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What to Watch Set in Sicily

Town scene in Taormina

White Lotus is what drew you to Sicily and the Four Seasons San Domenico Palace in Taormina. Here are other films and shows set in Sicily. The perfect backdrop to get you in the mood for your vacation in Sicily!

Remember the beautiful views of Teatro Greco and the Ionian Sea from the DiGrasso’s visit?

Over the years tons of international productions have used the beautiful landscape of Sicily as their backdrops. One of my favorite destinations in Italy, this Meditterranean island is a vibrant and diverse in scenery as it is in culture. Maybe it’s dramatic Mount Etna or the beautiful cascading “stairs” of Scala dei Turchi going into the turquoise sea. Then there’s the baroque architecture and the ancient Greek ruins. Sicily is always a good idea. Here’s a run down of films and shows set in Sicily to get you in the mood for your next Sicilian holiday.

The White Lotus Season 2 (2022)

The HBO runaway hit The White Lotus returned for a second season. For season two, the action takes place in the renovated San Domenico Palace in Taormina, Sicily — a real life Four Seasons Hotel. The San Domenico Palace is a 14th century Dominican convent first converted into a hotel in 1896. Ethan’s morning runs through Taormina in the morning light showcased the town magically. Make sure to mark Valentina’s visit to Bam Bar for a delicious granita!

The opening beach scene is actually filmed in Cefalù, a seaside city (one of Italy’s most beautiful villages) on the north coast of the island Visit Cefalù by flying into the Palermo airport and driving. Creators of The White Lotus chose Cefalù’s sandy beach vs. the rockier beach of Taormina. What you might not realize is that Taormina is a cliffside town. It’s similar to many seaside luxury hotels on the Amalfi coast, like Ravello. “Beach access” is actually a short drive from the hotel and sometimes, built within the cliffside. The show takes some liberties with how fast the characters would get from the hotel to the beach and that made me laugh.

I really love and appreciate Sicilian wine, especially those grown in the area of Mount Etna. The winery that the couples visited is the Etna Winery.

courtesy of HBO

In episode three Daphne insists that everyone tells her “you have to visit Noto!” and she is absolutely right! The Noto valley makes for an incredible roadtrip through these sundrenched Italian towns with baroque architecture. The scene where the men circle Harper for a moment is a reference to a 1960 Michelangelo Antonioni film L’Avventura filmed outside of Noto’s Cathedral, Cathedral San Nicolo.

Note that the palazzo where Daphne and Harper stay is actually in Palermo, Villa Tasca. And the palazzo that Tanya heads to in Palermo is actually in Noto, Villa Elena!

If you’ve fallen in love with Noto Valley from watching The White Lotus, watch The Young Montalbano, a light detective series set in the Noto Valley.

The best way to explore Sicily is by car — and maybe a Vespa a la Tanya and Greg! I’ve actually done that Messina coastline shown in Tanya and Greg’s Vespa ride with my husband as we drove from Taormina to Messina to take a ferry to Calabria!

Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Ocean’s Twelve in Scopello, Italy

OK! This is on every must watch list for filming places in Sicily. And I do agree, caper film Ocean’s Twelve is an excellent watch for travel porn, the beautiful natural pillars of Scopello, Sicily only appear for a few minutes towards the end. Instead, watch for dramatic shots of Lake Como (filmed at George Clooney’s villa), Amsterdam and the everstunning, Rome. Though brief, Scopello is so eye-catching it’s not a surprise that people constantly refer to that scene from the movie. Scopello is about a 45 minute drive from Palermo and definitely a must see! The stars stayed in Trapani during filming and made a lot of news!

me in Scopello, Sicily

From Scratch (2022)

From Scratch beautifully captures Sicilian market life

Based on author and actor Tembi Locke’s incredible true story, in Netflix’s From Scratch, the main character, Amy’s love story begins as in Florence, while studying abroad. Leading man Lino is originally from Sicily and the series takes us through his scenes of his family in Sicily as well Amy and Lino’s honeymoon in Sicily. And there we have Cefalù again! Different from his real life counterpart Saro Gullo, Lino in From Scratch hails from the town of Castiglione in the Catania area.

Castiglione is a gorgeous hillside village on the slopes of Mount Etna and at one point it was offering one euro homes! From Scratch beautiful captures Sicilian town life, from the community ties, to even the vibrant scenes at the farmer’s market! While the promo from From Scratch heavily features Florence, no doubt of the series appeal to American audiences, Sicily, is the true heart of the Italian story in the show.

The Godfather (1972)

courtesy of Paramount Pictures 1972

The Godfather trilogy is one of the most referenced films in the history of cinema. The Sicilian origins of the fictional Corleone crime family sends tourists flocking to Sicily. It is one of the most iconic of the films and shows set in Sicily. By the time of filming in the early 1970s the town of Corleone was too modern. Coppola created the dreamy sepia toned Sicily of yore using the Sicilian town of Savoca, near Messina.

courtesy of Paramount Pictures 1972

Dating back to the 1100s you can see the history of Sicily in this town with architecture influenced by Romans, Byzantines, Normans and Arabs. Olive groves and vineyards surround palazzos that were home to the nobles of Messina. You can visit the beautiful church of San Nicolò, where the wedding between Michael Corleone and Apollonia was filmed. Bar Vitelli, one apart of Palazzo Trimarchi dates back to the 1400s. This charming bar is filled with Godfather memorabilia. You’ll remember it from several scenes in the Godfather part 1 as the bar of Apollonia’s father Signore Vitelli. This is where he proposes the idea of marriage to Apollonia’s father and where there’s the wedding celebratory lunch! You’ll also find a Francis Ford Coppola statue in Savoca.

courtesy of Paramount Pictures 1972

The town Forza d’Agrò between Taormina and Messina subsitutes for the town of Corleone in parts 1 and 3 of the trilogy. The Godfather III showcases Taormina’s beautiful checkered floor train station. The Castello degli Schiavi, just outside of Taormina is probably the movie’s most famous backdrop. It is even featured in The White Lotus! The castello and cloisters serve as Michael and Apollonia’s Sicilian home (or that of Don Tomassino) in Parts 1 and 3. By the way, Francis Ford Coppola owns a hotel in Basilicata! In contrast to some of the previously mentioned films and series, The Godfather takes us to the ancient dusty hillsides of Sicily. This is what, I think, until recently, informed many American’s view of the island. Subject aside, it’s Coppola and The Godfather trilogy is a beautifully shot travelouge ode to Sicily.

The Mafia Kills Only in Summer (2013)

Set in 1970s Palermo this dark comedy is a must, especially if you’re looking for authenticity and a mafia movie. If you swear by The Godfather, watch this. The Palermo airport is the Falcone Borsellino Airport. It is named after Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Emanuele Borsellino. They were the Sicilian judges and prosecuting magistrates assasinated by the Sicilian Mafia in the 1990s. Organized crime has deeply effected the lives of many Sicilians. This film offers an entertaining nuanced perspective on that set in Palermo through the 1970s – 90s. It follows adolencent aspiring journalist Arturo Giammarresi as he grows up and pursues a career in journalism and love. The film is set against gorgeous cityscapes of the palazzos and neighborhoods of Palermo and gives you a great option of films and shows set in Sicily from the perspective of a Sicilian!

A Bigger Splash (2015) dir. Luca Guadagnino

I highly recommend this film from Palermo-born Luca Guadagnino. He is the famed director of Call Me By Your Name — another excellent travelouge film of Italy. A Bigger Splash is based on the 1969 French thriller La Piscine. In this talented cast, Tilda Swinton plays a rockstay on holiday with her filmmaker boyfriend on the Italian island of Pantelleria. Their secluded holiday is interrupted by a music producer old friend and his daughter.

Beautiful scenes showcase the ancient village of Scauri and the coastlines of Pantelleria — an island between Sicily and North Africa known as the Black Pearl of the Mediterranean. Beautiful places and practices like slathering yourself in volcanic mud from Lago di Venere are seen. The sunwashed buildings and dry landscapes are remniscent of North Africa as well. The film also references the refugee crisis faced by Sicily as well. As in his previous films, the volcanic island of Pantelleria becomes a protagonist itself.

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