Rugged, windswept beaches. Bubbling thermal pools. Candy coloured villages. These are islands to escape to when you want to relax, rejuvenate or experience something completely different. Best of all? Getting to them isn’t half as tricky as you’d imagine…
Known as ‘The black pearl of the Mediterranean’, Pantelleria is as exotic and mysterious as its pet name suggests. It’s Sicily’s largest island and is separated from the North African coast by just 30 miles of sea. Lava stone houses dot its interior, thermal waters gush from rock pools and sea breezes carry the faint scent of Arabic gardens. With its otherworldly landscapes and low-key island vibes, it’s easy to see why the likes of Sting and Madonna have fallen for Pantelleria’s charms.
Pantescan food equals fresh, local and above all, simple eats. Arabic and Italian flavours mix and mingle in traditional dishes such as salted capers, ricotta and mint ravioli, pesto pantesco (tomato, garlic, basil and peppers), fish couscous and Sciakiskiuka (a chunky Mediterranean stew with courgettes). The island doesn’t disappoint on the wine front either. Passito di Pantelleria, the locally produced dessert wine has been enjoyed on Pantelleria for over 2,000 years. According to Roman legend, the goddess Tanit is said to have seduced Apollo by serving him Muscat wine from Pantelleria. You know you’re onto something good when the rest of Italy had to wait until the 1800s to get their first taste.
Ever dreamt of living in a sleepy Italian village where you can stroll to the square for a coffee, pick up some bread at the market and basically feel like you’re living on the set of Il Postino or Cinema Paradiso? To fully immerse yourself in Pantelleria’s island-life, arrange to stay in a dammuso, the traditional, dome-roofed homes built from the local lava rock known as ‘tufo’. Not only are these a great budget option if you’re travelling with a group, but most come with their own arabic-style gardens and spectacular sea views.
Forget white fluffy bathrobes, face-masks and slippers, Pantelleria’s spa experiences are a much more earthy affair.
There’s the island’s very own outdoor Jacuzzi – Specchio di Venere or Mirror of Venus, a volcanic crater that fizzes with thermal spring water – and close to the village of Siba, you’ll find the Grotta del Bagno Asciutto, a cave that doubles as a natural steam room. Mixing thermal underground heat with the island’s herbal-infused sea breezes, the cave has been a chill out spot for generations – even after dark, when it’s not unusual to see locals carrying candles as they pick their way across the stony path.
For an invigorating dip, look no further than Laghetto delle Ondine, a natural swimming pool carved out of the lava landscape that’s filled with the sea spray from the incoming surf.
Fly to Trapani in Sicily and catch the hydrofoil which runs daily to Pantelleria and costs around €30. If you’re looking to do a bit of exploring, go for a car over a scooter as roads tend to be steep and unfinished in parts. There’s also a bus service that serves much of the island, with all lines departing from Piazza Cavour in Pantelleria town.
Salina made a big splash on cinema screens in 1994, when it played a starring role in Il Postino, the story of a postman and his efforts to woo a local barmaid with the help of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
Since then, little has changed and the island has held onto its good looks, especially the beautiful area around Pollara Beach, which provided the backdrop for many of the scenes from the movie. Visit in the first week of June and you’ll be privy to the annual caper festival, where young and old get together for dancing, street games and lashings of caper-studded food.
There are two main ports in Salina, Rellina and Santa Marina. Regular ferries and hydrofoils depart from Palermo. A bus service connects the towns and the villages on the island.
And now for something COMPLETELY different. The island of Stromboli with its dark lava rock and black brooding beaches is home to one of the most thrilling sights in Italy, a (still active) volcano that rises almost a kilometre above sea level. For an unforgettable island adventure, take an evening boat cruise and watch the Sciara del Fuoco (Trail of Fire) exploding against the night sky. Hands down, the best fireworks you’ll ever see.
Hydrofoil ferries depart daily from Palermo. You’ll find most of the island’s hotels and guesthouses located on the eastern side in San Vincenzo, San Bartolo and Piscità. If you really want to get away from it all, head to remote villages such as Ginostra, which are only accessible by boat.
- Fiona Hilliard