When I first started reporting on filming locations over 15 years ago, the subject was relatively niche. Since then, its popularity has seriously amped up, with film tourism evolving into an industry all its own, as ardent fans regularly plan trips centered around sites from their favorite movies and television shows. The hobby has become so embraced, in fact, that it has even made its way into pop culture in a rather meta way courtesy of the current season of the hit HBO series “The White Lotus.” In the episode titled “Bull Elephants,” which aired this past Sunday, vacationing octogenarian Bert Di Grasso (F. Murray Abraham) spontaneously plans a tour of “The Godfather’s” Italian locales after watching the 1972 classic in his hotel room one night while visiting Siciliy with his son, Dominic Di Grasso (Michael Imperioli), and grandson, Albie Di Grasso (Adam DiMarco).
During their excursion, the trio and Albie’s new friend Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) stop by Castello degli Schiavi, the grand estate that serves as a remote hideout for Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) mid-movie. Purported to be in the Sicilian village of Corleone (Michael’s family’s namesake), in reality, the baroque mansion stands on a fairly rural stretch of road at 11 Strada Provinciale 71i on the outskirts of Fiumefreddo, less than a mile west of the Ionian Sea. (Please remember this is a private home. Do not trespass or bother the residents or the property in any way.) It proved a convenient spot for the Di Grassos to visit as it is also situated just about ten miles south of San Domenico Palace, Taormina, the Four Seasons Resort where the current season of “The White Lotus” is primarily set.
Known as the “Castle of the Slaves” in English, the historic property dates back to the 1750s and, according to the Histouring website, takes its name from a legend concerning local doctor Gaetano Palmieri, who is said to have saved the life of the Prince of Palagonia’s son. As a thank you, the prince gifted Palmieri a plot of land, where he built a castle for his wife, Rosalia. Following its construction, Turkish pirates descended upon the grand manor and kidnapped the couple, who they planned to sell as slaves. The two were rescued before being smuggled out of the area, though, and, as Histouring explains, “To thank God, a small church was erected adjacent to the Castle, dedicated to the Madonna of the Sacred Letter and a loggia was built where two statues of Muslims were placed with their gaze turned to the sea, as if waiting to be freed from their companions. Precisely because of the presence of these two Moors (also ‘slaves’ in Sicilian), the Castle took on its current name.”
How much of that tale is true remains to be seen, but Castello degli Schiavi, with its palatial façade, lava stone framing, twin turrets and 10-foot loggia, certainly looks the stuff of legends! A veritable compound, the estate’s surrounding acreage consists of numerous outbuildings, including multiple warehouses, stables and a caretaker’s residence.
Owned by the same family since its inception, the Castle serves as a private home in real life, though it is regularly utilized as a special events venue, with the sprawling front courtyard boasting space for a whopping 400 guests. And, much as was depicted on “The White Lotus,” the estate is also open to the public for tours.