Cefalù is one of the most visited places in Sicily. Its diminutive size does not stop thousands of tourists from visiting it every day during the summer months.
Imagine my “turisphobic” face when Dani told me that we would dedicate one day to Cefalù. Well, I must say that not only did we manage to avoid the masses, but we managed to discover secret corners to get lost. Of course, one day I found enough to see Cefalù in detail. In fact we did not even stay overnight there as the prices are extremely high compared to less touristy areas.
If you visit Cefalù the first thing I recommend is that you wear good footwear, especially if you want to climb, not to volcanoes this time, but to rocks. Because of that, you can imagine where the name of this small fishing village comes from on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Cefalù, from the Greek KEPHALOIDION that reminds you of the gigantic head-shaped rock that you will have climb if you do not want to miss the best views of the so-called Norman Citadel.
Cefalù is trapped between the sea and La Rocca; a calcareous rock of 270 meters high that has served as a hive of myths and legends. For the Greeks, La Rocca was what the poet Daphne became after his death to remain close to his beloved Sicily. For the Phoenicians in La Rocca took place the fight between Hercules and the Giants. This is why it is also known as La Rocca of Hercules.
My recommendation is that the first thing you do when you arrive to Cefalù, first thing in the morning, is to climb La Rocca, especially if you visit Sicily in summer. The heat can be tough later, and from the top you will discover corners to visit later, when you cross the cobbled streets of the historic center. Corners you would most likely miss if you do not first get a good panoramic view of the city. And the best; it’s very likely that you are almost completely alone (as we were) because not everyone climbs it.
In any case, even if the path is not easy and you have to climb 278 steps in La Rocca, you will have as reward an amazing view and an almost instantaneous understanding of the city.
TEMPLE OF DIANA
Halfway to La Rocca is the Temple of Diana. A temple created to worship the goddess of water and the moon. It is believed that this megalithic monument was built during the ninth century BC. , being the only pre-classic era monument of Sicily.
Do not expect too much from this temple. If no one warns you that it is there you would think it is any abandoned construction. And it is a shame how sloppy it is. Anyone can touch the remains, take them or damage them.
After half an hour of ascent, we find the ruins of the Norman Castle. This fortification was built to protect the city from possible attacks. It also offers a 360º view that uncovers a new view of the environment.
From there we were able to see the New Presidential Port and enjoy the shade changes of the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
We also discover the Promontory of Torre Caldura, and the lookout tower located on the cape Caldura, dating from the 16th century.
And of course we admired the plant in Cruz of the Cathedral of Cefalù, the main monument of the city, and of which we will speak later.
However what I liked the most about climbing La Rocca was to discover an alternative site to the crowded main beach of Cefalù.
If you look at the last image, the Macedonian color of the bay on the left is nothing other than umbrellas that rival for having their niche in the sand in the purest style of Benidorm.
To get to Cefalù we had to park the car to the suburbs (see detail on the map) and walk around the Lungomare Giuseppe Giardina. Since early morning there were hundreds of people were reserving space, so we knew that either we found a plan B or we would have no place to get rid scape from the deadly Sicilian heat. To reach the top of La Rocca and locate what we later learned was called Giudecca’s Reef, it could not make us happier.
Also, climbing La Rocca we met part of the most recent history of Cefalù. In the left part of the last image they appear the mounts of Cefalù. These unfortunately burned in a fire on June 16, 2016. Practically 1 month before our visit.
It was a shame to see all the black mountains burned. But the biggest pain is not only to know that they will have to spend more than 100 years to be as before, but according to several Sicilians told us on our trip, the fire was provoked by the Mafia when the city change the ranger contract from a private company that managed it. This fact made us see that the Mafia is not just stories of gangsters of the past, but something current that still survives and that we would see throughout the trip as in the subject of garbage, taxes, etc.
Once you descend La Rocca, I encourage you to explore the medieval old town. Walking through the cobblestone streets is impossible not to fall in love for it.
The main artery -and where most of the trade is done- is the Corso Ruggero, which marked the limit of the medieval city. However do not follow it all the way. Get lost, look for solitary alleys and move to another century, when Cefalù was Greek, Roman, Arab or Norman.
MEDIEVAL LAUNDRY “FIUME CEFALINO”
The access to the medieval laundry “Fiume Cefalino” is located in Via Vittorio Emanuele. It is a laundry that -although it is not known when it was built- is attributed to medieval times. This laundry located at the mouth of the Cefalino creek is dug directly into the volcanic stone of the place. In fact, to get to it you will have to go down a stone staircase.
Several restorations throughout history have made it possible to preserve it in such a way that it is one of the most visited places in Cefalù. In the last remodeling in the 19th century, bronze heads were added to each of the pipes that supplied the lavatory.
Later the water is channeled and carried to the sea through a cleft that opens in the medieval wall that still is raised in Cefalù and that leads to the port.
DUOMO DI CEFALÚ
No doubt, Duomo di Cefalù is the most impressive of this tiny town. Not all fishing villages can have a cathedral, but less since such an early time. The cathedral of Cefalù (1131) was founded even before Palermo’s (1184).
WHY HERE AND NOT IN OTHER CITIES WITH MORE RENOWN?
It tells the story that the ship where the King of Sicily –Ruggero II– was traveling was facing a storm on the way from Naples to Palermo. The king, thinking that he was going to die, promised the savior that if he came to earth safe and sound, he would build a cathedral in his honor wherever he arrive. On disembarking at Cefalù, the king kept his promise and soon afterwards the construction work began.
The highlight of the cathedral are its rectangular turrets that give the cathedral a look more of a Norman fortress than a place of worship. Inside it stands the Byzantine mosaic of the Christ Pantocrator with Arabic-Norman factions; Blond hair (Norman) and thick dark beard (Arabic).
Since 2015 it is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO as part of the Arab-Norman route of Palermo, Monreale and Cefalù. During the summer months the visiting hours are from 08:00 to 18:00.
In the same square where the cathedral is located there is a pastry shop ice cream making corner with Corso Ruggero Street called Duomo Gelatieri. Not after the visit to the cathedral, but before saying goodbye to Cefalù we went back to eat cannoli and they proved to be the best of the trip. The riccota cream, the crunchy outside and the pieces of pistachio were to die for. We were also lucky that they were fresh.
EATING ON THE FARO’S TERRACE
Without stopping to eat but wanting to submerge already in the sea we went to look for the Giudecca Reef that we had seen from La Rocca. We thus found by chance a restaurant, Al Faro, which had a terrace right on the cliff overlooking the Arrecife of Giudecca, on the street with the same name. The restaurant was at the foot of the Cefalù Lighthouse.
In it, as in most of Sicily, the typical dish was pasta with seafood or fish. However, luckily for me there was also veggie option, as always 🙂
We also enjoyed our first of many mezzi litri di bianco della casa.
After lunch we went to find an access point to the Giudecca Reef. On the map I have indicated the postierla by which we get down to the reef. And it is not easy to find. We had to go through the oldest streets we saw in all of Cefalù. Without a doubt, this area is the most historic and least reformed of the town. To get to the sea you have to literally cross the medieval wall that appears in the movie Cinema Paradiso.
I must say that the reef is nothing more than a volcanic rock terrain that has formed impossible forms into the sea. The difficulty of access makes you find a place of peace and tranquility much closer to the center than the beach of Cefalù. Incredible as it may seem, you will be alone. However privacy is not guaranteed as the Norman wall converted into housing that has views of this area.
Although there is no fine sand on which to lay, the place may not be more suitable for diving. So you know…
AMAZON GIRLS WEAR DIVING GOOGLES 😉
From this area you can see the restaurant Al Faro, where we had eaten, with the lighthouse in the background.
DRIVING OVER THE SEA
As I mentioned above, we did not spent the night in Cefalù. First, because the prices of the accommodation are expensive; and secondly, because the next day began our first great adventure, climbing the Stromboli volcano. So -as to get to Stromboli- you have to catch a ferry that leaves from Milazzo, we decided to spend that night there.
The GPS marked 4 hours of travel, so we started early. At dusk Dani made me stop since the sky was beautiful.
The road we were going through, SS113, seemed to go over the sea. All along, he followed the coast lines; simply separated from the sea by the tracks of the train that also follow this shape. Suddenly a train passed and the scene was perfect to close our second day of the first of our trips.
However I cannot close the post without telling the truth of our 4 hour trip to Cefalù, Milazzo. The GPS that we got when we rented the car was avoiding tolls. The same route that we were doing was done in an hour and a half paying tolls. After two and a half hours of desperation in which we got lost in towns of all kinds in whose alleys we were trapped. At least between the friendliness of the people and the sunset that we had lived along the coast the journey made it much less hard.