Cycling Tourism in the Italian Region of Lombardy

As I mentioned in my Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography, my niche is travel photography with my bike. The following outlines some of cycling paths in and around Milan, Italy. To see more about my cycling adventures and get some tips on how to increase your photography revenue, buy my book!

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Cycling Adventures along some awesome canals

Despite being strategically located at the gateway to the Italian peninsula, Milan doesn’t have a direct river or sea connection, which was seen as fundamental for trade & commerce. To mitigate this problem, from the early Middle Ages, the economic and cultural history of Milan has been closely connected with the creation of the 162km Navigli canal network. These ancient artificial waterways are fed by the rivers Lambro, Adda and Ticino, the latter which flows to the mighty Po and eastwards to the Adriatic Sea. The environmental significance of the area is evident from the presence of three Natural Reserves (Parco Lombardo della Valle del Ticino; Parco Agricolo Sud Milano; Parco Adda Nord).

The five main canals in the Lombardy region of Italy. Source:
rural cycling path
The cycling paths are mainly flat and ideal for all ages and skill levels. No need for a carbon racing bike! However, it is highly recommended to carry mosquito repellent during the hot months
gravel path (resubmit)
A gravel path near Pavia, along the Via Francigena (Pilgrim’s path from Canterbury, UK to Rome)

These waterways facilitated the economic and cultural expansion of Milan with the arrival at low cost of various materials including stone, lime, grain and lumber. In fact, marble for the Duomo was transported via the Naviglio Grande from quarries located on the cliffs near Lake Maggiore.

From the 1960s, the canals were no longer commercially viable and some of the infrastructure went into disarray. However, recently there has been a surge of investment including the development of a sophisticated and Dutch-style cycling paths, which are both safe and sign-posted throughout. In addition, the length of the paths (up to 75km) make them possible for a day trip. For a small three euro fee you may take your bike on the train back to Milan.

Our journey begins in the bohemian Navigli district in the South-West of Milan (M2: Porta Genova) where the Naviglio Pavense and Naviglio Grande meet on a basin. This charming district comes alive at night and is an excellent venue to sit on a terrace and enjoy a Milanese style aperitivo.

Navigli District of Milan

Leisure boats in the Navigli District of Milan. Many of these houses used to belong to traders and be used as workers’ workshop
navigli flowers3

Naviglio Grande (75km)

The Naviglio Grande is the oldest of the canals (built between 1177 and 1257) and streams South-westwards towards the Ticino River which flows from Lake Maggiore.


One of the many beautiful villas along the Naviglio Grande 

Naviglio Grande, Italy

The foothills of the Alps are visible in the background. This part of the path flows through Ticino National Park, a protected reserve area 
Vigevano, Italy
Vigevano, close to the western bank of the Ticino, has a beautiful renaissance style piazza worth a visit!  
The Naviglio Grande leads to Lake Maggiore. One of the attractions is the Borromeo Islands and the town of Stresa
isola bella
Isola Bella in Stresa, one of the three Borromeo Islands

Naviglio Martesana (38km + 40km to Lecco)


My favourite canal is the Naviglio Martesana, which flows from North-east Milan linking with the River Adda at Trezzo Sul Adda. For the more adventurous, the path continues due North towards Lecco via a gravel path hugging the river (40km).

The first part of the canal is busy and urban as it passes the beautiful city of Gorgonzola, famous for its cheese.

On the right bank of the Naviglio Martesana, there is a massive water wheel (popularly called “rudun”) which is said to have been designed by Leonardo Da Vinci himself
Vaprio d’Adda
Trezzo D’Adda is a strategically important junction where the Visconti castle is located. More recently, a hydroelectric factory was built

One obligatory stop along the way is the UNESCO World Heritage Site village of Crespi d’Adda built between 1890 and 1910. This village is one of the most interesting and best preserved workers’ villages in Italy. Here you can see the main textile factory and workers’ houses.

Interesting, in 1482, Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to improve the design of this canal and there is a museum in his honour called the Ecomuseum “Adda di Leonardo. Closer to Lecco on at Imbersago you can take a ferry which was originally designed by the great man himself across the banks.

As you approach mountains and the final destination of Lecco, the scenery changes.

Fishermen in Lake Garlate, close to Lecco 
Final destination, overlooking Lake Lecco/Como

Naviglio Pavense (35km)


The tree-lined Naviglio Pavense was built in the 14th century and flows from Milan to the historic university town of Pavia. I find this cycling path a bit boring but great if you want to work on your fitness as the lanes are quiet, flat and straight!

Along the way is the Certosa di Pavia monastery, 8km north of Pavia. Pavia itself is beautiful and full of restaurants offering delicious local risotto dishes.

Above on the left is the Ponte Coperto. The previous bridge, dating from 1354 (itself a replacement for a Roman construction), was heavily damaged by Allied action in 1945. A debate on whether to fix or replace the bridge ended when the bridge partially collapsed in 1947, requiring new construction, which began in 1949. The new bridge is based on the previous one, which had seven arches to the current bridge’s five.

Pavia is the final destination, leading to the river Ticino. It’s a small yet vibrant university town.

Safe journeys!

Alexandre Rotenberg

Travel Photographer and Author of the Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography, click below to buy a copy which includes more images from his cycling travels!

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  1. Hi there! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could find a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having problems finding one? Thanks a lot!


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