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Trip Report Southeastern Sicily, on detective Montalbano's trails

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Southeastern Sicily, a thematic tour in the lands where the scenes of the TV series "Il Commissario Montalbano” have been filmed.

Born from the pen of the great Sicilian writer Andrea Camilleri, masterfully played by the roman actor Luca Zingaretti, Detective Montalbano is produced by RAI TV from 1999; its 22 episodes (the last 3 were broadcast on RAIUNO few weeks ago) score the highest rating ever, and the series has already been distributed and broadcast in many countries.

This is simply the best product of Italian television in the last 10 years, for quality of history, skill of the players and mastery of direction. And the setting that concurs to the great success of the books (Camilleri ideally locates it in the area of Agrigento) has been moved to southeast, especially in the province of Ragusa, where most scenes have been shot.

The house of the detective (actually a B & B) is at Punta Secca, a seaside village in the municipality of Santa Croce Camerina. The police station of Vigata (the fictional town where Montalbano work) is actually the Town Hall of Scicli, detective’s favorite restaurants are in Ragusa, which is the scenic background of many scenes of movies, along with other wonderful baroque towns of Sicily, Modica and Noto. In the castle of Donnafugata is the (forced) residence of the padrino Don Balduccio Sinagra, and the former Fornace Penna is the “Mannara", a place of skulduggery. The countryside, among the Mediterranean Sea and Iblei mountains, between blue skies and roads surrounded by stone walls, is the typical scenario of this area of Sicily that has preserved well enough from the intrusiveness of modernity.

Recognizing the places of the movies is not always easy, they often look different live, populated by elements of disorder, without some features the director introduces to support the story. But there are details that connect immediately reality and fiction: a dish of spaghetti with roasted tomatoes at La Rusticana, an old red FIAT 500, a wedding on the Scalinata of Caltagirone, a barefoot walk between the dunes and the sea , blue as the sky. And people you meet, never intrusive but always ready for dialogue.

Much has been said about the Sicilian people, but a typical feature is certainly their natural theatricality: the ability to choose and coordinate words and gestures, glances and silences. All this can be found in the Montalbano series, especially in his so-called "minor" characters: they seem skilled actors (and sometimes they really are), but are simply themselves. In fiction as in reality.

This is the link to the photo-reportage of my trip on Montalbano’s trails, with my wife Monica:

Some practical suggestions: south-eastern Sicily can be reached from the airport of Catania, and the best way to travel in this area is to rent a car. Parking in the cities is not always easy or well-signposted. Going into the historical centres by car is quite a bad idea, you risk to be stuck in some narrow alley. The best place to spend the night is probably Ragusa (preferably in the historic district of Ibla), where there are hotels, B & Bs , restaurants and a gorgeous square where taking a walk after dinner. Ragusa, along with Modica, Scicli, Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Caltagirone, Catania and Militello, is included in the World Heritage list by UNESCO. A little distance from Caltagirone, near Piazza Armerina, is located another World Heritage site, the Villa Romana del Casale with its outstanding mosaics, but are now under massive restorations, which heavily restrict the visit. A little more distant some classic tourist Sicilian destinations such as Agrigento, Siracusa and Taormina.

Monica and I stayed at San Giorgio Palace, a 4 star hotel in the heart of Ragusa Ibla (double room with breakfast 98 € per day, excellent value for money).

For dinner we recommend: “La Rusticana” (typical food, average price of € 25-30) and “Ai Lumi” (a little more sophisticated, 30-35 €), both attended by Montalbano’s troupe.

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