Pantelleria, the incredible volcanic island that lies between Italy and Africa
It is not all pizza, pasta and ruins in Italy. Nor is the country just Rome, Florence and Venice. The boot is home to numerous destinations, many of them giving you the chance to get off the beaten track. While it is difficult to travel Italy without a backpack full of preconceived images from watching films, from Coppola to Fellini, there are countless secrets to discover. Pantelleria is one of those different hideaways. A place that encompasses Arabic and European influence, with a touch of Greece and a Norman air. An island in mid-Mediterranean, it is half way between Sicily and Africa.
The Phoenicians called it Yrnm; the Greeks knew it as Kosyras; for the Romans it was Cossyra; while the Arabs preferred Bent-el-Rhia (daughter of the wind). This expression is still used today, although it has come to be called Pantelleria, a name of unknown origin. Its geographical position, 85 km from the Italian coastline and just 70 km from Tunisia, explains the Muslim influence, while its volcanic origins are what led it to become known as the black pearl of the Mediterranean. Mountain formations, eroded coastlines, stone arches, tracks forged by lava, and thermal spaces are what comprise the landscape of Pantelleria. Montagna Grande Natural Park is considered the green heart of the island, with 600 different types of plant. The best way to fully appreciate the beauty of the island is to hike to the peak of the mountain, 836 m above sea level. From there, on one side you can see as far as the Strait of Sicily, while on the other, the African coast is dazzling at sunset.
The best way to get to know the island, whose perimeter is just 50 km, is to rent a moped. It will allow you easy access to a Pantelleria icon: Elephant Arch is a whimsical rock formation that extends into the sea, behind Cala Levante.
Another legacy of the island’s volcanic origins is Lake Specchio di Venere (Venus’s mirror). Fed by thermal water, the properties of its mud and algae make it popular with bathers. Several steamy hot springs are also spread out across the island. In these natural saunas, the temperature is approximately 50°C. In addition to the therapeutic properties, in the depths of the waters of Pantelleria, there are also important archaeological remains. This has made it a favourite destination for scuba divers, who will also find a wealth of fauna here, including black coral.
The caves eroded into the rock have also become an attraction, since they have been fitted out to provide rural accommodation. Known as dammusi, these cubic constructions have walls made of volcanic stone, and a white dome. Cool in summer, they conserve the heat in winter. Set in gardens, many of them have a swimming pool and sea views.
Adaptation to the island’s resources by the different cultures that have inhabited it has led to the creation of its own specific gastronomy, a blend of different traditions. The most traditional recipes include ravioli amari (pasta filled with ricotta cheese, with mint leaves) and fish and vegetable couscous.
The island is unknown to mass tourism, but not to seekers of a different landscape. Figures like Gabriel García Márquez have understood how to appreciate its particular charms. For this Colombian Nobel Prize winner, Pantelleria was a place where he could “think about the moon”. He described it as follows: “The endless plains of volcanic rock, the calm sea, the houses painted with lime… from where, on windless nights, you can see the bright beams of African lighthouses… the sleeping sea bed… bathing in steaming hollows, in water so dense with minerals you can almost walk on it.”
Source: Passenger 6A.