Friday, May 10, 2019

'Godfather' Country: on the trail of the famous movie in Savoca, Italy

The hilly drive to Savoca, Italy, takes you to the town where Francis Ford Coppola shot the film, "The Godfather."   
 Chiesa di Santa Lucia was the setting for the
famous wedding scene in "The Godfather."
  When Francis Ford Coppola filmed "The Godfather" in Savoca,
the scenes were shot looking away from the stunning view.




YOU WILL be an honorary Sicilian, ready for a glass of red wine, to toast the Corleone legacy upon your arrival in "Godfather Country."  The hike up the hill to the setting for the famous movie is not for sissies.  But the sleepy village of Savoca is worth the journey, though. past fragrant citrus orchards and healthy fields of cactus climbing up the hillsides from the sea below.
Though little known to Americans, Savoca has much to offer. 
Located near the prosperous coastal resort town of Taormina whose train station was used in "Godfather III,"  Savoca was chosen by director Francis Ford Coppola as a stand-in for the real village of Corleone in his 1972 movie.  He chose Savoca because it was relatively untouched by progress, had fewer issues than Corleone with mafia and would be easier to maneuver in because of its uncrowded atmosphere.
LOCALS THEN and now are tough and hard working. For centuries, they've made a living by farming on neatly designed terraces overlooking the sea. We found them friendly and happy to talk about their pastoral life, growing citrus trees and cactus.  Farm wives make their own limoncello which they sell in little corner stands much like the lemonade stands we had as children.So the area is a perfect backdrop for the story of a Sicilian family who migrated to the U.S. and made it good, mafia style.
Our journey took us back in time to this lovely corner of Italy, perched above the Ionian Sea.
"The Godfather" has brought a certain prosperity
and minor fame to Savoca, with souvenirs aplenty.
Here life goes on in a typically Sicilian way – leisurely, never too fast. Savoca, unlike inland Corleone, looks to the sea from its lofty perch.  It is a pretty little village which thanks to the movie, now makes much of its living through tourism.
WE MADE our way in a small touring bus up sun-blasted hillsides, admiring the occasional old stone farmhouse and stopping for photos of a scattering of contented goats. Once in the village, we climbed up the sloped and curving streets. 
Bar Vitelli, near the town's entrance, is where Michael Corleone meets
his future wife, Apollonia.  A hike up the hill is the Church of
 San Nicolo, where their wedding would take place. 
Like "The Godfather" characters, locals and
visitors alike enjoy a glass or two of vino rosso.
We'd signed up for the tour because I was sentimental about a long-ago trip to Savoca when I was an invited member of the press corps of film reviewers. We interviewed director Coppola and members of the cast of "The Godfather" then spent a few days in the beautiful area. So it was fun to revisit the locations of the legendary movie shot as Coppola was rediscovering his own Italian roots.  His heritage lured him back to the area. After scouting the southern part of the country, he decided on Savoca for the scenes set in Corleone. Most involve the young Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino. Coppola loved Bar Vitelli, scene of the meeting between Michael Corleone and his future wife's father, who owns the cafe. Bar Vitelli is still in business. We sipped a beverage there before continuing on to the Church of San Nicolò, where the wedding between Michael and Apollonia was officiated.
BEYOND THE cinematic attractions of Savoca, we admired buildings of medieval and Renaissance origins, as well as Baroque architecture to contrast with rural buildings from the early 20th century. Among intriguing relics are the ruins of the Castle of Pentefur, once belonging to the founders of Savoca; the Church of Santa Maria in Cielo Assunta and its crypt, complete with mummies, and remains of ancient walls and town gate dating to the 18th century. A more recent attraction at the entrance to the village features ceramic panels in bas-relief placed by Messina artists Salvatore and Giuseppe Zona in 1989 to recount the history, art and  traditions of the area. A fun meander, best done with a glass or two of local vino.

Wild Goose was John Wayne's beloved yacht which he sailed to Vancouver
and south to Mexico, from its southern California base. Passengers may step
aboard the vessel and enjoy artifacts, posters and photos of "The Duke's" life.

UP NEXT:   Legendary California resident, actor John Wayne loved the sea, and his proudest possession was a wonderful yacht, the Wild Goose, which he sailed far and near from its Newport Beach base. His beloved boat was acquired by Hornblower Cruises, and passengers may enjoy a remarkable opportunity to spend a few hours aboard the "Goose" with a gourmet dinner, access to treasured memorabilia, and chance to roam the vessel. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays.


  1. Portland WanderersMay 15, 2019 at 1:53 PM

    We entertained friends in a timeshare near Savoca. Always hope to return (this was many moons ago.)

  2. The beauty of this part of the world is extraordinary. And still to be discovered by many, yet with an ancient history. Thanks for the insights.

  3. Love following the travels and adventures of you two vagabonds. Will be fun to ride the Wild Goose with you.