PANTELLERIA, Italy – Somewhere in between Sicily and Tunisia, there’s an obscure Italian island of black rock and caperberries, where you’d really only go to drop a dead body or hide from real life. It’s called Pantelleria, and I just spent a week there wondering what in the world was (rather, was not) going on.
It’s not that Pantelleria is boring. With the temperamental beaches, warm yet beady-eyed inhabitants, and random “in-town” trattorias — which, in terms of ambiance, are not unlike suspicious prison kitchens sprinkled with the sea — the bleak ruggedness of the island, the anti-Capri of it all, makes it worth the flight from Rome or Palermo.
Though it’s generally hot, as in North African hot, the real Pantescan air is an odd bird. And it’s transporting. Moody and poetic, if you’re prone to dark thoughts, they will surface. Whereas in Rome your mind wanders to food (carbonara!) and sex (Massimo! Luca! Franco!), in Pantelleria you think of love lost and mistakes made. But that might be exactly what you want, exactly what you need … especially with some passito, Pantelleria’s sweet, amber wine, the lush’s Werther’s Original.
If escape is what you’re looking for, true escape, not Momofuku-Milk-Bar-in-Montauk escape, Pantelleria is your place. I stayed at the Mursia Hotel, which was cheap, clean, and on the water. Like a lot of island hotels, Mursia feels murky and banished, but the restaurant has perfectly fine food and the butch bartender makes an Aperol spritz that sure will take the edge off. The proximity to sea — coves, crevices and all — was the only standout asset, but a bellissimo one at that.
Fashion photographer Fabrizio Ferri’s estate, Monastero, is the most coveted resort rental on the island. Paradisiacal, deserted, and far-removed, I wanted to mess up my life so bad that I’d be forced to retreat there in isolation. The operative word being isolation — even the most glamorous of cabanas and caponatas are kissed with loneliness in Pantelleria.
Walks on the beach can be striking, especially when you realise that you can almost swim to Africa, and only if you stay focused on the blue-grey-eyed water. Because surrounding the waves is not white velvet sand but rather volcanic rocks the colour of Carine Roitfeld’s black, smudged eyelids. In many parts, the wet, jagged edges are littered with cigarette butts and bottles without messages.
There’s a place called Pizzeria Cafe that is neither a pizzeria nor a cafe, and a discotheque or two, where sweet, scrappy men from another era make you wonder if you should have that extra glass of grappa, hop in their Fiats, and go for it. You’ll also find natural saunas within thermal caves — free and quite fun, if you’re up for the hike — and prickly pears on wild branches; long and winding roads show a montage of deserted stones huts, dusty tennis courts, peasant ladies, and olive trees. Both hair and water are frizzante.
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