Monastero: A Place Where Those with Nothing to Hide, Can Hide
By Gail O’Neill
In 1985, fashion photographer Fabrizio Ferri was in search of an exotic location for photo shoots that wouldn’t take him too far from his home in Milan. So when a friend recommended a tiny gem of an Italian island just 100 km southwest of Sicily, Ferri’s curiosity was piqued and he boarded a flight for Pantelleria.
Upon landing, Ferri was captivated by the quality of the light and the intensity of a landscape marked by craggy volcanic rocks, sheer cliffs that fell into the sea and dry stone walls. He was swept away by the sirocco: a Mediterranean air current that travels north from the Sahara — giving Pantelleria her nickname “Daughter of the Wind”– which helped sculpt the island’s rugged terrain. And in addition to finding the perfect place to shoot pretty pictures, he’d found a home away from home. Literally.
“By the time I got back to Milan,” he recalls, “the keys to my first dammuso were rattling in my pocket.” To be sure, Ferri’s dammuso–a cavelike rural home with thick walls, small windows and domed roof–was a very humble abode. But the post-restoration result inspired him to purchase a hamlet of long-empty dammusi from a local family three years later. “I felt the urge to save these testimonies to human resourcefulness” he says, “and transform them into something I could share with others.”
Never one to be limited by practicalities like budgets or feasibility; Ferri’s guiding principles from start to finish were love and respect for the land and her ancient dwellings. “I wanted to show that it was possible to bring new life to these old stones without erasing the patina of age,” he says. And once he met Gabriella Giuntoli (a Milanese architect who’d come to Pantelleria in the summer of 1966 and never left) Ferri recognized a kindred spirit whose philosophy that “…even if slightly crooked, a handmade wall of stones from the fields is infinitely more beautiful than concrete,” perfectly aligned with his own thinking.
Once the hardware was fortified, Ferri commissioned Milan-based designer Barbara Frua De Angeli to curate the software. As a start, she re-imagined nine unique guest quarters–some with private gardens, others with frescoes–and all with large baths and shaded verandas. Added touches like gem-toned linens, antique beds and sculptural lamps mixed with sleek, modern consoles and the occasional African textile rounded out the picture inside. While Etruscan urns, palm trees imported from Spain, hand-carved lounge furniture from Brazil and an infinity pool set the tone outside. Thus, Monastero was born.
Word spread fast among the creative classes of fashion, film and advertising about the sacred spot where one might rest, meditate and fulfill their dreams of silence and regeneration. By the mid-90’s, privacy-seekers like Madonna and Sting were regular guests at Monastero. Prima ballerina Alessandra Ferri (same last name, but no relation to Fabrizio before they met and fell in love on the island nearly 20 years ago) calls Pantelleria “the only place I know where one feels absolutely connected to one’s own creativity.” And that spiritual connection is likely what attracted the British sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor — who recently departed after his one-month stay at Monastero.
Of course, you don’t have to be a photographer to appreciate the quality of the light and intensity of the landscape that first captivated Ferri’s imagination. Nor do you have to be a gourmand to savor the island’s bounty of fresh fish, herbs and produce–including pomegranates, olives, capers and grapes that yield Passito: a sweet Pantellerian wine. And you don’t have to be a painter to appreciate the juxtaposition of the rugged countryside with a colorful African sunset on the horizon. (On a clear day you can see the shores of Tunisia, which is only 60 km away from Pantelleria.)
Yet for all these aesthetic riches, Ferri’s greatest point of pride is “not so much what you do see, but what you don’t,” at Monastero. Because despite renovations, the property’s ancient charm has been maintained by hiding all wiring underground and shunning standard conveniences like televisions, telephones and minibars. To be sure, such luxe, atmospheric lodgings are not for everyone. But if Ferri’s dream of “a place where those with nothing to hide, can hide,” is your idea of la dolce vita, get off the beaten path to happily-ever-after and say “I do” to Monastero.
Monastero Pantelleria, A Private Villa Retreat, is available for luxury weddings and honeymoons. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.