Discovering Sicily – the REAL star of TV's Montalbano

The REAL star of TV’s Montalbano: Discovering Sicily is even more rugged and charismatic than the show’s leading man…

  • Sicily’s bronzed, untamed and rugged landscape is the setting of the TV adaptation of Inspector Montalbano
  • Bridget McGrouther joined a walking tour to explore Montalbano’s Sicily – the south-east shores of the island
  • She visited the baroque city of Ragusa, the captivating Piazza Duomo and the palm-lined park of Giardini Iblei

Sicily may be awash with Unesco World Heritage Sites (seven, including Mount Etna) but the unspoilt south-eastern shores of this Mediterranean island have a more contemporary appeal thanks to the success of fictional detective Inspector Montalbano.

Jumping from the pages of Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri’s best-selling novels and inspired by his homeland, the TV adaptation has millions of fans around the world, including Britain.

Italian actor Luca Zingaretti, who plays Montalbano, is undeniably as charismatic as Sicily’s bronzed, untamed and rugged landscape, yet it’s the latter that is proving the real star of the show as the backdrop to his enviable lifestyle.

Sicilian splendour: Rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1693, the old town of Ragusa Ibla features in the Inspector Montalbano series

Montalbano and his girlfriend Livia’s first date began at a bus stop in Ragusa Ibla (pictured). Bridget says that it therefore seems apt that her tour starts with a bus ride to the hilltop Ragusa Superiore (upper town). She writes: ‘We stand in awe of the views, above terracotta tile roofs, church spires and bright blue domes’ 

The captivating Piazza Duomo in Ragusa, with its outstanding baroque cathedral – the Duomo of San Giorgio. It has been the backdrop for many episodes

Who wouldn’t fancy a stroll on the beautiful beach just below your own terrace? Or regularly dine at waterfront restaurants on fresh seafood, washed down with good wine? No matter how gruesome a case may be, it never seems to put Montalbano off his food.

An escorted easy walking tour is a brilliant way to work up an appetite and explore Montalbano’s Sicily. I joined about 20 British travellers aged 50-plus, including solo guests, couples and friends, as we left the Hotel Il Barocco in Ragusa, led at a gentle pace by our Adagio tour leader.

The baroque city of Ragusa, our impressive home for the week, is simply breathtaking. Rebuilt after a devastating 1693 earthquake, this sprawling city is now divided into two parts – the old town of Ragusa Ibla, which clings to the gorge below the more modern Ragusa Superiore, with its panoramic views. No wonder this extraordinary region stars as the fictional Vigata in the drama.

Montalbano and his girlfriend Livia’s first date began at a bus stop in Ragusa Ibla, so it seems apt that our tour starts by catching the bus to the hilltop Ragusa Superiore. We stand in awe of the views, above terracotta tile roofs, church spires and bright blue domes.

Sophisticated: The baroque town of Noto, pictured, is known for its beautiful architecture and provides a stunning backdrop for Inspector Montalbano

Italian actor Luca Zingaretti, who plays Montalbano in the hit TV series 

As we slowly make our way down through hidden alleyways, historic gems are pointed out as well as areas that feature in the Montalbano stories. From the palm-lined park avenue of Giardini Iblei, where the inspector meets a former thief; the neoclassical Circolo di Conversazione, where Montalbano interrupts coroner Dr Pasquano’s card games; and the captivating Piazza Duomo, with its outstanding baroque cathedral – the Duomo of San Giorgio, a backdrop for many episodes.

Relaxing in the square, enjoying a coffee as the inspector would do, is idyllic. At lunch we sample Montalbano’s favourite local delicacies, such as arancini – deep-fried rice balls – and cannoli, a delicious, sweet ricotta-filled pastry.

In the evenings we are treated to copious helpings of seafood, meats, pasta, pizza, cheeses, caponata (aubergine stew), desserts and wine. At A Rusticana, otherwise known as Trattoria San Caloge, one of the inspector’s regular haunts, we admire photographs of the cast.

Other jaunts include private guided excursions of baroque towns that feature as Montalbano locations. At the former Greek city of Syracuse, the sea breezes from the neighbouring island Ortygia are welcome as even in late autumn the temperature is a glorious 26C.

The picture-perfect ancient town of Modica, which is home to Italy’s famous Bonajuto chocolate kitchens

Noto, prized as the Sicilian capital of baroque and another Unesco treasure, is famous for its prominent Roman gates as well as its formidable architecture. 

A blissful coastal walk in the Vendicari Nature Reserve, a haven for migrating birds, uncovers flocks of flamingos paddling close to an abandoned tuna fishery – again recognisable from Montalbano. 

The morning in picture-perfect Modica is memorable for a private tour and tasting at the famous Bonajuto chocolate kitchens. 

Afterwards, a few brave souls in our party even climb to the hilltop cathedral and pretty Palazzo Polaro. 

The old town of Scicli, where the town hall doubles as Montalbano’s police station in the TV series 

The palm-lined park avenue of Giardini Iblei, where the inspector meets a former thief in the hit TV drama 

Bridget enjoys a blissful coastal walk in the Vendicari Nature Reserve (pictured), a haven for migrating birds that’s recognisable from Montalbano

TRAVEL FACTS 

Adagio (adagio.co.uk) offers the seven-night Montalbano’s Sicily from £1,375pp. 

The price includes flights, half-board accommodation with dinners taken at local restaurants, local guides, all local transport costs and entrance fees.

There’s more fun in Scicli, where the town hall doubles as Montalbano’s police station and we get an informative tour of the interior film set, posing for pictures behind his desk.

The most popular pilgrimage site for fans is Montalbano’s seaside home at Punta Secca, known as Marinella in the stories. 

The fishing village has familiar landmarks such as its lighthouse and the bright blue and yellow Enzo a Mare seafront restaurant that is another of the inspector’s favourites.

Near the main square, recently renamed Piazza Montalbano and close to a bust of author Camilleri, who died last year aged 93, we discover Montalbano’s home, a beachfront villa with its familiar green shutters and sweeping balustrade balcony. 

The place is now a B&B (lacasadimontalbano.com) and the location is sublime.

Set on a sandy cove, the property is just as idyllic as it is on the screen. 

And how easy to imagine the charismatic Montalbano returning home for a refreshing dip after a tough day’s work. 

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