After dinner it’s time for a dance party on the terrace of the Hotel Raya, which generally hosts a pitch-perfect high-low Mediterranean mix—drunk teenagers from Naples, graying playboys, minor royalty from across Europe and Russia, imported models, and Thurman or Heidi Klum lounging on cream-colored daybeds. The disco overlooks the sea, and every few minutes Stromboli’s volcano lights up the night sky like a champagne bottle spewing fire. This little slab of cement has been the stage for a thousand romances, drunken alliances, and/or one-night stands, all to the soundtrack of “the same outdated house music every night,” says 16-year-old Filippa Brandolini d’Adda with a laugh, who spent part of last summer here.
It was the opening of the Raya in the Sixties that transformed Panarea into an aristo-boho retreat. The property’s owners, artists Myriam Beltrami and Paolo Tilche, had hosted scores of friends from abroad in a guesthouse next to the fisherman’s cottage they called home. Slowly, that guesthouse expanded up the hill, taking over a few caves along the way, as more rooms and terraces were built from the local limestone. Gianni Agnelli, Aristotle Onassis, and Francis Bacon became regulars. (The fact that Tilche imported young beauties as his waitresses to serve lobster and cocktails in sarongs and bare feet surely didn’t hurt.)
However, the Raya hardly compares with such Mediterranean grande-dame legends as the Hôtel du Cap or the Hotel Cala di Volpe. As the locals will tell you, this is just one more of Panarea’s calculated defenses against the jetset’s B-list.
“The Raya is for people who have too much and want to find themselves,” says Beltrami of her perennially booked lodgings. In an attempt to dissuade any more of these people from soul-searching at her establishment, Beltrami goes to some lengths to keep the hotel’s modest two-star rating—refusing to add flat-screen TVs to the rooms, for example. Instead, there are sprawling private terraces, some with trees sprouting through them, others with spectacular rocks. Trees and spectacular rocks, thankfully, don’t up your rating.
A few hours into the dancing scene on the Raya’s terraces, someone inevitably invites the late-night crowd back to his yacht for an after-party; by sunrise, communal skinny-dipping tends to ensue.
There is no marina or deep harbor here, so yachts must make do. Lipari, the biggest of the Aeolian islands, has proved much more accommodating—Abramovich is rumored to have purchased a villa there, and last summer Naomi Campbell all but started a turf war when she declared that she preferred that island’s Turmalin to the Raya’s disco. To Panarea’s Via Vincenzella set, this was fantastic news. “A lot of people come to Panarea for the VIP social scene,” says Verde Visconti, Prada’s director of public relations and celebrities. “But then they get here and see that nothing is going on, and chances are they don’t come back again.”