Explore Pantelleria, where Italy meets North Africa

Although this is officially Italy, you won’t find any Renaissance art galleries here; Pantelleria has a museum dedicated to the caper. And instead of the legendary beaches elsewhere in the country, it’s an island of rocky coves that takes time to get to.

“There is no middle ground with it”, explains Peppe d’Aietti, author and guide. “She’s wild, tough, and only for the few.” Peppe is one of them. He once moved to Sicily for work, but, he says, “the island was always on my mind.” Today, he guides travelers on treks away from the dramatic coastline – made up of steep cliffs and jagged lava flows, with stunning sea views – and into the island’s surprisingly green interior.

Pantelleria is a volcanic island, but it’s not just one volcano, according to Peppe: there are dozens of cones on land, with more underwater. What I thought were hills are actually volcanoes, and the plains where Pantelleria’s famous tasty vegetables grow are collapsed calderas.

We head to Montagna Grande, the highest cone at 2,743 feet. Peppe says that on a clear day you can see Tunisia, but today the clouds are swirling below us around the nearby cone of Monte Gibele. Here, it’s an Eden of holm oaks and arbutus trees, while further down, Peppe sees a rare orchid and catches a pod of wild peas.

In addition to its spectacular coastline, Pantelleria is known for its thermal waters. Above the ancient settlement of Sibà, I walk along dry stone terraces and wildflower meadows to a cliff, where steam rises from a cleft in the rock. This is the Grotta di Benikulà, where the vapors emerge from the mountain in the small cave, creating something like a hammam heated by a volcano. I roast inside, emerging drenched in sweat to a view of wildflowers, the crumbling caldera plains beyond and the blue Mediterranean in the distance. Again, you can see North Africa if it’s clear, but I don’t need to – Pantelleria’s multicultural history is embedded in rock.

About Juana Jackson

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