Visiting the south-eastern angle of Sicily, from Siracusa to Agrigento is like taking a tour behind the scenes of a movie: the famous television series of inspector Salvo Montalbano.
The inspector was created about 15 years ago by the Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri who was born in this area, more precisely in Porto Empedocle. Montalbano soon became very popular both as a TV series and as a novel. Nearly all the episodes have been filmed in so-called Baroque Sicily (Ragusa Ibla, Modica, Scicli, Ispica…) and along the sea side strip that goes from Porto Empedocle to Capo Passero.
The original books are written in a mixture of Italian and Sicilianized Italian and read like a litte ‘teatrino siciliano’ offering a picturesque description of the Sicilian countryside and seaside and of Sicilian society. Dark sophistication, dry humor, astute detective work, mixed with lots of local color, rich descriptions of the island’s cuisine and the moody and melancholic inspector character are the main ingredients that characterize the Montalbano novel series.
Our visit of Sicily in the footsteps of Montalbano, starts from his sea-side house located at Punta Secca, renamed ‘Marinella’ in the fiction. A lot of the movie scenes have been shot from the balcony of this house. Take a stroll on the beach in front of the house overlooking the sea and imagine Montalbano on the balcony… The house has now been converted into a bed and breakfast where you may want to spend a night, just to really step into the character’s shoes!
Just 30 meters further there is a small bar where you can try the famous arancini (a Sicilian specialty) and a favorite of inspector Montalbano. The place is called Arancini di Montalbano so you can’t really miss it.They have several types of arancini, we recommend the ones filled with aubergines.
Instead, the seafront promenade of Marinella, appearing in a few episodes, is located in Donnalucata.
Continuing our Montalbano-themed journey, the next immediate step is to follow the inspector at his workplace: the Commissariato (police station) of Vigata, the fictional town where most of the action takes place. This commissariato is located in Scicli, a small baroque town in the Val di Noto, and is not actually the police station but the town hall. We suggest you have a seat on the terrace of the bar facing the town hall. While having a coffee close your eyes and imagine Montalbano and his men actively working in that commissariato.
At this point, we suggest you jump into the car and head towards the nearby village called DonnaFugata. Once there, go to the city’s castle or dimora that – in the fiction – belongs to the mafia boss, Don Balduccio Sinagra. You can walk up the stairsteps of this magnificient villa “recalling” the episodes of the fiction when our detective goes visiting the mafia’s boss. The atmosphere is exactly the same!
If you are still avid for more of Montalbano’s adventures, take a walk in the square of the Marzamemi fisherman village (Piazza Ragina Elena). Make sure to ask directions to the old borgo or fisher harbor as the other part of Marzamemi is not really worth seeing! Instead the fisher harbor and its large main square is a wonderful place with a magical atmosphere at night time: full of small fish restaurants (excellent is Il Cortile Arabo ), craft shops and small bars for a late drink.
See also: Our top 5 restaurants in South-Eastern Sicily.
Two other towns worth a visit, both as settings in the television series and for their wonderful baroque architectural heritage, are Modica and Ragusa Ibla.
Modica’s Duomo di San Giorgio is an important symbol of Montalbano and a recurrent setting in the television series. It is the second church of Vigata, the first being the Duomo di San Giorgio of Ragusa Ibla. Modica’s Duomo of San Giorgio, with its imponent steps and the adjacent palace, have really become iconic of Montalbano’s Vigata.
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Corso XXV Aprile in Ragusa Ibla is the main street of ‘Vigata’. The Giardini Iblei and their Viale delle Palme were also immortalized in the television series.
Piazza Pola and Palazzo della Delegazione Comunale in Ragusa Ibla is the prefettura of Fela and seat of the Commissariato of Vigata in a few episodes, such as La Forma dell’acqua and La pazienza del ragno. The Church of San Giuseppe also appears in several episodes of the television series. Several restaurants and streets have also been used as a setting for a few episodes.
Lastly, not to be missed is piazza del Duomo in Ortigia (Siracusa) that in the movie represents the questura of ‘Montelusa’ (another fictional village).
Piazza del Duomo is one of the most atmospheric squares where to hang out at night.
Written July 18, 2012. Updated January 28, 2015.
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Photo credits (top to bottom): all photos © Slow Italy, except: statue of Montalbano by Paula Kirby; Donnalucata by ialla; Donnafugata by senzasenso; Cathedral of San Giorgio Modica by Jelle Drok; Duomo di San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla by archeoseby; Ragusa Ibla lamppost by ingirogiro; Giardini Iblei Viale delle Palme by marcopapale.com; Piazza del Duomo by Jelle Drok; Piazza del Duomo by Giuseppe.