Thursday, 10 May 2012

Milan Centro Storico Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 7.4 km (4.6 miles), terrain flat

Milano running routes:
Milan Centro Storico old town loop
Milan Navigli canal route

For more running routes, see Route List

Here's a run that incorporates a lot of the best sights in Milano's old town (the Centro Storico), with as much green and nature as possible. You don't find much green in Milano, so it's best to plan your runs to hit each little park as best you can.

Milan isn't very runner-friendly: lots of traffic, few parks, and old stone paving everywhere. I went sprawling on my second run there this week after tripping over a tilted paving stone (okay, I was looking more for good camera shots than where my feet were going), and I ripped a thigh muscle. And much of the old town was bombed in World War II, so there are some neighborhoods with few scenic buildings.
The Duomo: our starting place
But what's left of the old stuff is well worth using as a backdrop for a few good runs. This one starts at the heart of town, on the piazza in front of the Duomo (cathedral). It then heads through the amazing nearby shopping gallery, past la Scala opera house, winds through the fashion district  and some scenic alleyways, then loops through the first big park, the Giardini Pubblici, before heading off to visit the castle and its great parkland, Parco Sempione, before running back along some pedestrian streets to the Duomo again.

So, what are we waiting for, let's go!

Standing there on the piazza in front of the Duomo, its newly restored marble facade shines like it was just built. It's hard to believe that parts of the building go back about 1500 years. The pink-and-grey marble is beautiful. Definitely plan time to go inside when you're dressed for it.

Loads of tourists constantly swarm the square, and they are just as constantly worked-over by the often-aggressive migrant trinket-salesmen.
In the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
So now turn to your left and head straight into the massive arched opening into the Vittorio Emanuele II shopping gallery (named after an earlier Italian king). The amazing classical archway looks like it was planned to accommodate King Kong. You can run straight through this most elegant of shopping experiences. Just dodge the groups of shoppers and sightseers who clog-up the halls.

When you come out, you'll be in a piazza with a monument to Leonardo di Vinci, with la Scala behind it.
Leonardo
Now just head diagonally to your right along Via Manzoni, towards the northeast. After a couple of blocks the street morphs into the absolute center of the fashion universe. All the Milanese fashion designers have their home stores here: Gucci, Versace, Prada, Dolce and Gabbana, Moschino, Valentino, etc. Armani even has their own hotel here, along the left side.

This area is called the Quadrilatero d'Oro (or Golden Rectangle) of fashion. Turn right on Via Monte Napoleone, which is quieter and even more exclusive, and rated as the world's sixth most expensive shopping street. But, hey, I left my wallet in my other running shorts, so I'd recommend turning left on one of the first little alleys, Via Santo Spirito.

It's a pleasant little street with a lot of green potted plants and even more exclusive shops. It soon ends at Via della Spiga, where you turn right and run this other pleasant lane, full of more fashion stuff (Hey, how many shoes does anybody need, anyhow?). The medieval city walls once loomed along the left side of the street.
Via Santo Spirito
Run till Spiga hits Via Sant Andrea, where you turn left. You are heading northeast again.

After the next intersection, you will be running along the city archives with its windowless red-brick wall on your left, along Via San Primo.

The street ends after the archives, where you turn left to hit the next cross-street, a tree-lined parkway called Via Marina, where you turn right and run right towards the Giardini Pubblici park.

There is actually another park behind a fence to your left, but you can't get in there. It's the private grounds of another art museum, Villa Reale.
Giardini Pubblici playground
Cross Via Palestro and you are in the park, which is only a few hundred meters along each side, but is still one of the biggest parks in Milan (you've got to enjoy it while you can).

Run straight through the huge playground area ahead of you, with carousels, go-carts, water rides, all kinds of stuff.

When I saw all these attractions for kids, I was suddenly reminded of my earlier camping vacations in Italy, and their inane, way too loud "animation" activites. Italians think along this logical path: "kids love action, so give them things to do that move, and with lots of sound effects. Loudness indicates excitement. If you can't think of anything else, play crazy, frenetic music. The louder the better."

That's what they do in Giardini Pubblici.

In just a minute, you reach the back end of the park, where you turn left and head towards the northern corner. It doesn't really matter what paths you take, just loop around counter-clockwise. There are some fake grottos and a pond.

The park is in better shape now than the last time I ran it, about 25 years ago. It remained in my mind a bit run-down, with trampled lawns and broken benches. But, even though it is still intensively used, it looks better kept nowadays.

When heading along the southwest side, you'll pass the duke's old palace, and then come out at the southwest corner of the park, at Piazza Cavour.
Porta Nuova
You'll see one of the city's old medieval gates straight ahead, the Porta Nuova. Just before the gate, turn right and head up Via Fatebenefratelli for one kilometer. This isn't a terribly scenic street, but is OK. There is one interesting old church, San Marco, along the way, but that's it.

But soon you are rewarded when the road passes the Piccolo Theatro on the right and then goes one more block to the castle. The Castello Sforzesco was extended by various ruling dynasties of dukes as a fortified palace, with a huge grounds behind it.
In the Castello courtyard
You are looking at the east side of the castle. You can run straight into the main courtyard by cutting across the lawn and crossing the draw-bridge through the walls.

(NOTE: if you get there when the courtyard is closed, just turn right and head into the park from the outside.)

Run to the center of the courtyard, then turn right to run out the back exit of the castle into the park.

Then do a loop counter-clockwise through Parco Sempione on the main path towards the right. This is a beautiful park, and is one of Milano's main hangouts in nice weather.
View of Parco Sempione
When you get to the back end of the park, you'll see the huge arch, the Arco Della Pace. Now continue back along the other side of the park back towards the castle. But instead of running back inside the castle again, just stay on the right side and run past it along the west, to get a view from the outside.
Lake in Parco Sempione
When you get to the front of the castle, with its tall tower, turn left to run towards the front entrance with its big fountain.

Now turn right and run past the Largo Cairoli circle and straight down Via Dante. For a couple of blocks, it's a pedestrian zone.

NOTE: to the left (east) is the elegant Brera neighborhood with its nice restaurants, bars and shops, a good place to head in the evening (see the destination tips).

At Cordusio square, you find traffic again. From here, keep left and run the last few blocks along Via Mercanti (Market Street).

Street artist along Via Dante
At the end, you'll see the medieval covered market, with the chamber of commerce across the street. Behind the market, there are some really old buildings worth looking at.

Then, 100 meters further, you're back at the Duomo square.
At the old market, almost back at the start