Set amongst the blue waters of the Mediterranean, with sun-drenched Sicily to the North and Tunisian coast to the South, the tiny, windblown island of Pantelleria is one of the very few South European isles still untouched by mass tourism.
Raw and unapologetically beautiful, Pantelleria’s charm doesn’t come in an all-inclusive-package typical for the popular islands, but rather, encourages you to jump in the car and embrace adventure awaiting amongst the twisted roads, filled with the smell of fennel carried by the ever-present sirocco. Be it exploring the rugged coast with hot springs, emerald grottoes and fumaroles speckled across its shores, wine-tasting at the island’s many vineyards or indulging in the fabulous cuisine, Pantelleria has a lot to offer. Nick-named ‘the black pearl of Mediterranean’, a reference to the dark volcanic rock erupting from the ground, the island is accessible by a small plane which departs daily from Palermo, its slim silhouette cutting through the skies being the only disturbance to the quiet island life.
Perhaps it was the island’s exclusivity, the reason that turned it into a gateway of many A-listers, including the island’s most famous summer resident Giorgio Armani, that encouraged Luca Guadagnino to choose Pantelleria as a location for his most recent film, A Bigger Splash.
Released in the UK on February 12th, The Bigger Splash is a sensuously dazzling tale portraying desire, jealousy and rock’n’roll under the heat of the Mediterranean sun. Starring Ralph Fiennes (Spectre), Tilda Swinton (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far From the Madding Crowd), the film is an absolute treat to the senses. The slowly unwinding plot, drenched in the smells and colours of the island, builds on the scenery and food culture of Pantelleria, magically transporting the viewer amongst the flower-covered lanes and breathtakingly turquoise waters of its hidden lakes. The story begins as the main characters, a high-profile couple – a rock star and a filmmaker, enjoy a blissfully relaxing afternoon taking a mud bath at one of the island’s landmarks, a heart-shaped Venus Lake. It’s then that their vacation gets abruptly disturbed by the sudden visit of the rock star’s ex-lover and his sexy, yet mysterious daughter. Suddenly, what was supposed to be an ideal getaway turns into a whirlwind of jealousy, passion and danger for everyone in the group. With Pantelleria’s landscapes adding to the sensuous plot, the film is a must-see for any travel lover.
Thanks to Studio Canal, the production company behind the picture, I was able to explore first-hand what this stunning island had to offer. Channeling my inner rock star, I followed in the footsteps of Tilda Swindon, taking in the stunning landscapes and embracing the island life for a delightful two days. Our first stop after checking in at Cossyra Hotel, its white, rock-like structure contrasting against the shimmering sea, was the Venus Lake (Specchio di Venere). Sat in a volcanic crater, its ground covered with mineral-rich mud, the aquamarine waters of the lake were a sharp contrast to the surrounding hills.
We then headed towards Cala 5 Denti, where the dramatic outcrop of the black rugged rock plummets into the sea. A short hike down an overgrown, herb-filled path with stunning views of the coast took us to my favourite place on the island, Laghetto delle Ondine, where one of the most sensuous scenes of the film was shot. This tiny, emerald-green lake lies in an enchanting valley carved by the waves, turning it into a natural swimming pool.
Panetella isn’t a beach destination because of its rocky coastline, however, it’s the hidden, crystal-clear lakes like Laghetto delle Ondine that make up for it, adding to the unique feel of the island.
The afternoon that followed was a whirlwind of delicious food and wine, served to us at a local Basile wine cantina by Peter Lambert who happened to be a personal chef of many A listers, including Robert De Niro. It doesn’t get much better than a bit of Hollywood gossip over delicious local wine in the shade of palm trees! Peter’s food is a modern take on Pantelleria’s classics, with the obligatory capers mixed in with the dishes. An absolute delight!
Tenuta Borgia, the main shooting location of A Bigger Splash, was one of our final stops on the second day of the trip. The villa, surrounded by a beautiful Arabic garden and overlooking the coastline is a true homage to Pantelleria’s architecture, with the iconic, dome-like rooftops gently curved towards the sky and a unique, vintage decor adding character to the interiors. Strolling through tenuta’s grounds and recognising the familiar sites from the film felt quite surreal. If you too want to embrace your inner film star, the idyllic estate is available for rent.
Pantelleria’s charm and raw beauty add a breath of fresh air to the European travel scene, making it a wonderful getaway for those looking for the ‘escape from it all’. From the moment you step your foot on board of the tiny plane that carries you across the blue sea, your stay will be an adventure. Before you decide to go, be sure to watch A Bigger Splash to get a taste of what’s awaiting you on the island and I can promise it will be nothing short of wonderful!