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Between the Navigli District and the city centre, Milan’s new waterway is a perfect place for a walk, breakfast, an aperitif or picnic by the water.
Milan has a few picturesque neighbourhoods, and one of these is the Navigli District. In the past, rivers and canals flowed through the city, but today only two canals are left: the Naviglio Pavese and Naviglio Grande, which come together at the Darsena dock area. With its bridges, lights and the ‘old Milan’ style houses, the scenery resembles a romantic postcard. It’s also the nightlife hub, along the canals, in a large, crowded pedestrian area filled with clubs and restaurants. It’s been that way for decades, but the true innovation is the Darsena, the dockyard brought back to life for Expo 2015. Now, this artificial waterway is the Milanese version of what you see in Paris along the Seine – minus the pools and boats, but with bars and a nice promenade.
The Darsena is beautiful on sunny days and for the Milanese people, it is still an innovation; there are happy couples sat with their feet dangling over the water and places where you can eat fish & chips while sipping a Spritz. Here’s where to stop.
A Spritz on Milan’s ‘waterfront’? Try Vista Darsena. The real surprise though is that you can come for breakfast for some good croissants, pastries from their workshop and a frothy cappuccino. The kitchen serves sandwiches, salads, burgers, contemporary bruschetta and a few dishes throughout the day. Vista Darsena never closes, and you can enjoy free Wi-Fi in the most bucolic area of Milan.
The Edicola Radetzky is a small glass and iron booth overlooking the Darsena which hosts art exhibitions. Once a newsstand, today, this small 20th-century structure is a space dedicated to contemporary artistic research and a display of quick exhibitions. A must-see.
Social Market overlooks the Darsena. Here, you can eat British-style fish & chips, or try modern variants like the shrimp and eggplant with horseradish mayonnaise, or a version with free-range chicken marinated in lime, ground spices and yoghurt and herbs sauce. For drinks, you can enjoy the Ichnusa Sardinian beer from Cagliari or enjoy a classic Spritz. You can eat at their outdoor tables, or make the most of their take-away package and have a picnic by the boardwalk. Open from 8am to 2am.
The address for popular Italian street food: Macelleria Popolare (local butcher inside the Market Hall). Lampredotto, spleen, tripe or fried meat sandwiches: all edible parts of the animal are served here in traditional Italian recipes, for meat lovers who aren’t scared of calories. The meat is carefully selected by guru-butcher Giuseppe Zen, the soul of a ‘quinto quarto’ (meat and offal) restaurant on the outskirts of the city, Mangiari di Strada. You eat standing up, searching for a spot along the Darsena or for a stool at the counter – here, people come for substance and quality, not comfort. A few stalls away, the Panificio Italiano is the smallest bakery laboratory of Europe at just nine square metres. The bakery is small, but the bread loaves are big with various shapes and sourdough with ancient grains. Buy bread to have with dinner or a slice of pizza.
Cheese lovers arrived at the Market Hall on the Darsena bringing a selection of fine Italian products with them from small dairy farms – the project is linked to the Macelleria Popolare and Panificio Italiano. Here, you’ll only find raw milk cheese, with nearly seventy different types from around the world, ranging from stilton, robiola and fontina d’alpeggio to French blue-veined cheese. If you are a real foodie, this is paradise. If you are looking for souvenirs, get a vacuum-sealed piece of cheese, full of that real cheese smell.
Along the two canals, Pavese and Grande, the mixology choice is full of surprises. For a quick lunch stop at Bove’s, a Piedmontese butcher combining tartare and burgers with excellent cocktails, or at Mini Maoji, a small Chinese place offering cheap but delicious sandwiches. The best wine list can be found at Pont de Ferr – which also serves solid contemporary Italian cuisine – and at its twin-bistro, Rebelot. For drinks, try these three places: Mag, Rita and Pinch.