The dreamy locations of the Inspector Montalbano TV Series have placed this part of Italy firmly on the tourist map. Rupert Parker, journalist, photographer and member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, investigates and finds baroque hilltop towns, stunning beaches and is tantalised by a possible sighting of the famous detective.
Porto Empedocle, six kilometres from the Greek temples of Agrigento, is the birthplace of Andrea Camilleri, the author of the Inspector Montalbano novels and was the model for his fictional town of Vigata. It’s a rather unimpressive industrial port, dominated by a huge cement works, and the director of the TV series wisely decided to shoot it in the next-door province of Ragusa.
My first location is Punta Secca and Montalbano’s TV home is in a glorious position, right on the beach, with a large terrace opening out to the sea. He always begins his morning with a swim so, of course, how can I resist? The water is warm, slightly choppy, but very refreshing. In the summer, this place is packed but today it’s almost deserted. All along this part of the coast are long sandy beaches, home to tiny resorts, with restaurants offering the freshest of seafood.
My next destination is Scicli, half an hour inland, where the town hall doubles as the police station. It’s at the head of the pedestrianised Via Momina Penna and two immense columns frame the entrance with a grand balcony above flying the flags of Italy, Sicily and the EU. The street itself is a long assembly of ornate churches and palazzi with tables outside ready for that early evening aperitif. This is one of the South’s famous baroque towns, rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1693, and many scenes are shot in the historic centre. I’m thrilled to see filming trucks whilst I’m there but am disappointed by no sightings of the famous policeman.
Noto, around an hour away, was started afresh on a new site after the 1693 earthquake destroyed the original town, now completely abandoned a few miles away. The baroque centre is built on a grid pattern, with two distinct sections – the lower town for the political and religious buildings and the upper for the people. The main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, starts at the imposing Porta Reale, runs past the twin-towered Cathedral, and is stuffed full of the town’s celebrated buildings.
Ragusa, in the other direction, was also built on a grid plan after the earthquake but here the original town was rebuilt by the inhabitants following the medieval street layout. It makes for two distinct sections, Ragusa Ibla below and the Baroque town of Ragusa Superiore above. You need to be fairly fit to climb to the new Cathedral, but the reward is a stunning view of the roofs of the old straddling its outcrop of rock. The town features in the Montalbano title sequence and its steep streets are often featured. It makes a good base for exploring the surrounding region and nothing can beat the spectacular sunsets.