 340-861-2676).
Pizzeria Spaghetteria La Magolfa is a local fixture offering good, cheap €5 salads, pastas, and pizzas. You can sit inside, on a veranda, or at a table on the street. For €15, two people could split a hearty pizza and a good bottle of wine and get full…and a bit drunk (no cover, a long block off canal at end of Via M. Fusetti at Via Magolfa 15, tel. 02/832-1696).