Large, lively and industrious, the Province of Milan is the second most populous in Italy. Its territory extends over a stretch of the Po Valley and includes the River Ticino to the west, and the River Adda to the east. It is shaped by its waterways: river and canals that traverse it and sometimes border it, from the Lambro and Olana Rivers to the numerous canals, the Navigli Milanesi, ancient links between the area's major water runs. These runs link farmsteads and villages like that of Corneliano Bertario with the Castello Borromeo Castle; and ancient noble villas, such as the Inzago Villa near the Naviglio Martesana, to the Canale Villoresi, thought to be the longest man-made canal in Italy. The Villoresi marks the natural southern border of Brianza, an area in Lombardy noted for its mountains, lakes and plains.
The territory of Milan contains six regional natural parks: Parco Adda Nord, Parco Agricolo Sud Milano, Parco delle Groane, Parco Nord Milano, Parco della Valle del Lambro and the Parco Lombardo della Valle del Ticino. Half the Province of Milan is agricultural and flood plain, and most of it is protected by reserves. Each of these habitats features a variety of natural, country and architectural landscapes of great interest.
Reassessment of the artistic heritage of Milan and its province eventually led to a better understanding of the historical periods during which the city was planned and developed, and its most important monuments erected. Roman-era Milan, for instance (or Mediolanum, as it was known in Antiquity), is hidden within museums, inside churches, palaces, and in the underground excavations, often found squeezed between today's structures.
The city's major period of development was the Renaissance, which coincided with princely rule of Milan. During this period, the Sforzesco Castle and the Filarete Tower were built, with Parco Sempione just behind, in the heart of the city and in view of the Cathedral, a great symbol of Milan’s power at the time, and a fine example of the Gothic style. Next to Piazza Duomo is the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery, considered the "living room" of Milan for its elegance and for interior shops. One of the best-known buildings is the neo-classical Palazzo Reale, alongside the Cathedral, now hosting art exhibitions. Not far away is the Ambrosiana Library and Painting Gallery, with its rich collection of canvases by great artists such as Caravaggio, Titian, and Raphael. Then, the Brera Gallery, in the eponymous district, hosts another major collection of Italian paintings, including masterpieces the caliber of the Dead Christ by Andrea Mantenga. The Poldi Pezzoli Museum, rather, is regarded as one of the largest museums in Europe for number of works. Hidden away is Santa Maria delle Grazie, a church bearing the work of Bramante (in the church and old sacristy) and Leonardo da Vinci, whose beloved The Last Supper is housed in the refectory of the convent annexed to the church.
Marrying culture and sports, and certainly one of the city's most iconic structures, is Milan's San Siro Stadium, that hosts the first and only Museum inside a soccer stadium. The Museum narrates the history of Milan's two teams, Inter and Milan, by way of singular "relics" from the sport's history.
So much artistic wealth should not overshadow the nearby towns in the rest of the Province, boasting a few artistic treasures of their own: castles, villas, abbeys and palaces. One of the most important is Monza with its Villa Reale, its park and its Cathedral.
In Corbetta, the Casa Corbellino or Castelletto is a typical example of a building constructed over the remains of a castle, later restored and expanded. In Novate Milanese, the Casa de’ Busti and the Oratory of Saints Nazaro and Celso (Gesiò) are typical examples of a noble residence and an oratory dating back to the 16th Century. Of great interest in Abbiategrasso is the Church of Santa Maria Nuova, whose facade is adorned with the large porticoes designed by Bramante. Just a few miles away, on high ground dominating the Ticino Valley, stands the Abbey of Morimondo, an exemplar of fine Cistercian architecture from the 12th Century.
Milan’s Medieval abbeys are also unique draws: Chiaravalle and Morimondo of the Cistercian order, Viboldone and Mirasole of the Humiliati order. North of the regional capital, the elegant villas offer parks and nymphaeums of incomparable beauty; to the east of the city, on the River Adda, art meets nature and offers magnificent examples of industrial architecture amidst the natural surroundings: the hydroelectric power station of Taccani at Trezzo Sull’Adda is one of these.
Castles are another piece of the territorial assets. The Castello Borromeo d’Adda stands on the river banks of the Muzza at Cassano d’Adda, and dates from the 9th Century; restoration works here have even uncovered frescoes from the school of Giotto. In Legnano, the Castello di San Giorgio was built atop a pre-existing Augustinian convent in the 13th Century. In Cusago, the Visconti Castle is regarded as a major example of castle architecture in the region. And finally, in the zone south of Milan reside San Colombano al Lambro and the Castello Belgioioso, in addition to Casalpusterlengo, with its crenellated Tower of Pusterla.
Milan is most known for industry, finance and fashion, but a greener Milan of Arcadian beauty absolutely exists: think winding rivers, e.g. the Adda that forms rapids and canyons in the northern area of Trezzo; and the Ticino, traversing wood-abundant lands and small islands, and protected by the Natural Freshwater Park, perhaps the largest in Europe. The enitre zone is even crossed by channeled, often subterranean waters first created by monks from the Middle Ages, whose labor improved the Po River Valley. Later, Leonardo Da Vinci lived here during the Sforzas' dominance, inventing a system - the famous Navigli Milanesi - to regulate the canals' water levels and make them navigable.
Every year, the Council of Abbiategrasso hosts the Palio San Pietro, consisting of an historic parade through the town streets, with people dressed in typical Medieval costumes and a costumed, bareback horse race (the palio), in which six districts compete for the Cencio.
In addition to the Sagra del Carroccio, Legnano offers a spectacular event of folklore: the horse race, in which jockeys hired by the various town districts to ride bareback. The race is preceded by a historic procession made up of thousands of people in Medieval costume.
In Milan, between the Naviglio (Canal) Grande and the Naviglio Pavese is the antiques market of the Navigli. This is the most important market in Milan, with more than 400 stalls displaying furniture, porcelain, silver and all sorts of objets d’art and collectible items. Every year in Milan, December 7th brings the Feast Day of Sant’Ambrogio, its Patron Saint, to whom the oldest church in the city is dedicated. The Festival of the Immacolata takes place on December 8th, with the feast of Obeo Obei, with an outdoor market featuring vendors of everything from mulled wine to artisan goods.
In Trezzo sull’Adda, visit the Adda di Leonardo Eco-Museum, an open-air museum passing through ten towns, with 14 stations and 47 stops along the River Adda.
In Canegrate, Roccolo Park is the biggest park in Milan Province, incorporating wooded fields, hedges and canals; one would do well to cycle along the Villoresi Canal.
Or, for a dip in the invigorating local hot springs, the Terme di San Colombano al Lambro offers diverse categories of thermal waters. This large thermal park is also equipped with entertainment facilities and plans excursions to neighboring areas.
Wondering what else to do? Trace the Navigli on bicycle, and you will eventually find yourself in spectacular, pristine nature. Rest in one of the many agritourisms, known for their accommodations and excellent cuisine based on the produce from their land. Not only, but horseback riding and golf are some of the other activities available within the beautiful countryside.
Between the plain of Lodi and the Bassa Pavese, and approximately 25 km from Milan, stands the Colle of San Colombano, where vines have been cultivated since ancient times, and whence the famous D.O.C. red wine of San Colombano derives. Wine, of course, is a natural accompaniment for cheese, and those typical to the Province of Milan include Grana Padano, Gorgonzola, Stravecchio and Crescenza. Among the cured meats, Milano Salame, with the unique added feature of grains of rice, and the Luganega of Monza, a sausage meat used in Lombardy to add flavor to risotto and soups, stand out. The gastronomic culture unites the two contrasting traditions of Pavese and Lodi cuisines. Recipes include frog omelette, saffron risotto, pumpkin risotto, cabbage soup, Casoela, mixed boiled meats, and the famous Cotoletta alla Milanese (chicken cutlet or chicken-fried chicken).