We are in Sicily where we leave our sea legs on the m/s Radisson Seven-Seas Voyager to board a coach to Savoca, the mountainous location of The Godfather II

From the seaside resort of Santa Teresa, turning left toward the mountain immediately becomes unnerving. I hold my breath each time our driver stops and maneuvers at each hairpin turn, the razor-edged road disappearing as we momentarily hang over the Sicilian void.

I only relax at the village lookout with a hazy view over the Gulf of Naxos and the Ionian Sea. It dawns on me that after driving up, we‘ll have to go down that same serpentine road. I imagine the past and the grueling transport by donkeys.

The Iconic Bar Vitelli and Owner Sra. Maria d’Arrigo

The plan is to first settle our nerves at the bar Vitelli, but when we get there, owner Sra. Maria d’Arrigo grumbles a greeting from under the vine-covered pergola. Since the wedding of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and Appolonia (Simonetta Stefanelli), a continual flow of visitors is good business, every day, but now in her eighties, Maria is entitled to some moodiness. We must “come back later.”

When we do, we walk into the vestibule where little seems to have changed since 1971, judging by the dusty exhibit of the film props, all the way up a decrepit staircase. On the walls, photographs of “Ms. Maria” with the film cast and crew authenticate the location.

A framed interview reveals that Ms. Maria’s days always began with preparing her granita de limone. She still makes the lemon drink with her old-fashioned hand-operated machine, designed when the snow-capped mountains provided the icy slush.

For the umpteenth time, she recalls the filming with understated pride if any, and perhaps some weariness. “It was so hot that Sr. Coppola [the director] could drink 30 granitas in one day,” our guide translates. His hard work impressed her so much that she let him rest in her (real) home between shootings. I try to imagine the wedding scene, a four-day shoot with some 350 extras.

Bottles of syrups and liquors fill the shelves of the bar. In the sparse grocery corner, I get a pack of cookies that will settle my growling stomach. The absence of merchandising is as refreshing as the granita, which is the way visitors pay to access the film location.

As for the granita machine, Francis Ford Coppola made Ms. Maria a deal she “couldn’t refuse,” but in her true character, she did.

Savoca’s Past and Present

Since The Godfather II came to town, a few day-trippers like us have animated the otherwise sleepy village.

The Santa Lucia Church, seen in the film, still steadily hangs onto the cliff. Our stroll takes us to the Convent of the Capuchin Friars where we go down a few steps, and before we realize how we got there, we find ourselves in the crypt. We face fully clothes mummies that seem to hang on by the skin of their teeth. With gaping mouths, we cautiously walk by each one, afraid that their dusty clothes might make us sneeze and somehow upset them. Or reduce them to dust.

Still astounded, we continue our stroll along the quiet cobblestone streets. We notice that other than the abandoned houses exposing the carved boulders that they were built with, nothing is for sale here, not even postcards.

There are talks that the old fishermen’s quarters on the cliff edge will be converted into a hotel, an evident retreat destination. Meanwhile, although Ms. Maria didn’t appear in the movie, her character as the bar owner has slipped into Sicily’s popular culture along with The Godfather trilogy.

Forza d’Agro and The Godfather III

Our coach drops down the hill only to ascend another, to Forza d’Agro where Sofia Coppola (Mary Corleone) and Al Pacino (Michael Corleone, her father) acted in The Godfather III.

As if on cue, a man appears from an annex of S. Agostino Convent and greets us by profusely kissing or shaking hands. He then signals that we wait, rushes inside, and makes a dramatic comeback, wearing a coppola hat, the one worn by the priest he played in the movie. A glass in hand, he re-enacts the scene that made him the village celebrity.

On the piazza, I chat with a villager who brings up WWII, when fascist Italy allied with Nazi Germany. Then the Ave Maria eerily echoed around us. It’s noon and the time for another hand-clutching drive back. Something the cast and crew did every day.


RIP Ms. Maria… She died in 2009. Reportedly, her nephew runs the place. As for the 18th-century friars’ mummies, they are at last behind glass.

The winding road to Savoca (MCArnott)
In front of the Bar Vitelli (JRArnott)
Sra. Maria d’Arrigo and the lemon granita (MCArnott)
The props Godfather II on the staircase of Bar Vitelli (MCArnott
With a villager in Forza d’agro (JRArnott)

Original article The Province 2006 – Revised 2022