The Mediterranean’s best-kept luxury secret
Known as “the black pearl of the Mediterranean” for its striking black-lava cliffs, the volcanic island of Pantelleria consistently draws Italian glitterati (Giorgio Armani has owned a villa hat for nearly 40 years) looking for a respite far from the fanfare of perennial hot spots like Capri and Portofino.
The largest of Sicily’s satellite islands, about 40 miles east of Tunisia, Pantelleria has an arid, windblown climate and a rich history — its long Iist of inhabitants includes the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Arabs, who began arriving thousands ofyears ago — that informs its calm and ancient charm. This summer’s debut of Sikelia, Pantelleria’s first true luxury hotel, promises to lure a new influx of sophisticated travelers to the tony paradise.
The 20-suite oasis, owned by financier-turned-winemaker Giulia Pazienza Gelmetti, is the result of a 10 year labor of love. Sikelia’s suites, each unique, are contrasts in lush velvet and linen, framed by metal, concrete and glass, with vaulted ceilings that lend an airy ambience. The resort comes to life at dusk, when guests gather in the palm-studded courtyard for cocktails and freshly fried polenta chips; on a clear evening, you can climb a few stairs to the roof and see Tunisia. At Sikelia’s restaurant, Thema — a joint venture with Milan’s celebrated ll Ristorante Tussardi Alla Scala — executive chef Roberto Conti melds Arabic and North African flavors with traditional Italian cuisine. Its served alongside wine from Sikelia’s sister property, L’Officina di Coste Ghirlanda, a stone-terraced vineyard with an outdoor dining area illuminated by candlelight after dark.
Pantelleria’s zibibbo grapes — which grow nowhere else on earth — make the island a destination for oenophiles. Passito di Pantelleria, the area’s famous dessert wine, is on hand at the Pantelleria outpost of world-class Sicilian winemaker Donnafugata, where you can sample multiple vintages along with small plates like ravioli with fresh ricotta and mint.
A day at sea exploring the island’s craggy coastline is a requisite part of any Pantescan adventure: Procure some famous Sicilian arancini (baseball-size rice balls) and wine, and charter a gommone — an inflatable motorboat with a large sun bed and a captain — from La Tortuga at the main port. At sunset, head to the island’s famous Lago di Venere, a heart-shaped natural lake known for its thermal springs and mineral-rich mud.