Get Excited for Your Sicily Trip with This TV
By Franki Hanke
Sometimes ahead of a trip, all of the research can start to feel a bit tiring. The line between excitement and exhaustion can blur, so when you need just to get excited again, stay on theme by watching tv in Sicily, Italy. You’ll see the landscape you’re headed to, discover potential spots to visit, and anticipate your trip ahead.
This list is even better as in-flight entertainment! What better way to get excited for your Mediterranean getaway than soaking up the sights ahead of time?
If you really want to soak up Italian landscapes (and practice your Italian), you could watch some famous Italian films shot in Sicily like The Leopard by Luchino Visconti, L’Avventura by Michaelangelo Antonioni, Malena, Divorce Italian Style with Marcello Mastroianni or Il Postino (The Postman) filmed in Aeolian Island of Messina. For this list, I’m assuming you’re on the hunt for American media.
If you’re still itching to research locales for your own trip, then non-fiction television is an enjoyable way to search.
Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown & No Reservations
Anthony Bourdain has traveled to Sicily with his camera crews twice in his shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown. First, in October 2005, he tried tripe, spleen sandwiches, and salt-encrusted fish in Palermo and Trapani. On his second visit, he stays in Villa Monaci outside of Catania but re-visits Taormina and Palermo.
Watch both episodes to hear a little bit about food origin in Siciliy and identify some local flavors you may want to try, whether you eat at the same locations Bourdain does or merely order the same thing.
Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy
On a travel show focused just on Italy, Tucci’s visit to Sicily is the finale show. The show feels like a visit in itself, the perfect primer to visiting there yourself. He speaks with a range of people from Michelin-starred chef Tony Lo Coco of I Pupi in Bagheria and Princess Stefania di Raffadali to actors Emanuela and Mimmo in their home kitchen. The episode mixes food with history without shying away from Siciliy’s historic mafia or political assassinations. It’s a history lesson and food primer in one.
Watch Searching for Italy S1 E6 on Amazon Video.
In Netflix’s intimate docuseries Chef’s Table, you can spend a full 48 minutes with Chef Corrado Assenza of Noto, Sicily. His restaurant Caffè Sicilia might go on your must-visit list after hearing about his approach to cannoli, gelati, and granita though. Prepare yourself.
Watch Chef’s Table V4 E2 “Corrado Assenza” on Netflix.
Featuring the duo Andrew Graham-Dixon and Giorgio Locatelli, Sicily Unpacked is a BBC docuseries with a broader focus than the food. With an art critic and chef together, their commentary includes food and art alike. The style is casual and conversational, and while it’s years old now, you’ll still find some useable recommendations for your own visit.
Watch Sicily Unpacked on YouTube.
While fictional movies and television won’t tell you much about the history of a location, they can generate that pre-travel excitement with some iconic sights in the backdrop (and maybe film locations to visit yourself).
The White Lotus
The iconic dark comedy that has everyone talking is set in a fictional resort chain with a wide cast, but many of the landscapes you see in season two are from shooting in Italy. Notably, the hotel itself is set in Taormina near Mount Etna and the Strait of Messina. Producer Dave Bernad shared that they looked at 30 hotels in France and Italy before finding their location: “And then we walked into the San Domenico Palace in Taormina and that was it. There was no debate,” as quoted by Conde Nast Traveler.
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Since the crew lived at the hotel during filming, everyone involved experienced Sicily, to some degree. Bernad shared some of that experience in his interview with Charlie Hobbs, “Taormina is a wonderful place to travel, it’s wild and intoxicating and rural and haunted. We spent a lot of time hiking around the island.”
Watch White Lotus on HBO Max.
A detective story to sate your craving for more of White Lotus, Inspector Montalbano is adapted from Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri’s books. It’s an ongoing whodunit with mysteries solved episodically. Watching the show, you’ll see a lot of scenery from Ragusa in southeast Sicily.
This show is in Italian. I know, after I told you this was a list of AMERICAN media, but Alberto Sironi’s Montalbano has previously been beloved here and iconic in Italy, so I’m including it nonetheless.
Watch Inspector Montalbano on Amazon Video.
OSCAR winner, Cinema Paradiso tells the story of an Italian filmmaker who returns to his hometown after three decades but is often described as a coming-of-age film that captures a true love of the movies themselves in the friendship of our protagonist and a projectionist. While the film is set in fictional Giancaldo, it draws inspiration from director Giuseppe Tornatore’s hometown Bagheria (and filmed there). Some scenes were filmed elsewhere, too, including Cefalù, east of Palermo.
Watch Cinema Paradiso on Amazon Video.
I’d be remiss not to mention the film that’s triggered the most poorly-done American attempts at an Italian accent: The Godfather from director Francis Ford Coppola with Marlon Brando. While the story focuses on Italian immigrants related to Vito Corleone in New York, not on Sicily itself, there are important scenes shot in Sicily. The Sicilian scenes were shot in Forza D’Agro and Savoca including Michael Corleone’s wedding scene, so if you’re visiting there, you must watch the movie and try and find some familiarity! Try to place the Godfather part with the real-life scenery!
If you’re in Palermo, spot Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele (an opera house) as the scene of Anthony Corleone’s rise to fame.
Watch The Godfather on Amazon Video.
For the serious film buff, there are many more iconic and inconsequential scenes shot across the island of Sicily including Ocean’s Twelve, Talented Mr. Ripley (with Matt Damon), and Stromboli (with Ingrid Bergman and Mario Vitale by Roberto Rossellini).
Now, get watching! Once you’re really in Sicily, you’ll be able to spot things from the screen in real-life and compare. When we travel, we create our own memories of places we’ve only ever seen on a screen, and that’s part of the fun!
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