Cefalù is a charming small city on the northern coast of Sicily, about 70km from Palermo. Here you'll find the perfect mixture of mountain fresh air and bright blue sea. You can relax on a 5-km long beautiful sandy beach or walk through the narrow romantic streets that will lead you to Piazza Duomo with an architectural pearl, the city's cathedral.
We already saw all of the Palermo's attractions, so we decided to go on a one-day trip to the nearest city of interest, Cefalù. We sat on a train (5,60€ for a one-way ticket) and in less than an hour, we stood at the Cefalù's train station, surrounded by hills and mountains. From the train station, it's only a short walk to the historical center.
Rocca di Cefalù
But on our way, we saw arrows leading you to the Temple of Diana on top of the hill and we followed them. We found ourselves at the bottom of the hill Rocca di Cefalù (270 m) that proudly rises above the city. For 4€, you can climb the hill and visit some of the remains from the ancient Greek settlement of Kephaloidion (Temple of Diana) and the castle from the Norman period.
Careful! A climb to Rocca di Cefalù can be pretty demanding. However, nobody at the entrance will warn you about it. I saw many older people breathing heavily out of exhaustion on my way up. So, take a bottle of water and be prepared for a longer climb following winding roads with mostly low vegetation under the hot summer sun. It took me more than an hour to climb up to the castle and descend near the Temple of Diana to admire a beautiful panoramic view of the city.
As you go up, the view is getting more and more amazing. You'll see green hills populated by a few goats on one side and the whole Cefalù's seacoast on another. The ruins of the Norman castle from the 12th century are not so impressive, but the stunning view is definitely worth a climb. However, if you want to shorten your track, you can turn left at the bottom, following the signs for the Temple of Diana and the archeological park.
Temple of Diana is a megalithic building dating from the 6th century B.C. The temple is connected with a cistern from the 9th century B.C., which tells us that the temple was used as a place for worshiping water, as well. The building was later used as a lookout point for the defense of the city.
A few meters from the Temple of Diana, there is a belvedere from which you can see the whole city of Cefalù. From above, the town looks like a peninsula surrounded by the bright Tyrrhenian sea. Beautiful view!
The historical center
I came down from Rocca di Cefalù to continue strolling through the charming narrow streets full of typical Italian cafés, boutiques, and souvenir shops. The beating heart of the city is the main square, Piazza Duomo, with a magnificent cathedral in Norman-Arab-Byzantine style. The cathedral, together with the cathedral in Monreale and Arab-Norman Palermo sights, is declared the World Heritage by UNESCO.
According to tradition, the Norman King of Sicily, Roger II, escaped a sea storm and landed on the beach of Cefalù. As a sign of gratitude, he made a vow to God that he'll build a cathedral in these lands. Indeed, the church was erected in 1131 and completed about 100 years later. The first thing that you'll notice is the front of the cathedral - two large Norman towers with small mullioned windows, the 15th-century portico with three arches and the three statues of bishops in front of the cathedral.
There is no entrance fee to the cathedral. Inside, you'll see three separate naves divided by arches, marble columns, wonderful mosaics, and artwork. But the most famous mosaic is the one depicting Christ Pantokrator on the shiny golden background.
After the cathedral, we started our search for a place to have lunch. Unlike in Palermo, here you can choose between various open restaurants. There are many restaurants on the main street Corso Ruggero, but we wanted to go a bit further from the center.
We turned into Via Veterani, a street that leads from the historical center to the Old Harbor. We sat on a terrace of the Giara restaurant and had some pasta (with mussels for me). The meal was ok, but nothing special and we paid less than 15€ (including drinks).
After lunch, I wanted to swim in the sea, but it started raining. We still had to take a look at Porta Pescara, one of the four Medieval ports of the city. We stood next to the gothic arch, which leads to the small sandy beach, where you can still see colorful fishing boats. Instead of the fishing boats, we saw a group of tourist with umbrellas taking photos of cute Medieval houses and admiring the view of the sea with the backdrop of misty green hills.
Not far from the old fishing houses and Porta Pescara, there is the most popular city's museum, Museum Mandralisca. The museum conserves a private collection of artwork (among them the world-known Portrait of an Unknown Man by Antonello da Messina), Greek ceramics and Arab pottery, as well as the historic furniture and stuffed animals. The entrance fee is 6€.
We hid from the rain inside the old Medieval wash house (Lavatorio Medievale). The inhabitants of Cefalù used the lavatory for centuries to wash their clothes in the river Cefalino, a river that allegedly came from the tears of a nymph who was mourning her lover. We passed the stone staircase and found ourselves in the washing area with pools and holes where the river flows on her way to the sea. Instead of his clothes, one tourist was dipping his feet in the cold and pure river water.
Sunset at Lungomare Giuseppe Giardina
When you get out from the Medieval wash house, turn right onto Via Vittorio Emanuele and it'll take you to the long coast promenade Lungomare Giuseppe Giardina. Buy snacks and drinks in a supermarket on the way, something interesting to read at the newspaper stand (L'Edicola) and you're ready to enjoy the afternoon at the beautiful sandy beach. You can have dinner in one of the many restaurants and pizzerias all along the Lungomare promenade while watching a magical sunset.
Indeed, we spent a few hours at the beach but watching it from a distance because it was raining. We had coffee and drinks (large 0,75 beer for 3€!) at the covered terrace of Kioskito Bistrot. As soon as it stopped raining, I jumped in the seabank, splashing around like a child. When I had my fun, we sat on the stone stairs and said goodbye to this picturesque town with a sunset.