I step off the hot, crowded second-class carriage into to the train station, and I make my way down the curving hill to Piazza Garibaldi. There are groups of older gentleman sitting on benches chatting away, laughing and gesticulating wildly. I continue on through the steep, narrow, cobbled alleyways to my apartment, hearing the air punctured by the “ring-ding-ding” noises of the old Vespa engines and I can only smile. I’m finally back.
This is my third trip to Sicily and each visit keeps getting better. After an underwhelming trip to Sardinia last summer, and a nice, if unspectacular visit to Malta earlier this year, I returned somewhere that I know well; somewhere I know what to expect. It really drove home the point that not all Mediterranean islands are equal; Sicily stands apart.
Sicilians are not an easy people to love, especially coming from London. They can be abrupt, bordering on rude. An older gentleman practically clambered over my suitcase to ensure he got on the train, pushing the disembarking passengers back in the process: a stark contrast to London and its unwritten rules of public transport civility.
There’s no denying though, that they’ve elevated living to an art form: from gelato for breakfast to an evening passeggiata (leisurely stroll). Life here is lived on their terms and it’s all the more fascinating for it.
Cefalù is a sleepy coastal town with a long history and a spectacular Norman Duomo (cathedral) as its centrepiece. There aren’t an abundance of things to see and do but with some great food options, a lovely beach and framed by the magnificent La Rocca (the rock), it’s a wonderful spot for some rest and relaxation that offers some culture as well.
The Duomo & Piazza Duomo
A magnificent Norman cathedral and the beating heart of the Old Town, the exterior is grand and the Byzantine mosaics inside are well worth viewing. The piazza itself is elegant, if a bit of a tourist trap. If you must get a coffee here, the best bet is Bar Duomo on the corner of the piazza and Corso Ruggiero, with passable coffee and a good selection of sweet and savoury options.
A large rocky cliff overlooking the town, La Rocca is scalable and offers wonderful views of the town and the coast. Tickets are €4 and the climb is best attempted in the morning before it gets too hot. If you’re able bodied, it should take no more than an hour.
Lavatoio Medievale Fiume
This medieval washhouse is reached by a small curving staircase and is easily missed. It offers a cool respite from the sometimes overwhelming heat. Rebuilt several centuries ago, it shows where the locals used to clean their clothes and is a well preserved relic of a bygone age.
Chiesa del Purgatorio
This modest but pretty baroque church is set back in its own little piazza just off the main drag on the Corso Ruggiero. It is often closed and with tourist info scarce, it may be a case of keeping your eyes open.
Bastione Capo Marchiafava
The old fisherman’s bastion, this is the best place to catch the sunset in Cefalu. Standing with your back to the horizon and watching the buildings jutting out over the sea changing colour makes for a lovely (and different) way to watch the sunset.
La Spiaggia (The beach)
A lovely crescent shaped beach that is always popular with locals and tourists alike, albeit out of peak-tourist season, it’s quieter during the week. There are numerous lidos at which you can rent sunbeds (€20 for 2 beds and an umbrella per day) or you can sit with the locals in the sand on the public stretches.
There’s always a colourful cast of character’s selling goods on the beach from selfie-sticks to beach towels to massages. My favourite is the coconut man who traipses up and down all day signing his infectious tune of “coco bello, coco bello, coco.”
With an enviable position on the lungomare (seafront) this casual dining spot offers nice sunset views and serves up good pizzas, burgers with a Sicilian twist and has a rotating specials menu. The tiramisu is good too.
A short walk from the old centre, this rustic and cosy restaurant offers up excellent local cuisine in a beautiful setting overlooking the ocean. Judging from the Google reviews, you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the owner but after two meals here without incident, I can say the pizza, pasta and desserts are very good and the setting spectacular.
For me, this is the best pizza to be had here. It’s a little up past the Piazza Garibaldi and you must sit outside; the temperature inside can be very stuffy with the wood ovens firing. There’s a good selection of pizza and pasta dishes. It’s shut for renovations at the moment but should be open again soon.
The very best place to get Sicilian cannoli. They offer good arancine (deep fried rice balls filled with ragu or ham and cheese) and other savoury options too. I like coming here for breakfast, making like the locals and having a croissant filled with some sweet ricotta cannolo or nutella filling for a sugar-charged start to the day. The gelato is good and there’s even a very small terrace over-looking the ocean too.
A popular if touristy spot overlooking the sea, Molo 19 is a nice place to sit with a cold Moretti or a cocktail. Prices are reasonable for the views available. Service can be erratic but it’s all part of the charm.
A nice cocktail and drinks bar with cushioned outside seating, this is a great spot for people watching along the Via Carlo Ortolani di Bordonaro. With an inventive cocktail list and a decent beer selection, this is one of the best places for a drink in Cefalù. I’d recommend the London Mule, a gin and ginger ale concoction.
As a quiet town, there are few late options here but the Majik beach club stays open until 3am. It’s further down the seafront, a short walk from the town. There’s live DJ’s and booths for reservation. Arrive later in the evening or you’ll be there on your own.
These are my picks for the best that Cefalù has to offer although there’s more to see and do of course, and a lot more restaurants too but these have reliably been my favourites over the course of three visits. Cefalù is also within an hour of Palermo, Sicily’s capital, and an hour of Monreale with its spectacular Cathedral, so it’s a good base for day-tripping too.
Sometimes I am loath to recommend places that aren’t too popular that I like, lest they change irrevocably from what you know and love but in the spirit of offering honest travel advice, I cannot recommend Cefalù strongly enough. From its pretty streets and squares to its clean beaches and laid back vibe, as a summer sun destination goes, it takes some beating.
Thanks for reading,