There was much to love in Luca Guadagnino’s 2015 offering A Bigger Splash: Ralph Fiennes’ frenzied gyrating to ‘Emotional Rescue’, Tilda Swinton’s mesmeric, near silent performance, Matthias Schoenaerts’ brooding beauty. But for us, it was the sun bleached setting of the Italian island of Pantelleria that transfixed our attention, not least the stunning estate dotted with ‘dammusi’ where the drama plays out.
Sixty miles southwest of Sicily, and thirty miles east of Tunisia, Pantelleria sits on the brink between Europe and Africa. Occupied since prehistoric times, ancient ruins show that the local volcano, the climate, the geography and the island’s vulnerability to invasion has resulted in a piece of island-specific architecture – the dammuso.
Characteristically the dammuso is a single-storey house built from local volcanic stone with exceptionally thick walls. This sturdy bone structure helps to keep the interior cool in summer and warm in winter, while also holding up the domed roofs whose undulations form wells to capture rain water. The basic design remains as it was in the 10th century, but we have discovered seven stunning rentals that combine traditional accoutrements with all the joys and necessities of a modern villa.
Fancy actually staying on the set? Swinton, Fiennes et al shot A Bigger Splash on location at the Tenuta Borgia estate, which has seven dammusi dotted along the southwest coast of Pantelleria. As indicated by its name, Grande is the largest, sleeping eight guests across two buildings. For both fans of the film and those unaware of its existence, the majolica tiled 12m swimming pool is a star draw.
Also part of Tenuta Borgia, Palmeto is a smaller dammuso sleeping four in two vaulted bedrooms. It was renovated by Gabriella Giuntoli, who designed Giorgio Armani’s dammuso on Pantelleria and has become the go-to architect for restoring these unusual homes. Out front there is a large dining and lazing terrace complete with pergola, a small jacuzzi pool and views across the vineyards and out to sea. For guests tempted to venture away from the sun loungers, the coastline offers caves, lava sculptures, emerald coves and sunset views.
Gabriella Giuntoli also worked her magic on Villa Tenuta Nemo, which sits within eight hectares of landscaped gardens looking out to North Africa. The estate comprises four dammusi, arranged around a huge elliptical swimming pool and solarium. The largest has a big living room with tall white ceilings and arched doors and windows. Villa Tenuta Nemo sleeps between 6-10 people, and is just three miles from Scauri harbour.
This three-bedroom villa, which takes its name from the Arabic word for ‘moon’, sits on the fringes of the Scauri district on the south-west side of the island. The Pantelleria dammuso – which sleeps 5-6 people – is wrapped in terraces that look out to sea and down to the bell tower and harbour of Scauri. Interiors are simple and bright, mixing Italian and North African influences, and each room has access to its own deck. The villa comes with a swimming pool echoing the shape of the dammuso’s domed roof.
Set in the Monastero district, Casa del Vento is a charming collection of dammusi set in a garden of succulents, palms and olive trees. Inside, the complex sleeps twelve in elegant alcove rooms while outside, carved wooden hammocks surround a 15m pool. The main choice to make is between a bedroom with views of the sea or the dramatic island mountains.
Perched on a promontory overlooking the sea of Pantelleria, this is a jewel of a dammuso. Out front is the infinity pool which is carved into the coastal cliff, and look right for a prime view of the Arco dell’Elefante. The interior decoration calls on both the Italian and African traditions, featuring carved wooden furnishings and vivid fabrics. A highlight is the poolside seating area – a stunning Balinese four poster bed.
Decorated with a nod to the modern, Casa Nuova features a blend of clean lines and ancient curves. Positioned above the village of Scauri, with views down into the port and across to Tunisia, it sleeps eight in four minimalist bedrooms. Best is the long elegant pool, which stretches across one of the house’s many terraces.