In March, Time Magazine announced the World’s Greatest Places of 2023, a list of “50 extraordinary destinations to explore” around the world. It includes some fairly well-known locations, like Barcelona, Kyoto, Mexico City, and also Naples; plus some unusual places like Musanze (Rwanda), Luang Prabang (Laos), Timisoara (Romania), and Pantelleria, dubbing it “Italy’s new island destination.”
The tiny island adrift between the coasts of Sicily and Tunisia is largely unknown by the flocks of tourists who come to Italy for holidays, and is hardly considered much of a must-see destination. But the charming little island has plenty to offer.
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Despite its size — only 83km2 (32 sq mi) and 15km long — the island is served by Pantelleria Airport, which connects to Palermo and Trapani (and with Milan, Rome, Venice, and other major cities in the summer time); as well as by ferry service from Trapani. With a total population of only 7,335 (from the census in 2022) the island is thankfully not heavily developed, and is known for its incredible natural beauty. In fact, 80% of the island is occupied by Pantelleria National Park that was opened in 2016, and thanks to its relative isolation has incredible biodiversity. Within the park there are trekking paths and mountain bike trails for those who like more active hobbies, but the park also organizes cultural and archeological tours for those who appreciate the slower pace!
The island is home to megalithic tombs that date back 5,000 years called ‘Sesi’, and also these hut structures called ‘Dammusi’ that are made from the locally abundant lava stones and domes roofs, iconic in their white paint to prevent the inhabitants from overheating in the hot summer months.
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Other natural attractions include hot springs and natural saunas, which harken back to the not-so-distant volcanic origins of Pantelleria. Trails snake down to the coastline and land you on the most pristine beaches and translucent blue waters you’ve ever seen, and on the eastern side of the island you can find the Elephant Arch, the creative name of a lava formation that looks like an elephant dipping its trunk into the sea (note, the beaches become increasingly crowded over the August holidays). Another beauty spot is Venus’ Mirror, a lake formed in an extinct volcanic crater, filled by rainwater and hot springs, that earned its name from the legend that the goddess Venus would admire her reflection in this lake before meeting with the god Bacchus — you’re welcome to do the same before an appointment trying the local wines.
Pantelleria is famous for two kinds of sweet wines: Moscato di Pantelleria and Moscato Passito di Pantelleria, made from the local varietal Zibibbo grape. Wine lovers would be remiss not visiting and learning about the uniquely traditional agricultural method of cultivating the vine, called vite ad albarello (translated to ‘head-trained bush vines’), which involves pruning the vine down to six branches, and continuously reshaped until the grapes are ready for harvesting by hand. In 2014 it was included in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.
Small though it may be, Pantelleria has something uniquely different to offer outside of the peninsula that is recognized by the team at Time magazine. The untrod paths away from the tourist hotspots might earn you bragging rights among more worldly travelers, but seeing a different angle of Italy, and a different history, makes the country all the more richer.