Tuesday, October 10, 2017


I don't know if I'll get round to it, but just to say the island of Pantelleria (the Black Pearl), south of Sicily, is rather volcanic in nature (source). A nature nonetheless that determines just that: were there no volcano, then there were no island.

For some unknown reason, my stay on Pantelleria coincides with a break in the 6 months summer drought, a break with storms and rain. Much to the delight of locals no doubt, as there's precious little water to be had.
With the backdrop of fierce winds and clouds hugging everything above 300m (the islands peaks extend to 800m), we leave the village of Scauri behind us and slowly trug up the hill. 
Five minutes in, my partner and I are seemingly leading an expedition with two friendly dogs tagging along. We cross the Monastero plain and leave  the remnants of agriculture behind us as we switchback up the side of the mountain (photo below).

Today's menu consists of a visit to the Bagno Asciutto (sometimes known as  Grotta di Benikulà or more simply Sauna Naturale or a variation of those) followed by a search for distant steam vents.

This side of the Pantelleria's highest mountain (Monte Grande) is characterised as having a fault line along which steam evaporates.
The Bagno Asciutto (which translates as dry bath) is one of Pantelleria's prime inland attractions. From the village of Sibà, it's a 20 minute well-defined and gentle walk. 
From Scauri it's less obvious, but all can see you'll need to scramble up the side of the mountain. 
There's been a considerable investment in trails and tracks by the local (?) government, so easy to find, no worries.

The sauna or cave itself is basically a 5m deep cleft into the mountain, a meter and a half high. One walks to the end and sits as high as possible to feel the heat slowly invade the body.

On arrival, in and around the cave there's a fair crowd of curious participants coming and going. There's not much space outside the cave, though off to the far side park officials have created a platform with benches which is used for changing though would be better as a cool down area (the benches are used for dumping clothes on).

The dogs (having tagged along for the hour long hike) seem to like the place and are invading everyone's personal space. As we're knacked of the climb we loiter around to cool off before entering Mother Earth. 
Everyone seems prepared, swim costumes already on: no need to disclose their bodies to total strangers. All visitors during our stay (more than 30) were Italian, so that might go some way to explaining body issues. It also seems that many are there only out of curiosity, their stay (including disrobing and changing) all done with 5-15 minutes. 
After half an hour catching our breath, we proceed to enter. Our dogs seek to follow but whimper out and must have decided that us being swallowed by earth meant that this was time for them to return (?).

gianlucanuzzo View from the inside:
Pantelleria | Sicily
Inside there are some makeshift benches from stone. Vapours arise from below and stick to the roof where they condense in drops and trickles.
In all honesty, it's of course no sauna, but a steam bath nonetheless. It's hot but not overtly, I see suggestions on the internet of an air temperature of 38°C, which may well be correct. 

After the heating process it's time to wind down on the benches outside. Note on a busier day there's little space outside the cave for such. Views are excellent.

Scouring the view to Scauri, what happened to the horizon?

After dressing up we continue along the ridge southwards. 

The path climbs further and after 45 minutes one comes to an open pass from which one can see steam ahead in a small valley and steam from the right, up the hill. 
We decide to explore the right first. Named Fossa del Russo (Russian pits), it's a rather eerie place especially in the wind driven cloudy circumstances of our visit. On top there are some ruins built over some of the vents, nearby are more natural ones. Nature lovers heed that last year a major bush fire swept through here, might be a few years before it greens over.

Apparently, the place was used during WW II to station anti-aircraft guns. Part of the complex was built over the steam vents thus ensuring that the military didn't get cold. According to my source.

We then proceed to valley located springs, the Favare Grande. Along the ridge are a number of vents, letting off steam. Locals have built smaller structures around to let the steam condense before it evaporates in the dry sky: the condensation feeds small troughs of water for cattle purposes. Water is precious on Pantelleria.

There are very few English language references, despite the occurrence of a natural sauna cave being pretty unique on this planet. All my braincells can come up with are a sauna cave below the Hoover dam in the U.S.A., though it's probably more of a hot spring in a cave. 
Freeing my mind, google reminds of the opportunity missed last year on Milos (ah; note this link claiming it's the only one on this planet). There's another on Antartica (link) and in Guatemala (link).

Anyway Tripadvisor ranks a visit to Bagno Asciutto as
#5 of 43 things to do in Pantelleria.
It gives it 4.5 stars based on 260+ reviews, though only 3 (?) of these are in English.
Likewise Tripadavisor rates La Favare as 4.5 stars (18 reviews).

On the former, I did find this particularly interesting study on degassing on Pantelleria (Fabbro, 2010).

From the Rough Guide To Sicily (2017):
'From Sibà, another (signposted) path - on the left as you follow the road through the village - brings you in around twenty minutes to a natural sauna, the Grotta del Bagno Asciutto, where you can sweat it out for as long as you can stand. It's little more than a slit in the rock face, where you can crouch in absolute darkness, breaking out into a heavy sweat as soon as you enter. It's coolest at floor level; raising yourself up is like putting yourself into a pizza oven, while the ceiling is so hot it's impossible to keep the palm of your hand pressed flat against it. Ten minutes is the most you should attempt the first time - emerging into the midday sun is like being wafted by a cool breeze. Bring a towel'.
It all seems rather spectacular, then again Rough Guides are very Brits in their comparisons ... 

Fabbro, G. (2010) Degassing and Deformation on Pantelleria Magma Chamber, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

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