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How An Independent Movie Turned A Tiny Island Off Of Sicily Into A Bucket List DestinationBy: Zach Johnston 09.11.16
How many times have you watched a film set in some far-flung locale and been overtaken by the urge to head straight to the airport? It’s hard to watch Dr. Jones galavant across the globe and not want to be his quip-hurling sidekick. Some movies inject us with an undeniable sense of wanderlust for places we may have never even heard of before. When I saw A Bigger Splash (with an exceptionally radiant Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes in top form), the film revealed a tiny island I knew that I had to experience for myself.
Deep in the Mediterranean there’s a small volcanic island that myth says was the love den of Calypso and Odysseus. The island’s thermal output makes it look like the hammers of the gods formed it. It’s called Pantelleria and — it’s at once ruggedly jagged and ravishingly beautiful.
The island is situated almost exactly half way between Tunisia to Sicily. Historically, this made it a way station for the Carthaginians, empire for the Romans, hallowed ground for the Arabs, home to the Ottomans, and now part of the motley crew called the Sicilians. All of that conquering and culture left Pantelleria with a diverse and delicious cuisine and a language that’s as much Arabic as it’s Sicilian.
Below are a few very good reasons to put Pantelleria on your itinerary posthaste.
The easiest and most scenic way to get to Pantelleria is to sail from Sicily. Old school ferries take about four to five hours to reach the island. You can double the price of your ticket and take a hydrofoil and cut that journey time down to two-ish hours. Flying to the island is the only other option. Turboprops fly in from Palermo daily. During the summer months, tourist can catch weekend flights from Rome or Milan. But sailing seems like a much cooler way to show up. Assuming you have the time, that is.
Capers, cheese, almonds, fish are the staples of the island. Pantelleria is an agricultural based economy, so fresh, organic, local food is the only thing you’re going to be eating while there. And it’s Italy. That means the food is always going to be spectacular. Catch some fish, pick some capers, find a nice chunk of cheese, fire roast some tomatoes and peppers, get some nice local extra virgin olive oil and you’re sorted for the day.
Pantelleria is famous of their grapes. The Zibibbo grape, or Muscat of Alexandria, is an ancient vine that’s believed to be one of the oldest genetically unmodified vines still in existence. This is the wine that Cleopatra drank. Seriously. You can wander the island and dip into various farms and vineyards where everybody has their homemade Passito on hand — the distinct quirks in this homebrew recipe makes the wine feel like a constant exploration.
Beaches, sauna caves, thermal bathes, therapeutic mud, volcanic mountains, and crystal clear azure seas make this corner of the Mediterranean the place of dreams and legends. There’s a natural sauna in the mountains where Odysseus and Calypso had a love den. The cave is fed by volcanically heated vapors that seep through the rocky walls and the mud at Lago di Venere is believed to be therapeutic and rejuvenating. You’ll find legions of people covering themselves in the stuff.