Team Mago spent a glorious month in the fall of 2016 on Pantelleria, a small island about midway between Sicily (62 miles away) and Tunisia (37 miles away). Absolutely everything about Pantelleria is interesting including the geology, geography, history, agriculture, people, and recreation.
First of all, it’s a volcanic island. That doesn’t mean that there are active tremors or anything, but all over the island are favare or holes that lead down to hades, gushing steam and on occasion sulfurous smells. If you hike to the Favare Grande or the Bagno Asciutto, you can take advantage of these features, basking in a natural sauna. There are also huge lava flows like the Cuddia Randazzo well worth visiting.
An interesting geographic feature of Pantelleria is that there is absolutely no natural fresh water. No rivers, streams, ponds… nothing. Water is either gathered in cisterns during rainstorms or generated at the desalination plant. Everyone drinks bottled water. There is a lake called the Specchio di Venere that might have been fresh at one time, but now there is an underground connection to the sea making it a land-locked salt water lake with therapeutic mud from the surrounding hot springs. Madonna came here once when she was pregnant.
Both the geology and geography have influenced every aspect of the island. For example, local farmers take advantage of the abundant lava rocks strewn around to build massive black walls into terraces used for the cultivation of grapes, olive trees, caper plants, and more. All of these plants are carefully trained to grow low to the ground so that they can take advantage of these walls for protection against the frequent high winds that lash the island.
The typical Pantelleria house, called a dammuso, is a great example of how the people on the island have adapted. First, dammusi are built from the volcanic rock cut into oblong blocks. Next, the roofs are dimpled, directing all of the rain water along channels that end up in a cistern below the house. Decorative plants are kept low to the ground in order to survive the wind. And, finally, all of the walls are thick and the ceilings are high to maximize coolness. There is no doubt that it gets hot on Pantelleria.
Finally, let’s talk briefly about the history. Absolutely everyone in the Mediterranean area have at one time or another occupied Pantelleria. It is on the way to and from everywhere, making it a strategic must. There is evidence of occupation as early as 35,000 years ago. The sesi burial mounds and sesi village are great places to visit if you’re interested in archeology. The Carthaginians took possession somewhere around the 7th century BC and the Romans grabbed it from them sometime in the 3rd century BC. There is an archeological dig near Pantelleria town with evidence of the Roman occupation. Then came Arabs, Roger of Sicily, the Aragonese, Spanish, Italians, and during WWII the Brits and Americans. I’ve probably missed a few on this list, but you get the idea.
For those interested in WWII, there are plenty of gun emplacements and barracks strewn all over the island including on top of the Fossa del Russo, Monte Gibele, Balata dei Turchi, and the Cinque Denti. At one point there were as many as 11,000 soldiers on the island, many of them from the Italian Alpine corps. Rumor is that they hated the heat but thought that this assignment was preferable the Russian front.
All of this in just 32 square miles. It’s not easy to get to. You’re likely to be eaten alive by the bugs if you don’t come prepared with your favorite bug repellant. It takes nerves of steel to drive on the little winding roads. But for the brave of heart and pure of spirit, there is no better place to visit than Pantelleria.Bagno Asciutto
The Bagno Asciutto (or dry sauna) is one of the best known natural spots on Pantelleria. It is divided into two compartments: the outer frigidarium surrounded by stone seats with panoramic views of the Monastery valley and the smaller inner cave entered through a deep split in the rock. The escaping water vapor in the inner cave can reach temperatures of 100° F (or 38 ° C).Balata dei Turchi
The Balata dei Turchi is set in a beautiful spot surrounded by lava flows. You can have a swim in this protected cove and sunbathe on the rocks. This is a favorite bathing spot for the Italians. Balata dei Turchi can be roughly translated into... the flat rocks of the dark skinned pirates. Legend has it that this is one of the places where the pirates landed to do their raiding.Bar Cicci
Bar Cicci is a pleasant place no matter the time of day.Cala Cinque Denti
The Cala Cinque Denti (or the cove of the five teeth) is the start of one of our favorite hikes on Pantelleria. It's entrance may be found on the northern coast of Pantelleria about a 15 minute drive from Pantelleria town. Cala Cottone
Cala Cottone is one of our favorite places to take a quick dip into the water. It's tucked away, secluded, and seldom crowded. In addition, it's protected so you can swim here on most days even when the waves are up elsewhere on the island.Capitano Fabio Boat Tour
One of our favorite things to do with visitors is take them on a boat tour around Pantelleria and Capitano Fabio is the best man for the job. The only way I know to book a trip with Capitano Fabio is to call him on his cell phone at 349 806 3489 or land line at 0923 918170. Or you can go down to the port and find the Marie Antoinette and leave him a note!Dammuso Cuddia
We stayed at month at Dammuso Cuddia and loved it, especially when the neighbors' dogs weren't barking. Thank you Giovanni!Favara Grande
There is no doubt that the Favara Grande is a popular spot. These are steam holes in the ground where you can sit and enjoy an open air sauna in striking surroundings.Fossa del Russo
The Fossa del Russo hike not only has great views, but some interesting architectural features. The Italians decided to build a WWII gun emplacement here. In order to keep the barracks warm in the winter on the cheap, they built the over thermal holes. Warm indeed.Ghiralanda Valley
This is a beautiful valley with endless roads to hike. If you're lucky enough to be here in September, you can watch the grape harvest.Il Goloso
It's difficult to say why we like Il Goloso better than the other bars in Pantelleria town. Maybe it's because early on Giovanni told us it was his favorite bar. Perhaps it's because the pastries are extra delicious there. It might have something to do with the cute guys and girls who serve behind the bar. Whatever, we're not alone in our assessment. Il Goloso is always full of people standing at the bar having a quick cafe or sitting outside and enjoying a longer stay.Kaya Kaya
This little bar in the port of Scauri is a fun place to spend an evening with friends and listening to music from local artists.Laghetto della Ondine
On the Cala Cinque Denti hike, one of the first features after the actual Cinque Denti beach is the Laghetto della Ondine. This little pond has been carved out of the lava flow over the eons. When the wind is up and the waves are high, water splashes into the Laghetto della Ondine. When there is no wind, then the pool is calm and heated by the sun. The water is aqua marine in color and simply beautiful.Montagna Grande
The hike up to the top of Montagna Grande (2,743ft) is well worth the effort.Monte Gibele
This is a great hike to Monte Gibele. Although the top is only 2,286ft above sea level, there are great views. And just like Fosso del Russo, there are WWII ruins of interest.Museo Vulcanologico
We love this little museum. It not only has some great exhibits telling all about the geological history of the island, but also exhibits about the island's inhabitants and its involvement in WWII. Nika
Nika is a wonderful spot for a swim on a hot, summer Pantelleria day. There are even some warm springs under the water for those slightly less warm days.Panificio Marrone Francesco
We've tried the bread from many of the bakeries all over Pantelleria and the bread from Panificio Marrone Francesco in Scauri is some of our favorite.Punta Spadillo
This is a beautiful old lighthouse that is in serious need of repair. As you walk around the area, you see additional WWII artifacts. The Museo Vulcanologico is right next to this along with a picnic area. Roman Road
Although this is a cool road and we were told that it was a 'Roman Road' we could find out very little other information. It has been well maintained, though, and is a great way to end up the Cala Cinque Denti hike.Salto La Vecchia
Salto La Vecchia is an overlook south of Rekhale where the geological chaos that is the island's history resulted in some pretty stunning cliffs and views. Once you've found your way to the top of the cliffs, you can look to your right to see up the coast towards the Scauri Harbor or to the left to see folks sunbathing at the Balata dei Turchi.Sesi
On the Northwest coast of Pantelleria in an area called Mursia are found evidence of prehistoric inhabitants of the island. On the landward side of the perimeter road are the Sesi, mysterious megalithic tombs that are more than 5,000 years old. Today they appear as mounds of volcanic rocks with a series of openings that allow the brave of heart to crawl inside.Specchio di Venere
This lake is hugely popular with locals and tourists alike. It’s the only place on the island with a soft, white, sandy beach. On a windy or cool day when it’s impractical to go to the shore areas for bathing, these beaches can get packed. And it’s not unusual to see folks slathering on the mud from the lake which is thought to have therapeutic value.The New Mother Church
You are either going to love or hate the new Mother Church of Pantelleria. Some call it a mosque while others say it looks like a bunker. The lovers of hyper-modern architecture, though, think that it's simply splendid. Fan or foe, there's no denying that this church will make an impression on you when you visit Pantelleria Town.WWII Ruins Near Punta Spadillo
One of the most impressive set of ruins from the Italian defenses set up on Pantelleria prior to and during WWII can be found on the Cala Cinque Denti walk along the Northeast part of the island. There are several gun emplacements as well as ruined barracks.