Monday, 9 November 2015

Sicily: Hot on the Heels of Montalbano

Italy 5

The main reason we wanted to visit Sicily was because - some years ago - we fell in love with Inspector Montalbano.
I know - I know - his fans are multitudinous, but we couldn't help ourselves.
And strictly speaking, I fell in love with Inspector Montalbano, the In-Charge just fell in love with the series.
Many a Saturday night we'd happily stay in with Il Commissario - Il Dottore - Salvo, call him what you will. We felt practically fluent in Italian, and totally fluent in the art of the Latin grunt.
We longed to see his stamping-iground for ourselves.

Inspector Montalbano  Pic online images Italy

So you can imagine how happy we were to wake up on Sicilian soil.
In fact, we were woken long before dawn by torrential rain sheeting off the roof and thunder resounding off the mountains like canon fire. It was all very spectacular.
But the next morning we wondered if we'd dreamed it.
We wandered around San Giorgio Montforte in hot sunshine, had breakfast in a cafe and at length headed off towards Cefalu.

Despite Angelica's renewed attempts to keep us off motorways, we did eventually find one. (We wondered, en passant, if she is just parsimonious and doesn't like paying out? Which would explain why she let us onto the Autostrada through Calabria - it was free, whereas, in Sicily, as further north on the mainland we had to pay.)

Angelica didn't like paying for the Autostrade

The motorways on Sicily are not for the tunnel-phobic, but they are good, and when you're not buried beneath a mountain, the views are spectacular.
So was Cefalu.
It looked Biblical, and Greek. And it was packed.


We wandered around the old town, drank more Prosecco, had lunch and shopped in the market and then carried on to Palermo, but - with hindsight - we'd rather have just headed south east.
We didn't spend time in the capital, but we did at least stop the next day to see the Valley of the Temples, although - the temperature being in the high thirties still - I wasn't sure that I wanted a long walk around a 1300 hectare site in the heat of the noon-day sun.
But the main places of interest cover just a few kilometres, and the area is full of shady olive trees, so it was well worth the walk to see such amazing ruins, many of which date to the 5th century BC.

The Temple of Concordia

The sculpture of Icarus was interesting too.
We couldn't decide whether the total lack of expression on his face lent it more meaning or less.
In one way we felt that his failed break for the stars could only have left him gnashing his teeth as he fell to earth, but on the other hand, who can say what acceptance a close encounter with the sun might bring?
I stood looking at him for a long time, trying to read what might have been going on behind his closed eyelids.

Icarus, fallen and broken, yet emotionally unscathed

I couldn't help but notice how fascinated most tourists were by his eye-level penis. Most touched it, or went to touch it but drew back coyly and simply posed beside it for a photo, or laughed and made some comment. 
What a funny lot we are.

The centre of the island had taken us by surprise. We'd expected mountains and more mountains, but instead were greeted by a dun coloured agricultural scene; and on the south coast, by mile after mile of commercial polytunnels.

Agricultural interior

We did also find ourselves on a road that had somehow been - well, squished. We had to turn around and retrace our route. We're still puzzling over what could have happened to it.

A squished road

In the end, we only had a day to explore Montalbano's 'manor'.
We stayed in a pretty seaside town on the south coast, and set off promptly the next morning for Scicli and the mountainous scenery that suddenly we recognised.
We stopped on the outskirts of the picturesque town to explore the cemetery. We'd passed many on our travels and I wanted to have a look around.
It was beautiful, the older mausoleums as imposing as the British Victorian equivalents in places like Highgate and Nunhead, or Pere Lachaise in Paris. The Italian cypruses could have been bred with cemeteries in mind, they lend so much atmosphere, rather like the British and Irish yews.
One old tomb bore a sculpture of a woman desolate with grief. I could still feel it, 100 years later.
The newer parts reminded me of Spain, the photographs on each plaque lending a particular poignancy, and they were bedecked with fresh flowers, far more so than at home.  

Lots of flowers

Weeping forever on the tomb of her beloved

Scicli was beautiful. After Amalfi, it seemed ridiculous that we could park for free.
And it was weird walking down the street we have seen so often on TV (although I wasn't sure about the large plastic tubs that have replaced the line of police cars.)

 Inspector Montalbano would have had those  plastic tubs removed immediately

Sadly, Luca Zingaretti didn't stride down the steps of the police station (it's actually the town hall) as we approached, but then life is full of disappointments. Still, we did get to see the room that is used as his boss's office in the series.
Not adequate recompense, but there you go.

We went to Modica and Ragusa too, both of which were beautiful, especially the latter.
250 steps down to the old quarter from Ragusa's high town, but you can get a bus back up. 


Ragusa with the blue glassed cupola of Duomo di San Giorgio

We wished we'd skipped Palermo and had longer to explore these spectacular, baroque towns in the south east. I did visit the Duomo di San Giorgio in Ragusa, but I didn't find a place where I could see the blue glass of its cupola properly.

I took a photo of the lovely marble flags on the floor, though, patinated, smoothed with age. But not the dome.
Regrets regrets... 

Beautiful, old floor

More regrets that we had to by-pass Syracusa altogether. 
'Idiots!' I hear you cry.
I know. 
We'll just have to go back.

I had to content myself with photographing a poster outside the tourist office in Modica

We left Sicily the next day, after staying in a little coastal resort nestled under the fuming Mount Etna.
No one seemed in any way bothered by the funnel of wispy smoke emanating from its peak.
I suppose it does that all the time. 

I was conscious of giving it a wary glance or two as we drove north towards the Messina ferry.
You just never know, with volcanoes.

Mt Etna smoking quietly to itself

(My hopes for more dancers on the return journey had been dashed when the In-Charge spotted a newspaper article reporting that the dancers were celebrating the ferry's 50th anniversary. We were lucky to be aboard that day.)

But our regrets were tinged with anticipation too.
We had booked the lovely hotel on the beach at Fiumicello for our last two nights in Italy.
Quite frankly, we needed some down-time after over 2000 km, and before the 5 hour drive to Rome for our flight home. 
We couldn't think of a better place to relax.
And I couldn't wait to be lulled to sleep by the sound of the sea below our balcony

The sea below our balcony

This is the final part of our trip to Italy.
You can read part 4 here: Tango-ing to Messina
Part 3: Amalfi: The Road More Travelled 
Part 2: Sipping Limoncello in Sorrento
Part 1: See Naples and Die 


  1. As someone who does not particularly enjoy driving, and who hates motorways, I am distracted from the lovely photos by your descriptions of the roads. Tunnels under mountains? Nightmare! I did manage to tune in enough to appreciate that you are describing parts of Sicily I have not visited.I have also only glanced in passing at Venice, so am rather hoping you are both Donna Leon fans and will feel the need to pay homage to Inspettore Brunetti and make a holiday in Venice some time soon.

  2. Hi Isobel - you would really not like driving in Italy then! And yes, in Sicily, there are endless tunnels through mountains on the motorway, some 3 or 4 kilometres long, which isn't huge, but can become a bit dazing, especially as there is very little breathing space between tunnels in lots of places! Donna Leon and Commissario Brunetti sound a joy still to come! Don't know it at all, but we do, on the other hand, know and love Venice, so anything Venetian can only be good! I'd love to plan another holiday there, but alas, it won't be anytime soon.


Ah, go on! Make my day - leave a comment!