Yes – I could just picture Marlon Brando in Forza d’Agro with his cheeks padded with cotton wool while he chastised all and sundry “And you don’t even call me Godfather”. Wow – Sicily. What an incredible place. Who knew? I saw it on the itinerary of our cruise and wondered why anyone would want to go there when there are so many other possible ports in the Med. It’s beautiful, authentic and it is home to the best pizza I have ever had.
We chose to do the tour which followed in the footsteps of the Godfather, the main emphasis being on two small villages high in the mountains above the tiny port which lies under brooding Mt Etna (it’s latest eruption was May this year). Francis Ford Coppola was looking for just the right village and the right church to feature in his film of the Mafia family. Well he found two villages, each with its unique character. Twisting zig zag roads took us all the way to the top. I thought was I lucky in the front seat of the coach but after an up front and personal view of the precipice below I was reconsidering that.
For some strange un-Godfather like reason, we were taken to see one of the ancient churches where a quaint selection of mummies was stored. Still in their original clothes which seemed to be dated back to the early 19th century, they lay in grotesque horror show style contortions. Lovely. The tradition was started by a sect of monks whose sole task appears to have been preservation of the dead. The tiny crypt only held about 12 people (I mean the live ones….) so we had to take it in turns. Mmmm. Our guide said he wouldn’t bother – he had met them already.
By this stage we were ready for fresh air and sunshine – and maybe a beer or two. Sitting in the courtyard of a tiny pizzeria overlooking the incredible hills and landscape of a very lush Sicily we were treated to the best pizza ever. Cooked in a traditional wood burning pizza oven the pastry was unbelievably thin and crisp. I don’t think I will ever be able to repeat that.
While we were there a local family was celebrating a wedding in one of the rooftop restaurants. For a moment or two we thought perhaps it was Godfather 4 or 5 that was being filmed. These guys looked the real thing. Black suits, expensive sunglasses, shifty demeanour. Listen, I am sure they are very nice men who work as lawyers or doctors or plumbers in the town but you have to let your imagination run riot when you are in a place like this. Adds to the atmosphere.
Others in our group had the time to visit Taormina – another medieval city high in the hills above the port which has now been dubbed the Monte Carlo of Sicily. This is where the rich and famous come to party so the town is replete with upmarket shopping, restaurants and 5 star boutique hotels.
Once back on board and sailing away from Sicily with the sun setting behind Mount Etna we all agreed that this was a place that would warrant a return visit. As the evening wore on descriptions of the mummies, their clothes, hair, teeth (or lack of teeth) grew more fantastical until I think that if Francis Ford Coppola was there he would have had some good material for the Return of the Godfather.