A weekend at the locations of “Inspector Montalbano”

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From the shore of Punta Secca to the castle of Donnafugata, by way of Ragusa Ibla: a couple of days to relax and enjoy beaches, good food and seaside sunsets

There are a few places, which by their very nature or thanks to their inhabitants’ character, easily induce a state of relaxation. The South Eastern coast of Sicily, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and Africa just beyond, is such a place. Certainly, spots like Marina di Ragusa, with its nightlife, are very popular but there are also less well-known places like Ca­suz­ze, Cau­ca­na or Punta Secca: in these fishing villages time seems to have come to a halt. This is probably the reason why they were chosen in the first place to be the filming locations for the TV show “Inspector Montalbano”: they perfectly capture the atmosphere of Camilleri’s novels (which, truth to be told, are set in the province of Agrigento). How twenty years of filming and notoriety have transformed these places? Ms. Albora has been renting part of her summer house to tourists for a while now. «We have been seeing quite a lot more recently – she says – but the area is still very quiet. “Inspector Montalbano” brought visitors during the winter as well tough, which had never happened before». Over the summer, thanks to crystal clear waters (the area is one of the very few not being marked as polluted by Legambiente as a result of the Goletta Verde campaign) visitors looking to get away from their busy lives keep coming in good numbers.

A few glimpses of Punta Secca (Photograph: G. Romeo and Y. Mottese)

THE BEACHES AND THE VILLAGE. The most accessible spot on the Punta Secca’s waterfront is undoubtedly the one near the lighthouse; nonetheless, the one featured in the TV show gets quite a lot more attention also due to the peculiar colours the shoal casts upon the landscape. It would also be a pity to miss the town square, upon which sits “Torre Scalambri” (Scalambri tower), a fortification built in the XVI century (which is also the reason why, on some old maps, the area is labelled “Scalambri Point”). It is the perfect spot to admire melancholy sunsets from, and it’s not unusual to come across street artists performing (during our trip we have enjoyed the jazzy arrangements of a particular guitarist on multiple occasions) or to run into all sorts of events sponsored by the town’s administration, like book launches.

The view from Enzo a mare; Linguine with seafood (below) (Photograph: G. Romeo)

Fans of the TV series don’t want to miss out on “Enzo a mare”, a small restaurant known simply as “the chalet” where Montalbano dines regularly. The waterfront view alone is almost worth going for, but the dishes seal the deal: they aren’t particularly sophisticated but they are appetizing. We tried an Inspector’s starter featuring all sorts of fish, and linguine allo scoglio, a flattened spaghetti noodle with a seafood sauce. Maybe the family business vibe we have come to love from the show is not quite there anymore, at least in the kitchen, but “Enzo a mare” still makes for a nice, informal dining experience that’s not too hard on the wallet (30 euros per person).

Donnafugata castle and Donna Franca Florio’s dress (Photograph: G. Romeo)

THE BELLE ÉPOQUE AT THE DONNAFUGATA CASTLE. After a morning spent on the beach relaxing, what about a visit to the Donnafugata castle? Built in the late nineteen century as a residence for the local aristocracy, the castle is known for its neo-gothic front and its towers. It’s open untill 7 p.m. for those who want to change up the pace of their holiday: it’s not just about the exterior, the ticket includes the exhibit The Belle Époque, myth and style of the joy of living, which features several historical dresses. Donna Franca Florio’s “Gran Soirée” gown is definitely worth mentioning, as are the stories about the lady’s pet monkey’s pranks. The castle’s gardens (almost 19 acres) are also lovely to visit. Where the castle’s guest were once entertained, today still lies a variety of plants which make this place a veritable oasis, but also a few hidden treasures like a small round temple and a dry wall labyrinth.

Ra­gu­sa Ibla (photograph: G. Ro­meo)

STOPPING AT RAGUSA IBLA. Moving away from the coast, it’s worth paying a visit to Ragusa Ibla. During our trip the weather wasn’t particularly nice, but not having to rely on our hats to withstand the scorching heat was a welcome change. We are strolling through the alleys as we run into San Giorgio’s Cathedral first and Giardino Ibleo shortly after. The mansion, built in 1858, rests on a rock ledge and it’s graced by a path with columns, on top of which sit stone vases, on both sides.

Seafood salad and burrata (Above); Street view of I banchi (Photograph: G. Romeo)

I BANCHI. For lunch, we chose “I banchi”, the less exclusive restaurant of the two Michelin stars winner chef Ciccio Sultano and his partner Peppe Cannistrà. It’s an ambitious project: a bakery, a pastry shop, a bar and a restaurant all in one. We sit outside but take a moment to appreciate the work done on the interiors by architect Fabrizio Foti, like the wine cellar of the old “Palazzo Di Quattro”. We go for a tasting menu (30 euros, water included): three courses of the chef’s choosing, which in our case were quite interesting. We began with toasted bread with cod and capers, then onto a seafood salad with burrata mousse, basil and bbq, which was as memorable as it was delicious: a very balanced dish presented beautifully. A small portion of a Bean ice-cream, as a palate cleanser, before the main course: spaghetti with white fish, wild fennel and cherry tomatoes. For dessert the Sicilian Cassata, typical of the western part of Sicily, didn’t disappoint in the slightest. High-end pastry right here. To top it all off, an Yblon Hoppa, a fruity, slightly bitter, locally produced pale ale.

A few of the works exhibited at Palazzo La Rocca (Photograph: G. Romeo)

YOUNG ARTISTS ON DISPLAY AT PALAZZO LA ROCCA. On our way home, we stopped at Palazzo La Rocca, baroque palace built in the late 1700s by the Baron of Saint-Hyppolite, which hosts the exhibit Ragusa photo festival, featuring mostly young artists. After climbing the majolica-clad double staircase, the first floor of the exposition opens up. We admired the work of Modica born Maddalena Migliore, whose book she dedicated to the “No Muos” movement, and of Claudio Majorana: shots of kids grown up in Misterbianco (CT) named Head of the lion. Another room hosted just The Black hole, by Federico Buzzoni: a black sculpture which mimics a glitch in the Google street view of a village in Syria. A fitting metaphor for this conflict. We ended out visit with the photographic project Gibellina 1969, by the artist Giuseppe Iannello from Catania, and the series This room is too small for both by Veronica Billi.

Translated into English by Francesco Raciti

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