On a recent trip to Italy, I knew my boyfriend and I would need to see Pantelleria - the Sicilian island I'd first seen in Luca Guadagnino's film, "A Bigger Splash".
Years later and there we were - mounting a moped at the Pantelleria airport and riding it to our hotel; a heart-pounding experience, but the sights whizzing by – the Mediterranean Sea, the occasional Fiat Panda, sculptural vegetation, and a sprinkling of domed structures – made us fall in love immediately with this exotic place.
Margot Panseca greeted us warmly when we arrived to Parco Dei Sesi, a local hotel she recently renovated with her husband, Massimiliano. Her caftan swirled glamorously in the wind while she gave us a tour of the seaside sanctuary; passing through the stone structures, we passed a handful of cats and two goats along the way.
Margot, who used to be a Parisian model agent, sometimes compares their new life to the documentary, “The Biggest Little Farm,” wherein a family restores a fallow farm by having to basically start over. In many ways, that’s what it’s been like since her and Massimiliano, who fell in love on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria, started renovating his family’s old compound: learning how to work with the island's materials and grow their own food.
That October day, with its high-design rooms, beautiful old stone walls (part of the unique ecosystem here - they protect from very strong winds) and stunning pool area, Parco Dei Sesi was vivacious with artistic energy. One of its structures is an ancient dammuso, that aforementioned domed house that takes design cues from all of the island's conquerors, the Turks, Romans and Arabs to name a few.
After the tour, we retired to our suite and took a nap with the window open and a gentle breeze coming through. Margot suggested that we have dinner on the property, so we arrived at seven and joined a lovely couple from Dusseldorf at the long wooden table. Together, we shared a Zucca pantesca in agrodolce (sweet and sour pumpkin), a simple pasta with red sauce. Margot explained that the kitchen usually doesn’t follow recipes; they create according to mood, and often use lemon zest, capers and raw olive oil. We drank a natural rose called Cloe from the local cantina Abbazia San Giorgio and slept like the stones enclosing us.
Pantelleria’s perimeter is 51.5 kilometers - we had the joy of riding all the way around it on our moped the following day. It took one afternoon for us to make it back to our starting point.
First, we cruised along Strada Perimetrale and pulled over to see the Punta Spadillo Lighthouse, which is believed to be abandoned. Around it are many crumbling, fortress-like structures built from the black lava rock; remainders probably, from World War Two, when the island was heavily bombed.
Our second stop was Specchio di Venere, the “Mirror of Venus” lake. This small body of water, located inside a volcano’s caldera, was once described by the writer Cesar Brandi as such: “You can never forget the lake’s bucolic look, the sense of a long faraway sunset, of calm and settled life, oblivious, after the elements have ended their war.” As we waded in, we could feel the hot bubbles arising from the earth. We scooped the mineral-laden mud and covered our bodies and faces with it, along with a group of local teenagers. Our skin was soft for days afterward.
After our stop at the open-air spa, we sped along the two-lane road and way up into the cliffs, with the Mediterranean Sea spread out below us, like a million tiny sapphires glittering in the sun. We stopped for tapas and aperitifs at Kaya Kaya, a rustic beach bar overlooking the Scauri harbor.
Later that evening, we took the moped out for one last ride on the perimeter road, to La Risacca, a restaurant favored by locals and serving traditional Pantescan cuisine. In its open-air dining room, everyone was treated to views of the port, and we even ran into the German couple we'd dined with the night before, and spotted another couple from our flight from Trapani (we'd been in the countryside of Sicily prior to Pantelleria).
That untrodden, in-the-know feel extended itself during our entire stay. It's just part of the beauty of this magical island of cats, ruins, volcanic pools and lava rock that will always remain just underneath our mineral-blessed skin.
To book a stay at Parco Dei Sesi, click here.
Photographs by: Stacy Suaya, K. Adam Bloom and Parco Dei Sesi