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TRAVEL

On the trail of Inspector Montalbano in Sicily

Indian blogger Ishita Sood jumped at the chance to visit Sicily, home of Inspector Montalbano. She tells The Local the best places to visit for fans of the TV series.

On the trail of Inspector Montalbano in Sicily
The home of Inspector Montalbano. Photo: Ishita Sood

I love everything Italian and two years ago, I was introduced to the world of Andrea Camilleri.

His Inspector Montalbano series of books, and the TV series they inspired, seemed to have created a storm across the world. Camilleri’s dry humour floored me. Who wouldn’t fancy a hot Sicilian man solving crime amidst fine food and beautiful vistas?

And so my love affair with Montalbano began.

Only a handful of people around me in India had heard of the author, but I particularly enjoyed reading his books because I was learning Italian in India and traveling to Italy as often as I could.

When I got the opportunity to explore the mesmerizing island of Sicily, I wanted to visit all the places where the TV show had been shot and match them up to the places I had created in my head while reading the books. Eastern Sicily bowled me over with its deep-filled cannolis and lip-smacking arancini.

I used a tour guide to make sure I didn't miss any Montalbano hotspots; normally I prefer exploring on my own but with the crazy roads in Sicily, I wanted guidance!

The tour guide was catering just for me but only knew Italian – it was a challenge. But it was worth it to explore the world I had fallen in love with.

Scicli

Our first stop was the town of Scicli where Montalbano’s police station is located. In Scicli, time seemed to stand still. Men sat around the piazza and bars having coffee and conversations, just enjoying life at a slow pace.


Duomo di San Bartolomeo in Scicli. Photo: Ishita Sood

I stopped for an espresso in front of the police station, picturing the show in my mind. My inner fan girl was on a high.

Walking around the town of Scicli, I got a sense of deja-vu whenever I came across one of the many alleys where scenes were shot. I recognized one particular pharmacy where Montalabano often bought medical supplies and saw the building where he often visits the Head Commissioner.

Punta Secca


Punta Secca. Photo: Ishita Sood

After Scicli it was time to visit the home of the detective himself. I was in Marinella, situated in the sea side town of Punta Secca, where the fictional Montalbano lives. On reaching it, I found it was surprisingly crowded – it turned out that the real life Montalbano and heartthrob, Luca Zingaretti, was inside the casa and shooting at that moment.

I stood on tip toe to catch a glimpse of him, but couldn't see past the tight security.

Instead, I walked around the outside of the house and saw the famous lighthouse and restaurant where Montalbano often ate local seafood. Coming closer to the house from the sea, the Commissioner's balcony was visible, which fans of the show would recognize as the place where he habitually came with his Bialetti moka pot to ponder on things.

Mannara


Mannara. Photo: Ishita Sood

Mannara, a dilapidated old factory that often pops up in the show, is very near to Punta Secca. It is also next to the most pristine beaches in the area, which were the perfect place to relax – and to re-read the Montalbano novels!

Ragusa Ibla

One of the main streets used in the show is in Ragusa Ibla, while the main piazza and Cathedral of San Giorgio are also used as sets for many of the detective’s evening scenes. 


Duomo di San Giorgio. Photo: Ishita Sood

Modica

Finally, I returned to Modica, where I found the awe-inspiring Duomo di San Giorgio (another one!), where several of Montalbano’s scenes have been shot.


Modica's Duomo di San Giorgio. Photo: Ishita Sood

Chasing Montalbano in my own way was a dream that I want to keep exploring as the TV show grows. I hope to return to the baroque areas of the region again.

Ishita is an Indian blogger who is very passionate about Italy and feels deeply connected to its language, culture, food and history. She writes about her travels on her blog Italophilia and visits Italy every year. She can also be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as Italophilia. You can reach her at [email protected]

If you would like to write a guest blog for The Local, get in touch at [email protected]

 

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TOURISM

Why are so many of Italy’s beaches privatised?

Many holidaymakers will have to pay for the privilege of enjoying Italy's coastline this summer, as the number of privately-run beaches keeps growing. Why are there so many, and is this about to change?

Why are so many of Italy's beaches privatised?

Golden sands, crystalline waters and rose-tinted sunsets – Italy’s beaches are rightly known as some of the best in the Mediterranean.

But if you arrive on most parts of the coast in August, you’ll find your path blocked by sea of umbrellas and beach chairs priced at anywhere between €10 and €50 a day.

If you want a free-to-access beach, you’ll usually have to walk some distance to a small patch of sand on the least attractive and accessible part of the shore; and in some parts of the country, the entire coastline is privatised.

READ ALSO: The Italian beaches you might want to avoid this summer

Italy’s private beaches aren’t actually privately owned – they’re leased by the state to private operators under a concessions system.

But with licenses handed down without question from one generation to the next and little available in the way of any alternatives, as far as the average holidaymaker is concerned, they may as well be.

How did Italy get to this point? And are things likely to ever change?

‘SOS free beaches’

Fewer than half of the beaches on Italy’s roughly 8,000km of coastline are free to access, the environmental association Legambiente estimates in its newly published 2022 annual beaches report.

A census conducted by the State Maritime Information System in 2021 (no data has been collected for 2022) found that there were 12,166 private beaches in Italy; a 12.5 percent increase on 2018.

Vacationers sunbathe at a private beach near Santa Margherita Ligure, southern Genova, on August 11, 2011.
Vacationers sunbathe at a private beach near Santa Margherita Ligure, southern Genoa, on August 11, 2011. Photo by OLIVIER MORIN / AFP.

In regions such as Emilia Romagna, Campania and Liguria, approximately 70 percent of the beaches are privately run. In popular beach towns such as Riccione in the northeast, that figure rises as high as 90 percent; in nearby Gatteo, it’s 100.

“SOS free beaches”: the situation is an emergency, says Legambiente, whose members, along with those of the Mare Libero (‘Free Sea’) national campaigning network, have called on the Italian government to commit to making at least 60 percent of Italy’s beaches free to the public.

“The lungomare (‘seafront’) has almost everywhere become a lungomuro (‘long wall’), physical or metaphorical; a kilometre-long wall, which imprisons the sea and the beaches, takes them away from the territory, from the citizens, and hands them over to the interests and exploitation of a few,” argues Mare Libero in its manifesto.

The coastline should be returned to the community, the organisation insists: the beach “must be made available to anyone who wants to enjoy it, regardless of their economic or social status, regardless of their origin and culture.”

How did Italy get here?

Legambiente president Stefano Ciafani blames Italy’s out-of-control private lidos on the fact that the country has no limits on how much of its coastline can be privately controlled: “an all-Italian anomaly that needs to be remedied,” he sums up in an introduction to the association’s 2022 report.

Such a state of affairs would be “unthinkable” in nearby countries such as Spain, Greece or France, the report says, citing French laws that require 80 percent of beaches to be kept free of any man-made structures for six months out of the year.

MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

So why is Italy the exception?

Seaside resorts have been around in Italy for at least a couple of centuries, and beach tourism was particularly popular in the fascist era (Mussolini was a particular fan of the seaside).

Private beaches in Italy are now estimated to occupy more than 50 percent of the coastline.
Private beaches in Italy are now estimated to occupy more than 50 percent of the coastline. Photo by OLIVIER MORIN / AFP.

But beach clubs really exploded in the country’s post-war economic boom, and for many they represent the ‘dolce vita‘ lifestyle that characterised 1960’s Italy – making them actively prized by some Italians, and at least tolerated by others.

A number of concessions that were first assigned to World War I veterans in the 1920s (originally to start fishing businesses) and World War II survivors in the 1940s, before the industry took off, have remained in the same family for generations.

READ ALSO: Ferragosto: Why the long August holidays are untouchable for Italians

In 1992 the government passed a law that awarded priority to existing concession-holders and automatically renewed the concessions every six years, making it all but impossible for new entrants to get in on the scene.

This history has instilled in many lido operators the mindset that the beach does, in fact, belong to their family and not the state – even if these days many are subcontracted out to third party operators for vast sums, far from being small family-run businesses.

Operators insist that beachgoers prefer private clubs to the alternative of unfolding a towel on the spiagge libere.

“People who come to the beach want to relax, they want the services and assistance that only establishments can offer,” Ruggero Barbadoro, president of the Rome Beach Club Federation and operator of the ‘Venenzia’ club in Ostia told the Corriere della Sera news daily in August.

As the number of concessions granted has only expanded in recent decades, however – “in the last twenty years continuing at such a pace that in many towns it is now impossible to find a spot where you can freely lie down and sunbathe,” says Legambiente – there’s a general feeling that the situation has got out of hand.

Many private beach clubs have remained under the control of the same family for generations.
Many private beach clubs have remained under the control of the same family for generations. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP.

In the early 2010’s lower wage earners hit by the recession complained they had been priced out of their area, as various Italian and foreign outlets reported a ‘class war’ on Italy’s beaches.

Under Italian law, the 5m stretch of beach directly in front of the sea is always free to the public, and clubs are legally required to display signs outside their premises indicating public access routes.

But many clubs simply ignore these rules, chasing away and threatening people who try to walk through their establishments without paying.

This led to a heated altercation in June when two Mare Libero activists challenged a club manager who had hidden his sign and refused to grant them entry. The encounter became so heated that police ultimately had to intervene.

“It’s an arrogance that stems from a certainty of impunity,” Danilo Ruggiero, one of the campaigners, told the Guardian.

The situation might, finally, be about to change: a new law approved by the Italian senate at the start of August is set to bring Italy in line with EU competition rules, requiring all beach concessions to be put up for public tender by 2024 at the latest.

READ ALSO: Italy’s private beaches to face public tender in tax fraud crackdown

More importantly, for those longing for free beaches, the law states that half of the beaches in each municipality must be free to access – having the potential to revolutionise seaside towns which are now under majority private control.

Whether the measure will actually be implemented by whichever government comes to power following Italy’s general election in September, however, remains to be seen.

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