This is how I turned the adventures of Italy’s most famous inspector, Mr. Montalbano, into a fantastic road trip through one of Sicily’s most beautiful corners.
If you love all things Italian, then I’m pretty sure you’ve heard about Inspector Salvo Montalbano, Italy’s most famous fictional detective. This character was first born on paper in the books of Andrea Camilleri and then turned into a hugely successful TV series.
My dad is a huge fan of Montalbano, so I recently decided to surprise him with a last-minute road trip through some of the places where the TV series was filmed. What follows is a collection of notes for those keen to explore the colors and flavors of an enchanting part of Sicily in the footsteps of Montalbano and his team.
The TV series of Montalbano is set in the south-eastern part of Sicily, so we landed at Comiso, the closest airport, and rented a car there. We only had three full days but if you can, do spend a little more time here because it’s really beautiful.
Now, let’s have a look at the places where fictional people live, eat and get arrested…
Our road trip started at Punta Secca, that we used also as our base for the next three days. I bet you’ve never heard about it, right? Well, Punta Secca is the fictional hometown of Inspector Montalbano (called Marinella in the books), and here you can sleep in the very same house used to shoot the TV series!
The place is called La Casa di Montalbano and is one of the most beautiful bed & breakfasts I’ve ever seen. No surprise that TV producers chose it as one of their key settings. And imagine the face of my dad at the opportunity of starting the day on the very same terrace where Montalbano drinks his coffee and talks on the phone after his morning swim!
Fun fact: La Casa di Montalbano was originally a laboratory for the desalination of sardines and in 1904 lawyer Giovanni Di Quattro bought it for 4,000 lire (about 2 euros) to turn it into a holiday home for his family. What a forward-looking man, this house now is worth a fortune!
Apart from Montalbano’s house, Punta Secca is a sleepy hamlet with just a bunch of permanent residents and a few nice restaurants. One of these is Enzo a Mare, where Montalbano likes to eat. The location is unbeatable, directly on the sea, and the mixed fried fish is to die for!
About 40 min drive from Punta Secca is Modica, a recurring sight in many episodes. In particular, various streets and corners of Vigata, the fictional town where the investigations of Montalbano take place, can be found in Modica. For example, the stunning Cathedral of San Giorgio often appears on TV, with the adjacent palace used as the house of Doctor Pasquano, Montalbano’s coroner.
Modica is a glorious baroque town with a labyrinth of steeped alleys, spectacular buildings, and atmospheric piazze. And if besides being a fan of Montalbano you’re also a chocolate lover, then Modica is without a doubt the place for you. This Sicilian jewel is also home to the famous Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, Sicily’s oldest chocolate factory, established over 150 years ago!
From Modica, it’s a 20-minute drive to another baroque gem, Ragusa Ibla. Its beautiful streets and buildings set the scene for various episodes of Inspector Montalbano. For example, the café of the fictional town of Vigata is located in Piazza Duomo, overlooked by the impressive Cathedral fo San Giorgio.
Close to Piazza Duomo, you’ll find the Circolo di Conversazione, a pastel-blue building that was once the meeting place of the local elite, and the place where Inspector Montalbano abruptly interrupts Dottor Pasquano’s card game in the episode ‘The Scent of the Night’.
Food plays an important role in the TV series and here in Ragusa Ibla, you can see the beloved “Trattoria San Calogero”, where Montalbano regularly has lunch with his colleagues – in real life it is called A’ Rusticana.
Perhaps these days is more famous for Chiara Ferragni’s wedding, but Noto often appears in Montalbano’s adventures. For example, the prison of Vigata is set in the former monastery of San Tommaso, while a lot of filming was done in the beautiful interiors of Palazzo Di Lorenzo del Castelluccio and Palazzo Nicolaci – this last one is used as the office of notary Michele Altofermo.
When you are in town, do save some time to visit the panoramic terraces of the Church of Santa Chiara. Along the way, you’ll also learn some interesting facts about the cloistered nuns that used to live here.
Montalbano is often seen parking his Fiat Tipo car in front of Vigata police station, which in reality is the Town Hall of Scicli. Here, the local mayor’s office was also turned into the room of the police commissioner of Montelusa, the fictional province in Camilleri’s books.
The nearby Via Mormino Penna is the heart of Scicli’s historic center and is lined with beautiful buildings that represent the creative genius of baroque times. They will literally make you stand in awe!
Other locations used to film the episodes include Piazza Carmine, Palazzo Iacono, Piazza Armando Diaz, and Via Duca degli Abruzzi.
Vendicari is a stunning nature reserve overlooking the sea, on Sicily’s south-eastern coast. It’s home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, fantastic sandy beaches and the old tonnara, a fascinating place that was once used for the production of tuna.
One of the episodes of Montalbano was filmed here, in the surroundings of Torre Sveva, a fortified tower that was once used to defend this area.
Marzamemi is one of Italy’s prettiest fishing villages and can be seen in various episodes of Montalbano. Its cute fishermen’s houses are the backdrop for many scenes where the inspector and his team investigate crimes.
Perhaps the best time to visit Marzamemi is at night when restaurants and cafés around Piazza Regina Margherita are all lit up with candles and strings of little lights – a real fairy tale place!
Donnafugata (literally, ‘the woman who fled’) is home to an imposing castle that was used to represent the sumptuous residence of Mafia boss Balduccio Sinagra in the TV series. Open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, the castle is definitely worth a visit when touring this area.
Fun fact: Luca Zingaretti, the actor that plays Inspector Montalbano, chose Donnafugata as the place to celebrate his wedding with Italian actress Luisa Ranieri.
- When booking at La Casa di Montalbano, ask for the attic room. It’s the only one to have a small private balcony and trust me, opening your eyes and seeing all those shades of blue first thing in the morning is priceless…
- In terms of restaurants, I can recommend Trattoria Al Buco in Noto and Osteria dei Sapori Perduti in Modica
- Do check out the Tourist Office in Modica in Corso Umberto I, it’s run by two lovely ladies who will tell you everything about the town and Sicily in general – we spend over 40 minutes in there!
Until next time,