Since centuries ago, ships and boats float around the Mediterranean sea, discovering countless pieces of land scattered in the blue waters like colorful jewels. Among them, a few of the islands are of volcanic origin – Pantelleria being one of them.
If your soul is yearning for adventure, your heart longs for ancient history, but your body pleads to be pampered, Pantelleria is THE place to go. The black rocks of the island break the waves just 141 km from the port of Trapani and the ship takes about 7 hours to take you there, although there is also a faster and pricier option which takes just two hours.
Jump on the ferry in Sicily and let it slowly sway you to the black pearl that this island undoubtedly is.
Healing mud and hot springs
Pantelleria being an island of volcanic origin, it is most famous for its thermal springs and natural saunas. The sharp dark rocks descend steeply to the salty water, but you are not going to miss the beaches – the local healing springs will make up for them in a split second.
The Lago di Venere (“Lake of Venus”) is probably the most stunning of the all natural wonders to be found here, with its salty hot waters shining a surprising shade of blue when the sun rises over it. Here, you can not only bath but also cover your skin with soft black mud, famous for its healing effect on eczematic skin. If you are a traveler with a nasty case of atopic eczema as myself, you will be happy to spend hours and days here! I felt like the world´s happiest pig rolling in this magical black mud just to see my skin get softer and smoother even after the first bath. Really, I can´t even think of enough praise words to describe the benefits of the mud although at first, it might feel strange to spread it all over yourself, taking into account the sulphuric smell rising from the springs! Sulphur contained in water, however, is just as fit to cure skin diseases as the mud itself. Thermal springs are also known for being a good cure to rheumatism.
Besides the Lago di Venere there are also other thermal springs to be enjoyed on Pantelleria – among others, they are Gadir where the sea water mixes with the hot springs in three or four small basins, and Sataria cave where you can plunge in a tiny pool in the shade of a rocky ceiling and refresh yourself in cold seawater in the sunlight. By the way, Sataria is now accessible by a flight of stairs, but it used to be reachable only by boat before.
The fact that I loved about these amazing natural medicine places is a simple one – the locals keep them just that: natural. Currently, the island is about to be proclaimed a natural reserve and I hope wholeheartedly for this decision to pass.
Walking in a history textbook
Pantelleria has been inhabited by various cultures for thousands of years, including Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and others. As an important strategical point, it hosts a military base even today. More interestingly, hiking the many trails of the island will make you feel like in the ancient times of the Roman Empire (if you forget about your fancy trekking boots, obviously). Wherever you step, you see walls of stones protecting the olive trees from the everpresent wind and many terraces keeping the steep terrain more friendly to farming. Olives, grapes and capers grow everywhere. Byzantine tombs and 4000 years old “Sesi” (a monumental funeral mound and a graveyard) will make your inner Lara Croft whistling joyfully, should the twisting trails along the typical “dammuso” architecture houses not be enough to please your eye.
Along with hot springs, you can find several “sauna asciuta” spots on the island. Grotta di Benikula is one that comes up on every touristic map, however, I didn´t particularly enjoy its strong smell – on the other hand, I felt I was having the time of my life spending the night at Favare. Favare is a small rocky mound from where hot steam rises and is best enjoyed from the late afternoon to the morning. While you have to bring a tent if you want to spend the night here, I highly recommend this spot for watching falling stars while sitting on the warm stones. Romantic feelings are 100% guaranteed, unless you have a heart of stone.
Another great spot to enjoy hot steam and a spectacular view from the top of the mountain at the same time is at the Cuddia di Mida hill.
In Pantelleria, you can basically set your tent wherever. The locals are incredibly nice and welcoming and off season, you can rent a room or a house for a great price, however, if you prefer to sleep under the stars, you are free to do so everywhere. There are also many abandoned houses that can shield you from the wind. (Particularly Mueggen has many of those although it could be a bit tricky to find a flat spot here as the terrain is filled with vineyards.) A perfect place to build your palace for the night is Favare (you simply SHOULD spend a night there!), but also nearby Monte Gibele volcano offers a comfy spot in its crater, where the trees will protect you from the neverending windy weather.
Another wonderful place to camp is on the shore of the Lago di Venere which offers the royal possibility to privately bath in hot water after sunset (for some mysterious reason, everyone leaves before dark) while watching the planes land at the nearby airport at the same time as the stars fall. When you get tired, you can simply retire to your soft sleeping back, lulled by the sound of the waves.
Weirdo tip: I personnally recommend this lake as the greatest place for reading H. P. Lovecraft macabre stories aloud. The genius loci is worth it.
Hitchhiking in Pantelleria
Your thumb will take you far on this island. The community living here is small and safe, which makes it easy to do autostop even in the darkest night. (We´ve tried that several times during the two weeks we have spent there and it was a success each time.) The “perimetrale” is the main road that goes around the island and you are sure to get a ride within about twenty minutes – but probably faster. Don´t worry about the spot – the locals will stop the car basically wherever to take you in (even in the rain!). In spite of the rumors of Italian drivers, the Pantesco people drive rather slowly, carefully and honk at each sharp turn to worn you.
Be sure to carry a torch if you walk on the road in the night as it is rather narrow and there are not many lights between villages.
When is the best time to visit Pantelleria?
According to the locals, the island population basically doubles in the summer season. It will probably not surprise you that I loved having the trails, saunas and springs all to yours truly in the first half of october! We conceived this trip as a honeymoon (the bad joke is intentional) and there are few things more romantic than watching stars and burning meteors on a new moon sky in a valley of ancient ruins while you lay in hot water that softly bubbles around your body and heals your skin.
A lady who owns a restaurant here told me that you can swim until november and even in winter, the temperature doesn´t get below 10 degrees. Since you can rent a whole dammuso house basically for the price of light and water out of season, I would say october – april is the right time.
There are ferries, but also planes flying to Pantelleria that you can take daily in the high season and a few times a week during the low season. To get around the island, in case you don´t feel like hitchhiking right then, you can also rent a car or a motorbike easily – ask the locals. This website might be useful for you: www.pantellerialink.com
If you wonder what is the exact place we stayed at, it was in a tiny village called Bugeber, 30 minutes walking from the lake. You can call the owner, an amazing lady named Tiziana, on this number: 347-9144051
Most people on the island don´t speak English though so it will be useful for you to learn a few practical sentences.
Disclaimer: None of the links or contacts in this article are sponsored. I paid for my stay myself. (I wish someone would pay me to come back though!)
Have you ever been to a volcanic island? Do you like thermal springs? Ever heard of Pantelleria before? Let me know your thoughts below in the comment section!