That was just the beginning. In 1988, while exploring the wilds of the island, he found himself standing amid a hamlet of long-empty dammusi. Within months, he’d purchased the village from a local family. “I felt the urge to save these testimonies to human resourcefulness and transform them into something I could share with others,” he says. To aid him in that endeavor, Ferri turned to Gabriella Giuntoli, a Milanese architect who had arrived in Pantelleria for a short trip in the summer of 1966 and never left. Her philosophy: “Even if slightly crooked, a handmade wall of stones from the fields is infinitely more beautiful than concrete.”
The result of Ferri and Giuntoli’s collaboration was Monastero, an intimate resort with six sparsely furnished, whitewashed guest rooms. Before long, the place was overflowing with creative types. In the mid-Nineties Sting spent a month at Monastero while working on Mercury Falling. But the most fortuitous guest, at least for Ferri, arrived in 1996. Alessandra Ferri, a renowned ballerina who just happened to share a surname with the photographer, was invited to visit by her friend Isabella Rossellini, who was working on a shoot with Ferri. “I went and suddenly my whole life changed,” says Alessandra, with whom Ferri now has two daughters. The couple live in New York but visit Monastero as frequently as possible. “It is the only place I know where one feels absolutely connected to one’s own creativity,” says Alessandra.
Two years ago, however, Ferri noticed that Monastero was looking a little careworn. Alessandra suggested they ask Frua De Angeli, who was married to Ferri in the early Eighties and has a grown daughter with him, to restyle the place. “Barbara is part of the family,” says Alessandra. “She knows what we like and what we need.”
Working side by side with Giuntoli and Giuntoli’s son, Andrea, Frua De Angeli reimagined the guest quarters, designing nine unique rooms, some with private gardens, others with frescoes, and all with large baths and shaded verandas. Gem-toned linens, antique beds and sculptural lamps mix with sleek, modern consoles and the occasional African textile. Three of the rooms are in additional dammusi adjacent to the village that Ferri bought in 2006.
In between dips in the pool and excursions to nearby archaeological sites, guests feast on local food and Passito, the sweet Pantellerian wine. Despite the renovations, however, Ferri was careful to maintain Monastero’s ancient charm, hiding all wiring underground and shunning standard conveniences like televisions, telephones and minibars. “I wanted to show that it was possible to bring new life to these old stones without erasing the patina of age,” he says. “The greatest accomplishment here is not so much what you do see but what you don’t.”