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I Hiked, Swam, and Picked Capers on Pantelleria for 4 Days

Our rental was the house from Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash.

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Barbara Potts
Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Barbara Potts

Everyone knows that person who spends weeks sniffing around travel blogs, going deep into Tripadvisor rabbit holes, collecting Google docs from friends of friends, and creating A Beautiful Mind–style spreadsheets to come up with the best vacations/itineraries possible. In this recurring series, we find those people who’ve done all the work for you and have them walk us through a particularly wonderful, especially well-thought-out vacation they took that you can actually steal.

As her maternity leave was coming to an end this spring, Barbara Potts, co-founder of Saks Potts, was eager to book a relaxing trip with her boyfriend and their 7-month-old before heading back to work. “Sort of like a baby honeymoon,” she jokes. Potts, who’s based in Copenhagen, was committed to traveling somewhere restorative — a destination that would satisfy her hankering for peace and quiet, locally produced food, hiking, sunsets, and the sea. An Italian friend suggested Pantelleria, a small island between Sicily and Tunisia, which led to other friends advising her to rent the “very specific, very beautiful house” from her favorite film, Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash. “I fell in love with the architecture on the island; you can really see the Arab influence,” says Potts of the dammusi, the single-story homes built from local volcanic stones typical to Pantelleria. Here, she shares details from a week of laid-back island life: savory meals made with fresh produce, meandering strolls along the beach, and swims in a volcano-created lake.

Day 1

11 a.m.: Take multiple flights to Pantelleria

We landed in Pantelleria after many connecting flights. As we were traveling in the off-season, there were very few flights, so we had to travel from Copenhagen to Zurich, Zurich to Palermo, and Palermo to Pantelleria. We were traveling with our young daughter — we were all very tired but excited. The last flight was a really tiny aircraft, so we could see the island’s volcanic surface as we got near the airport of Pantelleria. We rented a car at the airport. There is a typical island spirit, very trusting and local — we got this old car with almost no need for any signatures! We packed up the Panda and drove 20 minutes through the beautiful volcanic island to the house.

Noon: Rent a house from a Luca Guadagnino film

We arrived at the house after a gorgeous trip; the terrain is darkened and dry, and the houses are made of thick, earth-toned lava stone. Pantelleria is known as “the pearl of the Mediterranean,” and the dwellings are cube-shaped, simple, and situated along cliffs with a view. Our house for the next four days was Dammuso Grande, the house from the 2015 film A Bigger Splash by Luca Guadagnino. The island is like a heavy perfume: sexy, dark, and somewhat moody.

Day 2

9 a.m.: Stock the kitchen with fresh produce

We were excited to go grocery shopping at the local market. Everything is really simple and small, like just a food stand or two. We picked up tomatoes, eggs, bread, and peaches. The idea was to make a large bowl of uncomplicated pasta for dinner. When we got the keys to the house, we also received this giant can of locally produced olive oil. We end up buying cans of the same oil to bring home for friends and family — it is spectacular.

3 p.m.: Relax by the pool and eat some pasta

On our first full day there, we settled in by the pool and got to know the house. My boyfriend, Rasmus, is an architect and was very interested and fascinated by the place. In the afternoon, we ate some salty chips and sipped lemonade on the terrace while stray cats ran around. Rasmus made us pasta, and after we ate, we went up to the roof of the house to see both the view of the island and the sea.

Day 3

6 a.m.: Hike and pick capers along the way

We got an early start since our daughter wakes up early — vacation or not. We planned to go for a long hike around the island, the three of us. We ate some bread and eggs, threw on some clothes, and got going. We started on the south side of the island, not far from the house, and followed the trails on the east side, almost along the beach, and headed toward an area called Kamma. The island is largely untouched by the masses, which makes it feel almost magical. Like, is this place real? We explored most of the island on foot that day. The weather was a bit moody, which only added to the mystique of the place, especially since we were here in the off-season. While hiking, I recommend looking for capers, they are everywhere and absolutely embody the taste of Pantellerian cuisine.

1 p.m.: Have lunch in a valley

We stopped for lunch at this crazy place called Coste Ghirlanda - Officina (91017 Pantelleria). Great seafood and wine, but more importantly, it feels like a movie set: You walk down cliffs to get deep into this small valley with a cliffside covered in greenery. It’s like you’re in a pot of earth and nature.

3 p.m.: Swim in a volcano

Our last stop of today’s hike was the most important: Lago di Venere (mirror of Venus) in the northern part of the island. The lake is within a volcano, and the water is muddy and filled with pockets of warm bubbling water.

Photo: Emilio Messina/Shutterstock

Day 4

Noon: Catch up on work at home

After returning from visiting friends who were also staying on the island, we spent the afternoon catching up on work at home while our daughter slept.

4 p.m.: Have one last dinner with the locals

Earlier in the day, our friends told us about this incredible restaurant they love, Il Principe e il Pirata (Località Punta Karace, 5). We made a reservation for dinner that night. Getting ready, I realized I packed correctly for once — with crisp button-downs and laid-back pants that work out on the trails as well as in the kitchen cooking dinner. We went to dinner, and I felt very at home with the other guests of the restaurant. I ordered the grilled beef filet with some baked potatoes and a lovely fior di latte gelato with caramel for dessert. The vibe was low-key with mismatched chairs and white table clothes. This trip inspired us more than we could have ever imagined.

Barbara’s Pantelleria packing list

I don’t really wear makeup, but this is my all-day, everyday go-to, which is the perfect multi-use product for the whole face. The island is so simple, so you really don’t need much else.

I love these socks for lounging around the house, and they’re ideal for hiking as they’re naturally insulating and moisture-wicking. They’re also stylish enough to wear for a little ankle exposure with tennis shoes.

The terrain is wild in Pantelleria. You definitely need something indestructible to roll around.

The perfect pants for hiking, cooking, and exploring, which is all you’ll be doing here.

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I Hiked, Swam, and Picked Capers on Pantelleria for 4 Days