If you are looking to find a dreamy postcard scenery of white sand beach, Italy's Pantelleria island is not the place to go. Even though the stunning colours of the three Oceans - the Ionian, the Tyrrhenian and the Mediterranean take your breath away, the island's real treasure is hidden beyond the beach.
Situated only 60 km east of the Tunisian coast, Sicily's largest volcanic island is known for the Scirocco, strong wind rising off the north coast of Africa. In fact, Pantelleria is named “the daughter of the winds” by the Arabs who conquered it in 700. This particular wind is what makes Pantelleria's cultural heritage very unique and what conditioned the traditional architecture, vegetation and lifestyle.
The island is fertile, but lacks fresh water. The average climate is about eighteen degrees Celsius, and it hardly rains between June and August. These environmental conditions are the reason that residents historically constructed the architectural symbol of the island, Dammuso. The Dammuso is a typical house with exceptionally wide stone walls that support the dome-shaped structure composed of a hard waterproof surface. The thick walls keep the rooms cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The rounded roofs are equipped with a special hole and a pipe that helps to collect precious rain water.
Club Levante on the east side of the island offers a unique experience of Dammuso stay. It has twelve Dammusi and one private suite scattered around on slopes. Each Dammuso is constructed at least thirty meters away from each other with a sand beige hammock on a terrace decorated with Bougainvillea flowers. As you walk between Dammusi, you are enchanted by caper plant cascades falling from the rocks, sweet Zibbibo grape trees and tropical fruit trees like Indian figs.
Although Club Levante has everything necessary for what we call a luxury residence, “luxury” is not the exact word to describe it. It does not offer intentionally pretentious services and materialistic abundance, but the attraction is rather a lack of. The distance between each Dammuso that creates a private space for every guest, the simplicity of spacious rooms with carefully chosen interior decoration, the noise from the sea and the starriest clear sky - these elements are the true luxury that you cannot find elsewhere in a mass market. “The silence and no light pollution are a great motivators for people to remind themselves how these are rare pleasures not available everyday”, says Matteo Panno, owner of the Club.
Driving just a few kilometres away from Club Levante, you come across the Specchio di Venere (Mirror of Venus) hot spring. This is the island's only “beach”, and is made of thermal water and mud. The twelve meter deep natural lake is formed in an extinct volcanic crater and is literally a natural spa. After covering your body with rich mineral mud, walking for a while to dry, then washing off with lukewarm thermal water, you can feel the effect on your smoothed skin for at least the next couple of days.
Another open-air spa treatment that you can get on the island is a natural hot sauna in a cave on the side of Montagna Grande. After walking on the mild slope in Montagna Grande for fifteen minutes, you are welcomed by the white vapours filtering through rocks in a small cave. The inside of the cave is dark and steamy, just like a normal sauna. Again, it is the scirocco that cools you down and dries your skin.
A relaxation tour often breaks or ends with typical Pantelleria dishes. In many restaurants, you can start with a variety of fish crudités, then sword fish pasta and cooked vegetable caponata. Caponata is a typical Sicilian dish usually made with aubergines, peppers, onions and tomatoes, but each restaurant makes it differently. Either raw or cooked, many dishes have the locally grown precious capers that define Pantelleria cuisine. The meal finishes usually with Passito, a local sweet wine made from Zibibbo grapes. Zibibbo grapes are of the muscat family which has a higher concentration of natural sugar compared to normal grapes. A visit to some caper factories and wine cellars is another attraction on the island.
In a place like this, you may wonder if you ever get bored running out of things to do. But the island is magical, offering an unforgettable experience. If you don't fancy swimming off rocks, just go out on a boat off the coast. Seeing Pantelleria from the ocean gives you another prospective. Going around on a boat around the island, passing under the elephant shaped rock, choosing various swimming spots, dipping in a mixture of thermal hot water and cold water and sunbathing on the deck, all you can see is the indescribable blue horizon.
The life in Pantelleria is very simple. It is a place you can eat and sleep well. And very importantly, the island takes care of you.