We are among the few people who signed up for the tour of the Godfather trilogy’s film locations, most of them opting for the fashionable mountain resort of Taormina. After leaving our sea legs on the m/s Radisson Seven-Seas Voyager, we joined other tourists at the seaside resort of Santa Teresa from where our (large) bus begins its way up the mountain, to Savoca, the location of Francis Coppola’s film The Godfather II.

The drive quickly becomes an unnerving adventure over the Sicilian void. Hairpin turns mean that our driver must stop and maneuver back and forth on the razor-edged road that seems to disappear beneath us. I finally relax at the village lookout onto hazy views of the gulf of Naxos and the Ionian Sea. I try to imagine the olden days and the grueling way up by donkeys. And I can’t help thinking that we’ll have to drive back.

We follow our guide to a self-standing house, the bar Vitelli, where owner Maria d’Arrigo grumbles a greeting under the vine-covered pergola. Since the wedding of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and Appolonia (Simonetta Stefanelli) visitors have brought good business, every day, but now in her eighties, she is entitled to some moodiness. Whatever she told our guide, in Italian, she made it clear that we’ll have to come back later.

When we do, other than the bottles of liquors and syrups on the shelves behind the bar, nothing much has changed since 1971. The vestibule is a dusty makeshift museum with exhibits of the film props on the steps of a decrepit staircase. On the walls, photographs of “Ms. Maria” with the film cast and crew authenticate the location. A framed interview reveals that her days always began with preparing her granita de limone. She still makes the ice lemonade with her old-fashioned hand-operated machine designed when the snow-capped mountains provided the icy slush. For the umpteenth time, she takes an understated pride in recalling the filming. As she pours her famous granita, our guide continues to interpret what she says. It was so hot during the filming that Mr. Coppola (the director) could drink 30 glasses of it in one day. His hard work impressed her so much, she let him rest in her (real) home between shootings. As for the granita machine, Coppola offered to buy it but, as if she were in character, Ms. Maria refused the deal.

After we leave the Bar Vitelli, we freely walk the quiet streets. Since The Godfather came to town, only day-trippers like us animate the sleepy village. Along the cobblestone streets, abandoned houses show the carved boulders they were built with. The Santa Lucia Church, seen in the film, still hangs on the cliff. When we come upon the Capuchin Convent, we go down stone steps and, before we know how we got there, we find ourselves in the crypt. In shock, we stare at the surrounding walls lined with mummies, their clothed bodies held together by the skin of their teeth. Still astounded, we continue our stroll, noticing that there is nothing for sale here, not even postcards.

We then reconvene by our bus where our guide points to the former fishermen houses, extraordinarily close to the edge of the cliff. There are talks that they might be converted into a hotel, she says. I think retreat more than hotel. In the meantime, although Ms. Maria didn’t appear in the movie, her character as the owner of the famous bar Vitelli has slipped into Sicily popular culture along with The Godfather trilogy.

We descend the mountain, relieved to reach flat land, only to ascend another one, to Forza d’Agro where Sofia Coppola (Mary Corleone) and Al Pacino (Michael Corleone, her father) acted in The Godfather III. Not missing his cue, a man comes out of an annex of S. Agostino Convent and happily greets us, full-heartedly kissing or shaking hands. He signals that we should hold still then rushes inside. When he comes back, he is wearing the coppola hat that the priest wore in the movie. A glass in hand, he proudly re-enacts the scene that turned him into a celebrity.

On the piazza, I chat with a man who brings up WWII—fascist Italy had allied with Nazi Germany—until the Ave Maria escapes from the church and echoes around us. It’s noon, time to meet with my tour group for another hand-clutching drive back, something the cast and crew of the Godfather films had to experience every day.

(Note: Senora Maria d’Arrigo died in 2009, the bar Vitelli is now run by her nephew, and the mummies of the 18th century friars are at last behind glass.)