District Guide: Isola, Milano
seen by Viktor Schnur, photographer
The twists and turns in Victor’s career journey are quite unique: after having graduated in philosophy and cognitive science, he worked in a hospital researching in the field of neuroscience. Quickly, he noticed something important was missing from his life — namely, creativity. After just one year, he decided to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps in advertising. And here he is now, working as a freelance creative strategist and photographer. Milan’s neighborhood of Isola is his perfect physical counterpart, always stimulating his mind and senses. Even though there’s not much left of the area’s dark past, where criminals used to hide from authorities, it still remains true to its name which means island. It’s a diverse isle in the midst of the city, attracting free spirits from around the globe.
“Isola is a creative and international area, full of advertising agencies, graphic design studios, art galleries and vintage shops.“
Sometimes you’re lucky and discover those rare abandoned places in the midst of renovated buildings and new parks: Via Pepe is one of those untouched areas. Isola Pepe Verde has its origin in an occupied shared garden where locals could plant vegetables, take their children for a play, and organize events on topics from nature to neighborhood. Because there was such a big interest and the results were so amazing you can now go there every day, have a tea, play table tennis or even watch a movie in their open air cinema during warm summer nights.
1. Isola Pepe Verde | Via Guglielmo Pepe, 10, 20159 Milano
Do you have one crazy memory that will forever be associated with Isola? A few years ago I improvised a gig in the middle of the neighborhood, with some friends of mine who are members of an industrial band – just a guitar, a singer, two drumsticks and a couple of trash bins. Surprisingly, nobody raised a complaint because of the noise and suddenly we had a huge crowd listening to us, other people joined, and we played all evening long. Isola really embraces creativity. Always!
The long-established locals hang out at Wasabi. Even though you can never be sure when or if the bar will be open, you should still drop by — you wouldn’t want to miss out on the great drinks, rare selection of liquors, the cozy atmosphere and the live blues or jazz music. You can’t really tell if Wasabi’s owned by Melanie or her dog Pitou! It’s a legendary place where all sorts of musicians (famous or not) and locals enjoy the bar’s character which is highly influenced by the rich history of blues.
When you want to impress your date, it’s best to take them to Piazza Archinto. As Isola is getting gentrified really quickly, new bars and restaurants are opening everyday, new residents are filling the neighborhood which makes some people concerned that the original spirit of the area is getting lost. However, if there’s one thing that can keep the spirit alive it’s Piazza Archinto, commonly called “Piazzetta” — a small square with a few bars and plenty of diverse people.
For lunch and aperitivo the place to be definitely is La Cantinetta, one of the oldest traditional bars in the area, run by Luca and his mother. It’s always crowded and interesting people are mingling around. You will almost certainly meet one of the many neighborhood legends here!
After dinner you find the best — and affordable — drinks at Vinyl Pub. It’s a small pub with its walls plastered with the covers of the best albums in music history. Here the music is good, the discussions noisy, and things can escalate quickly…
3. La Cantinetta Piazzale | Carlo Archinto 7, 20159 Milano
A hidden gem is Micamera! It is heaven for photography lovers! With more than 5000 titles, it’s got one of the world’s largest selections of photography books ranging from rare copies from the 30s to really experimental and international zeitgeist editions. Every time I need to relax after work and get new creative stimulation I come here, have a nice chat with the owner, Flavio, who then gives me an expert tour through his carefully curated assortment while sharing his knowledge. They regularly organize workshops and exhibitions with leading international artists, but also have a good intuition when it comes to new talents.
5. Micamera | Via Medardo Rosso, 19, 20159 Milano, @micamera_milan
Why does your job perfectly match your city? I’ve never seen any other city that’s capable of being dynamic and quiet at the same time, that is super creative but also respectful towards traditions, that is provocative but never offensive. In Milan, if you work in advertising — but also in art, design, or fashion — you’ll always find people willing to innovate the scene and break with boundaries, but still succeed in creating beauty and elegance. The energy of the people here is so strong!
How do you spend a Saturday in your district? Every Saturday there’s a local market in Isola where I often meet up with friends to buy some fresh and local food. Then we spend the rest of the day cooking, eating and chatting all together… At least until it’s time for the aperitivo!
6. Local Market Isola | Via Garigliano (Piazzale Lagosta), 20159 Milano
Sometimes the hectic life in the city makes me want to take a break where I can enjoy silence and beauty. Milan’s architecture is characterized by high buildings and small streets; in Isola, however there are a few spots where you can experience something like a panorama view at the sky. When the sun sets, grab a few beers and visit one of these spots:
Built over the railway, Cavalcavia Bussa wows with several kilometers of open space, perfect to watch the sunset without irritating buildings in sight. If you want to see the sun set between the beautiful glass towers of Milan’s tallest building, Torre UniCredit, it’s best to go to the newly constructed park Biblioteca degli Ableri — simply breathtaking.
7. Cavalcavia Eugenio Bussa, 20124 Milano
8. Biblioteca degli Ableri | Via Gaetano de Castillia, 18 – 20, 20124 Milano