Pantelleria, Sicily

© Giovanni Caruso –

The biggest island in Sicily and less than 100 kilometres from the coast of Tunisia, Pantelleria is a volcanic island, cradle of a melting pot civilisation which has attracted peoples and cultures from all over the Mediterranean basin over the centuries.

Called the black pearl by some because of its volcanic soil which sprang up from the sea and the core of the earth. But it is also a reference to its beauty. Pantelleria is an island of unusual landscapes made of lava flows and rock stacks, natural architectural formations in a crystal clear sea.

It is a green island, protected by the Montagna Grande Nature Park, and ideal for trekking in the hilly forests. Emblematic of its ancient and original civilisation are its dammusi, the very unusual stone huts of Pantelleria equipped with cisterns for the scarce rain water, totally unique settlements.

Pantelleria is a uniquely fascinating island with extreme environments such as its small, arid plains of lava rock alternating with fertile areas and its sheer cliffs carved out by tides and winds, the real rulers of Pantelleria. The island’s volcanic activity is still visible in the form of fumaroles and thermal baths and a look around the inland areas of the island means passing a multitude of small craters or cuddi everywhere.

Pantelleria – towns

Pantelleria has developed its own original architecture over the centuries as a way of co-existing with its natural environment. The Giardini Panteschi are emblematic of this. Towers which would have had a defensive function elsewhere, they are actually raised lemon orchards built to gather the morning dew and protect the trees from the ever present wind.

Pantelleria’s towns are typical of the Mediterranean with modern tourist developments around them set apart from their archaeological sites, traces of history at Barbacane castle – a rather ungainly monument of Islamic origin – and the ruins of the Phoenician port. Its farming settlements, where dammusi are still lived in and ancient Arab names still used, are interesting.

Beaches and sea

Pantelleria’s most attractive beach is not really a beach at all. However, it would be a great pity to leave the island without first visiting the Specchio di Venere lake. It is a very different experience in a fascinating and unusual location.

Otherwise rocky Pantelleria has no sandy beaches. The three most evocative ways of getting to the sea are Arco dell’Elefante, symbol of the island together with Faraglione di Punta Tracino – two natural monuments not to be missed.

Another is Cala Gadir on the east coast with its thermal baths and the many archaeological remains on its wonderful sea bed – a magnet for divers.