No other television fiction series in Italy has enjoyed such a following as Il Commissario Montalbano, based on the detective novels by Andrea Camillieri. It is no doubt the most popular television series in the long history of Italy's state braodcaster, RAI, reaching 38 percent of shares, or 10 million viewers, on the last episode of the season, The Age of Doubt. Italy's version of Sir Author Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Cristie's Inspector Poirot, Inspector Montalbano's success is due to the ever-popular whodunit genre, breathtaking views of Baroque Sicily and the engaging mix of Montalbano's taciturn demeanour and investigative acumen.
Italy's most beloved fictional detective, Salvo Montalbano, is based in Vigata, Sicily. Despite this fictitious name, the fictional home of one of Italy's most popular literary characters is closely based on the southern Sicilian coastal town of Porto Empedocle, the birthplace of the inspector's creator and award-winning novelist, Andrea Camilleri. In recognition of his great success, Vigata has been appended to Porto Empedocle's name. A perfect way to discover this part of Sicily is to use the stories and TV episodes themselves as your guide.
We began our exploration in Empedocle. At its heart lies via Roma, a charming and tree-lined key location familiar to all Camilleri fans. The street is littered with cafes, but there really is only one choice: Salvo's favourite, the Caffè Albanese, now known as Bar Vigata. Stop for a fresh ricotta-filled cannolo, sip an espresso and watch passersby, the majority of whom could have stepped from the pages of any Montalbano novel.
Near the bar, you'll find the inspector himself but don't expect Luca Zingaretti, his TV incarnation. This inspector couldn't be more different: moustachioed, ageing yet with a full head of hair. The inspector we are looking at is a statue, commissioned to celebrate Porto Empedocle's favourite son, who is based on Camilleri's scant descriptions of him in the series. Looking a little perplexed, perhaps chewing over the nuances of a particularly tricky case, we imagine he'd soon be in his car and heading home.
Montalbano's home is the suburb of Marinella, an outer neighbourhood of Emepedocle. Heading there, going west on the Trapani road, we stopped at the Lido di Marinella. The expanse of sand is edged with whitewashed villas; their terraces, bathed in sunlight, border on the beachfront and it doesn't take much imagination to see our inspector sipping a glass of whisky as the sun sets.
The coast to the west of Marinella leads to the Turkish Steps, a natural marl cliff formation that declines spectacularly towards the sea. In the height of summer, bathers and sun worshippers throng the area, but Montalbano fans know it has a darker side. When Salvo needs to meet secretly with his old friend and informer, Gegè, the Steps provide much needed privacy, especially at night. Don't miss the view from the road above, even if you don't stop for a swim.