Pantelleria may be overlooked by guidebooks but family travelers shouldn't do the same. This small, volcanic island - closer to Tunisia than Sicily - is one of the Mediterranean's few true pearls. But take note, beaches aren't the reason for a trek here. Pantelleria's shoreline is, for the most part, lava rock not sand. So why take the kids? The island's blue-green waters offer some of Italy's best snorkeling. Inlets and caves, some as grand as cathedrals, make boat trips interesting. Sesi - circular cairns - and Phoenician tombs, at Mursia and Monastero respectively, provide families with a chance to play archaeologist for the day. The hot springs at Grotta di Nicà, in the village of Scauri, a chance to take a Roman bath. And that's not all! Hike Monte Grande, the island's highest peak, and take in the views of North Africa and the Straight of Sicily. Walk the circumference of Lago Specchio di Venere (Venus' Mirror) and, in addition to taking in the volcanic lake's incredible color, watch migratory birds in spring and fall. Follow the trail to Girlanda Valley and discover how modern day islanders survive. Nothing is wasted on Pantelleria.
Pantelleria is located 70 km (43 miles) east of Tunisia and 100 km (62 miles) southwest of Mazara del Vallo, Sicily. Flights depart daily year-round from Palermo and Trapani (both on the island of Sicily) and from Milan, Rome, Venice and Bologna during the peak summer season. Siremar offers a daily ferry service between Trapani and Pantelleria. The outbound leg of the trip is overnight, the return (6 hours) is during the day. Hydrofoils, passenger and car, depart daily from Mazara del Vallo in July and August (2 hours) and Trapani from mid-June to mid-October (2.5 hours). Ustica Lines also connects Pantelleria to Sousse in Tunisia three times week in July and August. Of note, rough seas can make ferry passage unpredictible in winter.
Footpaths crisscross Pantelleria and buses ply island roads five times each day. Yet families traveling to this small island just 83 square km in size are likely to find that a car or scooter makes getting around easier. What's more, to fully enjoy the sea you need a boat. Many of Pantelleria's inlets and coves are accessible only by boat and it is difficult to access the water from many of the island's lava rock beaches.
Swimming and boating are ideal in summer but from June to August it is often too hot to do much else. Hiking, touring and bird watching are best in spring and fall. And while it may be too cold to swim before June the sea stays warm well into October. Wildflowers dot the landscape from March through May. Migratory birds stop here on their marathon journeys each spring and fall.
Heat exhaustion, sunburn and dehydration are the most frequent ailments afflicting tourists to Pantelleria. Wear sunscreen and a hat with a brim and carry plenty of water when hiking, boating and touring.
While there are a few resorts on the island the best way to experience Pantelleria is to rent a damusso. But take note, this is not a last minute destination. Flights, ferries and accommodation are limited and best booked well in advance.