A dot out in the middle of the Mediterranean, closer to Tunisia than to Sicily, nearer to Africa than to Italy. Pantelleria is a middle ground where the houses are blocks with a hump on the roof – the famous “dammusi” – and the grass is a hardy shrub with edible flower buds: capers.
For this new instalment dedicated to my island memories, we’re going back in time about twenty years. It was the beginning of the new millennium and I treated myself to a short holiday at the end of the season. That never happens, in fact I’m not sure it’s ever happened again – that’s why I remember it so well!
We chose Pantelleria specifically because of its latitude, because of its location in the middle of the Mediterranean: we figured we’d still be able to hit the beach in late October.
And we were right! The weather was wonderful, and we felt so lucky to be among the few people on the beach, or on a boat, or wandering along the tracks overlooking the sea... A real privilege!
I remember the dammuso where we stayed, a small hotel perched on a cliff on the west of the island. As soon as we arrived – thanks to the setting sun and a particularly clear day – we could distinctly make out the Tunisian coastline. How exciting!
Yes, the realisation that I was closer to Africa than Europe hit me hard: it seems obvious when looking at a map, but spotting that sharp silhouette set my imagination whirling, as if I were an explorer shouting Land! Land ahoy!
Anyway, back to the land of the living. Another vivid memory I have of Pantelleria is the Specchio di Venere (Mirror of Venus), a lake of volcanic origin, a kind of open-air spa. The water is a dazzling turquoise, and the sand is so light – it’s actually thermal mud, to tell the truth.
WOW, thermal... And yes, we all smeared ourselves with this mud, letting it dry on us: we looked like plaster mannequins embalmed in earthen armour. We were quite a funny sight to behold. After a dip in the warm, sulphur-infused waters of the lake, we emerged as clean as new, our skin incredibly soft and velvety. It truly was an open-air spa.
And then I remember the caper plants everywhere, whether wild or grown on small terraces surrounded by dry stone walls made from dark, volcanic rock. Pantelleria capers are some of the world’s most prized: their aroma practically oozes the salt of the Mediterranean, which is everywhere here, carried by the wind.
I should go back, actually. In the meantime, I’ll make do with a few capers – from Pantelleria, of course. Ciao! ❤️