Four Seasons Milan Offers Canal Excursion

If you have clients headed to Milan, this excursion is a must-try: The Four Seasons Hotel Milano is setting sail on the city’s historic canal system with customized cruises for sightseeing and a meal at a Relais & Châteaux hotspot. The daylong excursion is, quite simply, a lovely way to explore the countryside just outside the city.

Begun in the 12th century and refined ever since, the Navigli is a point of pride for city dwellers. There are five Navigli canals altogether – Grande, Pavese, Martesana, di Paderno and di Bereguardo – each with its own character and quirks. The Grande, for instance, was first dug in 1157, most likely as a ditch in defense against Frederick Barbarossa, who had been crowned Holy Roman Emperor two years earlier. Construction on Pavese was interrupted by technical problems still recalled as Conca Fallata – “Failed Lock.” Di Paderno was designed to bypass rapids on the Adda River and saw everybody’s favourite Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci, experimenting with mitered gates for pound locks that are still in use. The marble for the Duomo made its way on the Navigli from Lake Maggiore to Milan, where it was used for statues and other parts of the cathedral.

These days the city centre district around Navigli Grande and Pavese is among the chicest spots in Milan, with fashionable boutiques, scintillating nightlife, and a monthly Antique Market with 400 exhibitors.

The day begins early with a limousine ride west from the hotel to Gaggiano, where a Venetian Taxi from a local water tour operator will be waiting on the Naviglio Grande. Built in 2004, the motorboat has room for 15 passengers plus two crew, with a range of refreshments available according to guest preferences. (We say it's ideal for families or small parties.)

First stop: Casinetta di Lugagnano, once a prized destination for successful Milanese who built summer villas along the Grande. Guests will visit Villa Krentzlin (built in 1700); Villa Visconti Maineri (mid-1600s), set overlooking an Italian garden along the canal; Villa Trivulzio (1500s), a former home of Lombardy nobles that was renovated in the 18th century and restored in 2000; and Villa Birago Clari Monzini (1560 or so), probably the first villa in town, now divided into private apartments.

Passengers can take lunch at Antica Osteria del Ponte – Ancient Tavern of the Bridge – a family-owned Relais & Châteaux restaurant tucked in a 14th century inn with views of the canal and countryside beyond. And enjoy it they will: widely renowned for sophisticated Italian cuisine, Antica Osteria del Ponte combines impeccable service overseen by Renata Santin and the remarkable culinary talents of her self-taught husband, Ezio Santin, whose early focus on freshness and quality made him something of a pioneer of new gastronomy.

Chef Santin dresses dishes with herbs, vegetables and fruits from his garden, fashioned in the Lombardy tradition with French technique. Guests can try lobster salad with seasonal vegetables; lasagnette with cream of peas and foie gras; scaloppa of branzino with cream of finocchi; and flan of warm chocolate. There’s also a wine list ripe with popular Italian and French labels to wash it all down.

Passengers can then take a late afternoon limousine ride back to the Four Seasons Hotel Milano or re-board the boat for a cruise back to the city, where the chic Navigli district will be waiting canal-side. (We know which one we’d choose!)

While the excursion is available year-round; it is especially recommended from April through October.

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