A distant uncle, Henri d’Orléans, Duke of Aumale, inherited a fine estate about 50 kilometres from Palermo from his mother, The Queen of the french,Maria Amalia of the two Sicilers. The property was called Zucco, and included vineyard which produced a highly-reputed sweet wine. In my youth, I sampled several bottles of it, all etched with the Duke’s monogram
A long time ago, as we were passing through Sicily with some cousins, we decided to visit our ancestor’s property. When we arrived in the small village of Zucco, we went to see the mayor in order to ask him exactly where the old Orléans estate was to be found. He looked rather alarmed, and said that it was impossible to visit, and that it would be better for us if we didn’t even try. He did, however, answer our question, and indicated how we could get there.
We arrived before a gate that was locked with several padlocks.The property seemed abandoned and deserted. As we walked around the perimeter, we discovered a small gate, which was open, and we stepped inside. At the same moment, a car sped out through the main gate. On board were a number of rather frightening and unfriendly-looking moustachioed fellows. They asked us what we were doing there. Our driver was somewhat uneasy and he explained that we were descendants of the Duke of Aumale, the former owner, and that we would like to take a look around the estate. The men said nothing, but a rather brusque gesture indicated that we could pass.
The moustachioed men drove off, and we drove through the vineyard until we reached a large villa, which did not appear to be inhabited. There were no signs of any family connection apart from a large painted wooden sign with the Orléans family crest on it. Everything was gloomy and silent and locked up, and yet… was it our imagination? … we felt we were being watched and spied upon. We didn’t linger…
That evening, we dined with some very friendly Sicilian aristocrats. We were talking about our visit to our hosts. Everyone knew about the existence of the Duke of Aumale’s villa. We asked who the property belonged to now.
“To a mafia chaplain. But he lives there only rarely as he spends his time in prison with his penitents.”