Closer to Tunisia than its native Sicily, the volcanic island of Pantelleria has an otherworldly quality, a place that shakes off time and radiates a mythic quality. But it's not an easy island, it makes you work for its affections. Kate Lough explores, and quickly becomes attached.



Transformed from Massimiliano's artist parents’ old dammuso on the west of the island over the past five years, Parco dei Sesi is an agriturismo in the making


Just before midnight, we parked the Mehari on a silent verge and followed host Massimiliano’s instructions up and along the path through darkness. After an hour or so, we found the cave and peeled off our clothes. Inside, a natural sauna waited for us; steam rising off its damp floor, eager to start its healing magic. The slender opening to the outside world just visible by the Full Moon.

This was just one of the happenings that lent Pantelleria its otherworldly feel, a place that shakes off time and radiates a mythic quality. I felt attached, quickly. Secure in its grasp from the moment we carved our way down from the petite airport. I knew I'd love Pantelleria, but it felt like lust. An affair, brief but intoxicating.

A volcanic island cast adrift in the Mediterranean, Pantelleria is closer to Tunisia than its native Sicily. Ancient and untouched, you feel the imprint left by its many invaders over the past millennia. But really, the island belongs to no-one, except perhaps the wind. Its original name in Arabic translates as ‘Daughter of the Wind’, and if you step onto its shores, you are likely to understand why.

Pantelleria is not an easy island. It makes you work for its affections, so that the reward is more gratifying. You spike your feet on its rocks as you look for a good place to make your dive into sapphire blue waters. Sulphur scents the air as you cake yourself in its healing mud at the Lago di Venere. Fumaroles boil and splutter, while hot springs can burn your feet underwater if you swim too close. It is elemental.

Milan-born Massimiliano and his partner, Margot, are the founders of Parco dei Sesi. Transformed from Massimiliano's artist parents’ old dammuso on the west of the island over the past five years, it is an agriturismo in the making. Chickens and goats roam free, while they produce their own capers and olive oil.

In the slower months, the couple host an artist’s residency where makers and painters create works in response to the uniqueness of the island. Recently, LA-based Polish artist Karolina Maszkiewicz created pendants out of seeds and seed pods.

“Her creation is vibrant and moves — it dances naturally in the space with the natural elements,” says Margot. “In Pantelleria, the wind is very present and the sunset is very powerful; it gives her work a unique dimension.”

As well as site-specific artworks, Parco dei Sesi is filled with antique treasures and curiosities the duo find on their travels. Margot, who is originally from Paris and the daughter of an antiques dealer, sources from France, Sicily and mainland Italy during the winter when the hotel is closed to guests.

"Every piece of furniture has a history, a soul and that is what I believe makes the special soul of the property,” she explains. “I get a lot of beautiful old silverware for our tables,” she adds, “we love to create beautiful long tables where our guests exchange stories, laugh together. Parco dei Sesi has created a lot of friendships.” A lot of Parco dei Sesi’s magic comes from Margot and Massimiliano’s personal presence.

One evening they joined us for aperitivo on one of the dammuso’s domed roofs, watching the sun blink into the horizon towards North Africa. Another morning, Margot appeared at breakfast, where we were eating homemade brioche and fresh ricotta, to announce she had organised a boat trip for us. All together, we sailed around the island on a vintage wooden boat, swimming into caves and feasting on pizzette.



They also hold the key to many of the island’s hidden corners, such as the sauna cave, and a family-run vineyard planted within the island’s mountainous interior. After an afternoon baking in the sun like lizards at Cala Tramontana’s old harbour, we jumped in the Mehari for a safari through vines and olive groves. The terrain felt almost tropical, with the sun obscured by clouds that made the air dense and sticky.

As we approached Abbazia San Giorgio, father and son appeared, stripped to the waist, sporting well-sunned, well-fed torsos. Soaked up with hams, cheeses and olives, the family’s homegrown wines — from white to yellow, orange to pink — were sloshed into our glasses. A little bit rough, a lot of joy; classic Pantescan hospitality.

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