When you conjure up the quintessential Italian island in your mind, it probably looks a lot like Capri or Sardinia – not Pantelleria. Well, it’s time to change all that. In a world of increasing globalization and international sameness, Pantelleria may be the most Italian island of them all.
Situated about halfway between Sicily and Tunisia, Pantelleria is not high on the list of Grand Tour must-see hotspots, and I believe the only reason it hasn’t gone the way of its tonier cousin, Capri, is that the harbor, “rebuilt” after the war, is pretty unsightly. Oh yeah, and the beaches are rocky, and there’s little or no nightlife to speak of, and it’s damn hot in the summer.
It isn’t Prada chic, and some even call it the “anti-Capri” but it has attracted its fair share of celebrities – from Giorgio Armani to Madonna to Sting. It’s easy to see why. It has stunning views, a dramatic landscape, fantastic regional cuisine – and has still managed to avoid the crush of tour groups.
There’s an austere feeling to the island, and the mistral winds create an eerie wailing sound when they blow through the tiny villages and onto the open coast. Typical stone houses, called dammusi, dot the island, and many have been renovated into luxury villas that are rented out or house some of the island’s uber-wealthy. Dammusi are made of thick black volcanic stone, with whitewashed domed roofs, which work together to keep the houses cool in the blistering summers. Somehow, unlike other islands, Pantelleria has managed to maintain its architectural authenticity, and it’s sometimes hard to tell the new, chic hotels from a private home, until you get into the property. If you’re going in the summer, especially with kids, get a dammuso with a pool.
Yao Yao’s memories of the island are vague, as she was only four years old when we visited. But she remembers the physical beauty, the little ceramics shops, and, of course, the food. She loved the large rock beaches where you could lay a towel down and slowly edge into the sea. She loved La Vela, the little restaurant along the water where, after lunch, the owner would give her a Popsicle. That, she remembers.
She also remembers the little dammuso we rented, with its high domed ceilings and large shower with a ceiling that opened to the sky, a lovely outdoor terrace, and a shared swimming pool.
We all certainly remember the day Jim and I were sitting outside, sipping chinotto, a kind of bitter Italian soft drink, with a couple from Rome who rented the little dammuso next to ours. Yao Yao was napping, and when later checked on her we found a large, colorful crayon mural full of trees and mystical animals she had drawn on the stucco wall over her bed. After shrieking (me) and picking ourselves off the floor, our Italian friends assured us it was no big deal and proceeded to help us restore the walls back to their original glory. After four hours and scrubbing with some sort of secret cleaning element, white pristine walls reappeared and not even a shadow of the mural remained. This was the one and only time she has ever done something like this, and we enjoy reminding her of it whenever we can..
Photos above – Courtesy of Under the Almond Tree
We all remember the food, fresh, rustic, earthy and really, really good. It’s some of what you would expect, good pasta, grilled fish and so on but the local fare is really different. It is a mixture of Sicilian and North African cusine with dishes like couscous with fish and Pantescan Caponata With Toasted Almonds. The caperia, local cheeses,the local sweet wine, passito and baked goods are wonderful. But is it the spaghetti con Ricci di Mare that started a chain of events that hasn’t yet ceased. That is Yao Yao ordering a simple dish and then hankering after whatever it is I ordered! It still happens today!
Ile de Re
Isola di San Michele
Yao Yao – Very hot, and has really good food and lots of cool things to do.
Samantha – For people who love dramatic landscapes, stunning views, rustic Italian fare, traditional indigenous architecture, and a population that’s fiercely protective of its culture and environment.
Secrets only a local would know…
Yao Yao – There are really cool birds on the island and sea urchins in the water.
Samantha – When you arrive in Pantelerria, it may not be love at first sight, but it’s one that lasts forever
Bring from home…
Yao Yao – Definitely bring shoes you can walk in the water with and along steep paths. My mom and dad like to go to beaches without a lot of people, so we end up walking down some weird pathways. |
Samantha – If you go in summertime, it’s wicked hot so bring your sunscreen, a sun hat, and light weight dresses.
Yao Yao – Sea urchin pasta – but tell them to leave out the parsley!
Samantha – I must agree with my daughter, sea urchin pasta but with parsley, just the way the chef wants to serve it!
Yao Yao – Trying new kinds of food. I really liked the eggplant with little capers and tomatoes.
Samantha – Not staying at a traditional hotel. I loved our little abode and didn’t have to worry about disturbing anyone with a young child.
Yao Yao – Jumping in the ocean so I could swim with a little boy I met. (I didn’t know how to swim yet, but luckily I had water wings on!)
Samantha – Hiking down to the Scauri Scalo beach, where we picnicked and ate sea urchins right out of the water.
Wouldn’t do that again…
Yao Yao – Drawing all over the wall in the dammuso, but I don’t remember doing it! And I definitely wouldn’t recommend it at home!
Samantha – When we visited the island, there were no car seats to rent and our car didn’t have any seat belts, so Yao Yao sat in my lap and I was a human seatbelt. Kind of nerve-wracking!!
What to buy…
Yao Yao – I bought a little dish for my collection of glass animals. It is of the sun and was made by an artist called De Simone.
Samantha – Capers of course, De Simone ceramics, and a dammuso of our own!
Yao Yao – When my parents walked into our little house and saw my mural on the wall. I remember crying.
Samantha – It’s a tough choice between not being able to get reservations for a second night at La Nicchia, or the mural incident.
Yao Yao – Arco dell’Elefante, a huge bunch of rocks that water has carved into a shape of an elephant. It’s really pretty.
Samantha – Seeing Yao Yao running blissfully along the quay in Pantelleria Town, oblivious to the appreciative stares of tourists and locals alike.
Your choices are air or sea. There are flights from Rome, Venice, Bologna or Milan. Alitalia Airlines has flight information.
The car ferry runs from Trapani, Sicily or take the hydrofoil (the fast boat) and save yourself about five hours. For current schedules check with the Tourist office on Pantelleria. Think Sicily has good ferry information.
Where to stay…
There are numerous places you can rent a dammuso on Pantelleria
Monastero Dammusi that are heralded as very stylish. I have not seen them. www.monasteropantelleria.com
Santa Teresa Reasonably priced and really sweet. 39-0923/916-389; www.santateresa.it
Buckland & Abeti Excellent for Dammusi rentals on the island. 39-055/284-828
Club Levante Vicolo Faraglione 42, Tracino +39 0923 915246
Where to eat…
Donna Fugate Corso Umberto, 10, 91017 Sicily, Italy
La Nicchia Contrada Scauri Basso, Scauri; 39-0923/916-342
La Conchiglia Contrada da Khamma Conitro; 39-0923/915-333
La Vela Scauri Scalo, Scauri; 39-0923/916-566 (Yao Yao’s favorite)
Ristorante Castiglione Franco 24 Via Napoli, Pantelleria Town; 39-0923/911-448
La Pergola Contrada Suvaki; 39-0923/918-420
Don’t forget the bakeries, little cafes and locally owned shops that you can buy the passito, capers or other locally produced items. There were quite a few on the island and I am sure the list has grown. There are also sweet boutiques and the famed De Simone Ceramics shop that is worth a visit.
Other Great Resources
Under the Almond Tree This is amazing resource for all things Pantelleria written by a Swede living in Pantelleria and New York. It’s has great information and incredible photographs, that Ann was gracious enough to let me put on my blog!
David Lebovitz – Great blog on all those food and food related. Great information on Pantelleria as a first time visitor.
Travel and Leisure – A good article on Pantelleria and some specifics you will find useful.
ABC News – A Trip to Paradise Good article with broad brush view.
Go Nomad – Pantelleria – Good article and for reading about travel in general.