is the largest of Sicily’s satellite islands with a surface
area of 83km2; it is also the most westerly, lying a mere 84km from
the African continent, at the same latitude as Tunisia. Its warm
climate, however, is constantly being tempered by ever-present strong
winds blowing in from the sea, hence the justification for the islands
Arabic name Qawsarah or Bent el Rion, meaning Daughter of the Wind.
The current name is in fact late Greek or Byzantine in origin and
may mean “rich land of offerings”.
island is endowed with a jagged coastline bathed by clear blue sea,
that hides a wealth of varied marine life: its rocky slopes, fashioned
by dry stone walling into terraces fit for cultivation, together
with the local dammusi (typical kind of house) combine to confer
upon the place an exceptional and unique beauty. The distinctive
colours of the soil and base rock, which for the most part are basaltic,
have earned the island a nickname, namely the black pearl of the
land – The highest point on the island is Montagna Grande
(836m), an ancient crater. The rocky black lava coastline is riddled
with caves and small headlands projecting into the sea. The land
mass being volcanic is extremely fertile and well drained, and therefore
suited to the cultivation of the vine. Solimano, a sparkling wine
with a delicate bouquet, together with the
di Pantelleria made with zibibbo grapes, are the principal specialities
of the island. Second to these are the salted capers, which are
harvested from plants that produce abundant numbers of exquisitely
phenomena provoked by volcanic activity are still much in evidence
on Pantelleria: hot springs emerge from the sea floor just off the
coast; sulphuric vapour emanates from natural caves, and jets of
steam (known locally as favare) are intermittently emitted from
the volcanic rock, especially in the vicinity of the craters (see
of a house style – The first residents of Pantelleria may
have come from Africa in Neolithic times to extract its black gold,
namely obsidian which, at that time, was highly sought after. Near
to a village dating from this period with fortifications of a type
found elsewhere only at Los Millares in Spain (near Almerìa),
are a number of megalithic funerary structures of a kind that is
distinctive to the island, known locally as sesi (see below), yet
reminiscent in shape of the nuraghi of Sardinia. Next came the Phoenicians:
they called the island Kossura and provided it with a large harbour
on the exact spot occupied by the island’s main port today.
There followed waves of Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines
and Arabs, who boosted the local agriculture by introducing cotton,
olives and figs, and improving the cultivation of the vine. Many
of the island’s farming communities preserve their Arab names:
Khamma, Gadir, Rakhali, Bukkuram, Bugeber and Mursia.
the Second World War, Pantelleria’s key strategic position
right in the middle of the Canale di Sicilia separating North Africa
from Italy, earned it the attentions of the Fascist government,
who began to fortify the place. As a result, it was subjected to
systematic bombing raids in 1943 by the Allies based on the Tunisian
traditional type of house found on Pantelleria is the dammuso: this
is Arab in origin. The square constructions are built with square
stones (now only used to face the exterior). The roof doubles as
a terrace, but rather than being completely flat, the surface is
gently undulated so as to permit rain water to be channelled away,
and subsequently collected for domestic use. At one time, each individual
house constituted a single residential unit, more often than not,
divided into two rooms: one for human habitation, the other for
sheltering animals. Nowadays, however, many have been bought up
and converted into summer homes, often grouped into a residential
complex comprising several units.
inhabitants of Pantelleria, who by trade tend traditionally to be
farmers rather than sailors, have tried to resolve the problem posed
by the strong winds that blow during the greater part of the year
and prevent trees from growing tall (even the olive-trees have been
adapted and helped by man to grow at ground level by pruning them
into a circular fan of low-lying espaliers). The solution they have
devised is the Pantelleria garden, a circular or square enclosure
with high stone walls, in which one or more citrus trees might grow,
protected from the wind. Sometimes these gardens are physically
attached to a house, others might be situated in the centre of some
field – an oasis of green, especially when seen from the air.
OF THE ISLAND BY CAR
40 km round trip. A scenic coast road provides glorious views of
– The houses of the islands main built-up area are clustered
around the harbour, having been reconstructed without any formal
planning after the Second World War. The main landmark is the Castello
Barbacane; this was probably founded in Roman times, since when
it has been demolished and re-built on a number of occasions, it
owes its present appearance to Frederick Il of Swabia. Follow the
west coast, heading south.
Village – The archeological site is situated some 3km beyond
Mursia and the Kuddie Rosse, ancient craters of a reddish colour.
The only discernible feature among the low stone field boundary
walls and scattered piles of rubble is the Sese Grande (just beyond
the quarry, at the end of a long wall, continue left some 50m; the
sese lies behind a villa, on the left). This structure rises from
an elliptical base of large blocks of lava into a kind of tower.
It is surrounded by an ornamental lodge which spirals its way up
to the top. The base has twelve entrances serving as many low passages
that interconnect the same number of domed funerary chambers. Here,
the dead were entombed in the foetal position, their head pointing
westwards, surrounded by their personal grave goods.
little further on, the rocky black Punta Fram points out to the
sea. Past the tip of the headland, a flight of steps leads down
from the right side of the road, to the Grotta di Satana which contains
pools of water fed by hot springs.
– High up on the cliff edge, enjoying a spectacular position.
Scauri overlooks its picturesque little harbour, fed by hot springs.
Marvelleus views are to be had from the cemetery. After continuing
some way along the coast, park the car and walk into Nikà.
– 30min on foot there and back. The minuscule fishing village
nestles in a lava gorge. Among the nearby rocks emerge a number
of hot springs. Back on the coastal road, turn left at the junction
for Rekhale, one of the few villages that preserves various dammusi
and Pantelleria gardens in their original state.
to the coast, which at this point drops steeply down to the sea.
After a bend in the road appears Saltalavecchia (which literally
translates as the “old lady’s leap”), a village
perched on the cliff at one of the highest points, relishing the
incredibie and very dramatic view down a sheer face to the sea,
over 15m below (be very careful here as the ground can give way).
dei Turchi – This was where the Saracens used to land on the
island unseen. It is one of the few sheltered caves with access
to the sea (a broad, flat rock), protected from the wind and therefore
overgrown with tall vegetation, notably bushes of wild juniper and
Isola – The road provides splendid views out over the coastline
which here is dominated by this great headland.
dell'Arco – At the far end of the promontory sits the Arco
dell’Elefante, a rather spectacular naturally-formed archway
of grey lava which, in colour and shape, resembles the head and
trunk of an elephant.
– The little harbour full of fishing smacks bubbles with water
from thermal springs (in the harbour hollow). A short way beyond,
a path leads off to the right of the road to the lighthouse on Punta
Spadillo. When the lighthouse comes into view, branch left along
a second track towards a collection of abandoned houses; then climb
up to the batteries. Behind the white one, follow the path downhill
between low stone-lava walls which eventually open out by the tiny
Lago delle Ondine (lake of waves). Almost completely surrounded
by glorious tall cliffs and wonderful lumps of vulcanic rock, this
small lava hollow collects water from the breaking waves to form
a small emerald-green pool of stillness. After the fine Cala dei
Cinque Denti (the bay with five teeth), turn left at the fork.
di Venere – This Venus’ looking glass (besides being
an attractive purple wild flower) is a delicicus lake of green water
fed by a sulphur-rich spring on its western flank. Its name is bestowed
by the ancient myths: for, according to the legend, Venus studied
her reflection in this lake when comparing her beauty with that
of her rival Psyche.
the town of Pantelleria by the airport road and continue to Sibà.
Beyond the village is the Benikulà Cave or Bagno Asciutto
Benikulà – Coming from the direction of Sibà,
there are no signs: access to the cave is down a road on the left
(signposted from the other direction). Leave the car and proceed
on foot. It takes 10min to walk there and back. Those intending
to have a sauna should take a swimming-costume and a towel. Looking
down over the valley from above, two Pantelleria gardens may be
the cave, the temperature of the steam rises the deeper in one goes.
It is worth pausing at the cave entrance and to enter only once
accustomed to the heat. It is advisable not to spend too long inside
as the temperature can be overwhelming.
Montagna Grande – The road up to the Montagna Grande offers
magnificent views over the surrounding landscape. The mountain is
covered with pine-forest (equipped with prescribed picnic sites).
By the building marking the end of the road, leave the car and continue
on foot past two other buildings (a dammuso house and a chapel);
a little further on the left, a series of stone steps lead up to
the Grotta dei Briganti, a large cave in which the temperature is
constantly warm, which is why in the past it served as a refuge
for outlaws (hence its name too).
– Costa Ghirlanda, on the east side of the island, conceals
a number of tombs of indeterminable age. Access to them is by an
extremely bumpy dirt track for which a four-wheel drive vehicle
(or a horse) is recommended. In an oak wood (on the left) is a collection
of rock-hewn tombs, which local tradition claims to be Byzantine.
The exceptional beauty of this mysterious place alone makes the
Gibele – This old volcano, now extinct, provides the perfect
context for an agreeable walk: from Rakhali, head inland and, at
the junction, fork right until a path appears on the left. Continue
on foot. The path leads to the crater, now covered in vegetation.
On the way, the track skirts past the Favara Grande, a powerful
geyser which issues jets of boiling hot steam.
OF THE ISLAND BY BOAT
perfect complement to an exploratio of the island’s land mass,
is to go off and discover her other splendid attributes by sea.
The opaque blackness of the lava rocks contrasts sharply with the
deep blue sea which, in places, appears an emerald green.
coastline is interrupted by little, delightfully secluded creeks,
ravines and intriguing caves. Starting out from Pantelleria, a clockwise
tour of the island will first reveal the jagged and low-lying north
cost; in the area of Cuddia Randazzo, the rocks assume strange black
profiles which can be construed as figures of animals or other weird
creatures. There follows a series of inlets and caves, perfect for
swimming. Then comes the Arco dell’Elefante (see above) and
a further succession of caves and hollows divided by pillars of
lava. The most dramatic grottoes are situated between Punta Duca
and Punta Polacca, however these can only be fully explored by the
smallest craft: Grotta del Duce, Grotta del Formaggio and Grotta
della Pila dell’cqua. This is the most spectacular stretch
of the island’s coast, with its towering great cliffs reaching
far into the sky and large monolithic rocks pointing sharply out
of the sea until, at last, the drama culminates with a view of Saltalavecchia.
taller rocky outcrops follow (like section of coastline around Scauri),
before settling out among flatter and low-lying boulders as in the
vicinity of Cala dell’Alga.
– The quickest and easiest way of getting to the Island is
by air, be it from mainland Italy or from abroad. Direct flights
from Trapani and Palermo are provided both by Alitalia and Air Sicily:
during the summer, their direct flights operate out of Rome and
Milan. These already in Sicily, ideally in the area of Trapani,
might like to consider the ferry travelling overnight on the outward
journey (approx 5hr 45min) and – returning by day (approx
2hr 45min). For information contact Siremar 0923-91 11 04.
Information – There are several operators, some private, which
supply information on the various types of accommodation and facilities
available: most can arrange holiday packages, car and boat rentals.
Pro Loco 0923-911938; Associazione Turistica Pantelleria 0923-91
2948; Promozione Turistica di Pantelleria 0923-912257.
accommodation – When intending to stay one or more nights
on the island, it is well worth renting a dammuso, one of the typical
local Arab-style houses (see below). Tourist information providers
are there to mediate terms and conditions.
transport – The best way of exploring the island is by car
be it one’s own or hired independently. This means that all
the island’s special surprises may be enjoyed at leisure.
The road that runs around the island is asphalted but very narrow.
To explore the coast from the sea, rubber dinghies may be hired;
organised boat trips are also provided. Further details and costs
are available from the tourist information providers.
purchases – Visitors should not really leave the island without
buying a few capers and a bottle of the excellent dessert wine,
the Passito di Pantelleria for which the island is renowned. These
may be acquired from shops in the built-up areas or from the land-holdings
where they are produced.