Cefalù has been my first approach to Sicily. I had never been on Sicilian soil before and I must say that if everything else on the island is as beautiful as Cefalù, I can only regret having waited so long.
I visited Cefalù on my own, or rather, partly on my own and partly with Mario, a very cultured and prepared guide who accompanied me to the discovery of the most interesting points and the history of this seaside town.
Those who have been following my blog for a while know that I love to get lost in villages and towns. I like to wander around with my camera at hand, ready to capture a beautiful landscape or a simple scene of everyday life. I like to summarize in a few shots the soul of a place, going beyond it and letting myself be captivated by the moments.
Cefalù is the ideal place to practice this healthy “sport”. Its narrow streets with hanging clothes, the houses with balconies overlooking the sea, the children who dive into the water from the pier, the old and only cart with vegetables that recalls the past, the warmth and hospitality of people. Everything is in a strange balance that tourism has certainly affected but, in some ways, seems to remain intact.
Where to stay in Cefalù
A very nice area where you can stay in Cefalù, could be the beautiful Cathedral of Cefalù -> CLICK HERE to discover the hotels in this area.
Or, if you want to stay out of the centre (ideal solution if you are travelling by car) the other option is to move towards the promenade Giardina, towards Palermo just to understand us, and find an accommodation not far from the entrance of the city. I was just in that area and I think it’s a choice with a good ratio proximity / price -> CLICK HERE and check only those in the waterfront area.
What to see in Cefalù: a glimpse of history
Cefalù is an ancient medieval village to be preserved, so much so that UNESCO has included it in the Arab-Norman itinerary that divides between Cefalù, Palermo, Monreale and neighboring sites.
The history of Cefalù is somewhat reminiscent of some cities in Andalusia where the various dominations have left their imprint. This former fishing town has also been characterized by remote populations: Arabs and Normans have left their mark on the town and this can be seen especially in the cathedral of Cefalù.
In more recent history, Cefalù has been a seaside town until the middle of the last century, deeply bound to traditions and not very inclined to modern changes. In 1957, with the opening of Club Med just a few kilometres from the old town, Cefalù had to deal with the passing of time and changes in society. French women in bikinis and different ways of doing things were initially rejected, but were later considered to be a fortune that brought Cefalù to its current fame.
6 things to do in Cefalù in Sicily with a walking itinerary
It takes at least two days to appreciate and discover Cefalù at its best. Cefalù is a seaside town and just like every seaside town it is nice to take a break enjoying the horizon or simply the setting of the sun while swimming.
1 – Walking along the promenade of Cefalù
To appreciate Cefalù as a whole you have to admire it from afar, with the Rocca overlooking and protecting the historic hamlet. I suggest you to start from the “Lungomare Giuseppe Giardina” and walk along it until the beginning of Vittorio Emanuele Street, where the houses start.
2 Tappa: l’ex Lavatoio Medievale in Via Vittorio Emanuele
The itinerary of Cefalu continues along Via Vittorio Emanuele. Here you stroll immersed in the daily life of the village. Perhaps this street has become too touristy and tourism often (and unfortunately) distorts the locations. Cefalù must be capable of not losing its origins and characteristics, otherwise it would become an ordinary place.
I don’t hide the fact that there are too many souvenir shops along the main streets, but despite this you can still smell the scent of the old days. You simply have to look at the streets that intersect Via Vittorio Emanuele to suddenly return out of the tourist flow. A myriad of cloths hanging with the Rocca di Cefalù as background, an image that smells like everyday life.
Via Vittorio Emanuele runs parallel to the sea, only the houses separate it from the waves. Among these houses, halfway down the street, you can discover one of the places to see in Cefalù.
I’m talking about the Lavatoio which can be accessed by a short spiral staircase which name’s “Lumachella“.
The waters of the river Cefalino flow into the washhouse. You can see three steps of small basins where once the clothes were washed, in fact it was a public washhouse. The tanks closest to the sea were used for the first wash, the central ones were the first rinse, while those closer to the source were the final rinse.
According to a legend, the waters of Cefalino were and are very pure because it is said that they were the tears of a desperate nymph who had killed her lover believing him guilty of treason. This is the mythological explanation, the scientific explanation is much less fictionalized. These are karst waters that flow between the rocks and converge where Cefalino seems to originate, a few meters away from the sea.
3 – Porta Pescara and an Arancino on the pier
Moving on beyond the wash-house, when you arrive at Porta Pescara you will get a glimpse of the sea, a location where the photo is a must. The problem is that this place is always crowded. It is simply an opening from which you can see the sea. Shortly after Porta Pescara on your left you will find Piazza Marina with the pier of the old port. You will find a few benches and many guys ready to dive into the crystal clear waters.
Tip: buy an “arancino or arancina” and enjoy it while watching Cefalù from the pier with the Rocca in the background. Arancino/a + Cefalù + Rocca is the magic formula for happiness.
From the old port you can see the most fascinating part of Cefalù: the houses with balconies directly on the sea.
4 – The Bastione di Capo Marchiafava
Walk along via Carlo Ortolani di Bordonaro, after a dozen of meters on your left you will find the Bastione di Capo Marchiafava, a bastion of defense, the northernmost of the city’s fortification system. One of the most fascinating points to see in Cefalù. From the bastion, restored in the eighties, you can enjoy the immense beauty of the sea.
5 – The amazing Cathedral of Cefalù
Leaving the Bastion behind you, follow the main street of Cefalù, Corso Ruggero. After a few meters you will find yourself in the town hall square in front of which you can see one of the best things to see in Cefalù: the Cathedral of Cefalù in a slightly elevated position. The facade of the Duomo of Cefalù faces west and behind it stands the Rocca.
It was founded by King Roger II of Altavilla (a small French/Norman territory) in 1131 along with its diocese (there are even 29 dioceses throughout Sicily). Over time it underwent several variations and its realization did not follow the original project.
The Cathedral, called the Cattedrale della Transfigurazione, in 2015 was included in the Arab-Norman itinerary sponsored by UNESCO and it really represents a moment of convergence, the place where the coexistence between several cultures that, although different and subject to strict rules, lived together in Cefalù.
In the Cathedral of Cefalù the Arab and Norman culture are intertwined, without forgetting the Byzantine culture to which the interior decoration through mosaics was delegated. Just look at the two towers of the main façade, they are very different from each other.
Some of the decorations as well as the lack of glass in the windows are reminiscent of the style of the Arab Kasbahs. The vertical slits in the wall of the Cathedral are, instead, a Norman characteristic. Arabs were educated, the Normans not so much, let’s say that they preferred the physical appearance and the slits were essential if they had to defend themselves from inside the Cathedral.
The interior of the Cathedral Of Cafalù is very bare and this makes the figure of Christ Pantocrator above the apse even more evident. Just consider that between the two hands there are 9 meters formed by thousands of small squares of glass paste. One could obtain up to 150 different colours. The beauty of the Christ is impressive, moreover it is full of iconic references. Just look at his right hand, it seems as if it indicates a three and a two. The umpteenth sign of coexistence between cultures, in this case between religious cultures: Orthodox and Catholic culture.
The Cathedral of Cefalù is an unfinished work, it was not finished for economic reasons. For this reason the side walls are empty, there is no mosaic unlike the Cathedral of Monreale.
6 – Climb up to the Rocca di Cefalù
I left it last on the itinerary of things to do in Cefalù. The Rocca is the icing on an already perfect cake. Maybe not everyone will be willing to work hard to reach the top but I guarantee you that it’s really worth it.
The climb to the Rocca di Cefalù begins by taking the Salita Saraceni. Alternatively, you can cross Piazza Garibaldi by taking Via Giuseppe Fiore and following the steps. After a couple of meters you will find yourself at the entrance of the ascent where you will have to make the ticket at the ticket machine. You can pay in cash or by credit card. Please note that it does’t give change. The price of admission to the Rocca is 4 euros the full ticket and 2 euros for the reduced-price one.
From here begins a path that climbs towards the fortress. During the climb, while little by little Cefalù will become more and more fascinating looking at it from above, you will see the fortified walls, the old tanks that conveyed the water and the Temple of Diana.
Continuing along the path you will reach the remains of the castle in a few minutes (40 minutes if you’re not well trained). At the top of the Rocca di Cefalù you will enjoy a 360 degree view of the Sicilian coast. It’s simply stunning.
Be careful: the ascent to the Rocca has a difference in altitude of about 240 metres. It is not a particularly demanding ascent even though a large part of the path is made up of rocks and gravel. For the ascent to the Rocca di Cefalù you should avoid the hottest hours of the day. Moreover, I suggest to wear suitable footwear, you don’t necessarily need trekking shoes but at least avoid using flip-flops.