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A Little Guide to Cefalu
Cefalu (pronounced che-fa-lu) is a city and commune within the metropolitan city of Palermo about 70 kilometres from Palermo city itself, at the foot of a rocky promontory known as the 'Rocca'. It features a beautiful historical town centre and it is a popular seaside resort with local, national and international tourists alike. Benefiting from the usual Sicilian climate, holidaymakers often continue visiting towards the autumn.
This coastal town is considered one of the most beautiful in Italy as standing out for its artistic, cultural and historical importance and for its infrastructure, quality of life and public services. It is not far from the elevations of the Madonie Regional Natural Park, which includes a beautiful mountainous region in the north of Sicily. At the foot of the Rocca sits the historical old town, dominated by the Cathedral, with ancient port buildings lining the coast and picturesque narrow medieval streets and alleys between. The Cathedral or Duomo was recently identified, among other locations, for recognition by UNESCO for its space, structure and decoration and for showing the coexistence of different peoples and religions over time.
Cefalu has been occupied by many societies over the centuries. The archaeology of the town traces its settlement back to prehistoric times and on the Rocca are found two caves which relate to this. There is also the megalithic temple dedicated to Diana or Artemis which can be viewed on the hillside, dating back to at least 800 years BC. There are signs of later Greek and Roman settlement. The name, Cefalu, may derive from the Greek for 'head', 'kafale' relating to the headland or from the Phoenicians' word for stone or rock 'kephas'. The Romans named it Cephaloedium and built roads and enclosures. Byzantine rule led to more construction and fortification. Following settlement in the 9th century BC the Arabs left their imprint. A conquest by the Normans led to rule in the eleventh century by Roger I followed by Roger II and while still respecting the existing infrastructure, improvements were made to buildings and some edifices added. The Norman Cathedral and nearby palace are examples of this. Spanish influence followed the Normans for some time in Sicily. The island became part of the Italian Republic in the 19th century.
View Over Cefalu Port
Map of Cefalu
View of the Coast Above Cefalu
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Things to See and Do in Cefalu
Cefalu has a popular beach with private and public spaces along the seafront. As is usual in Italy many of the private areas offer, during the tourist season, sunloungers and a parasol for a daily hire fee with the use of other facilities. There is also often a beach cafe offering snacks and drinks. Nearer to the old town is an area of public beach. In the evening the promenade or 'lungomare' is perfect for the traditional 'passeggiata' or evening stroll.
There are many cafes and restaurants along the port seafront and lungomare, as well as within the town. There is a great deal of seafood on the menu. Some of the restaurants have terraces that overlook the sea and some are perched over the rocks by the sea.
Cefalu cathedral is a Norman edifice which dominates the town. It has famous artwork inside and some stunning detail in its architecture and at its altars. The public square nearby, Piazza Duomo is a good place to appreciate the views and has places to eat and drink.
Museo Mandralisca, just a little further down from the cathedral, is a small museum housing archaeological artefacts and some natural history, as well as art, the highlight being an Antonello da Messina painting, 'Portrait of an Unknown Man' (circa 1465) whose enigmatic smile is notable.
The church of Santo Stefano, also known as the Church of Purgatory has a beautiful delicate baroque facade and inside a large altarpiece with an image dating to 1813 depicting Christ giving the eucharist to the souls in pain.
The old town is a highlight in itself and there are retail shops, particularly going down from the Piazza Duomo. As can be expected there are a lot of souvenir shops for tourists to browse with some traditional ceramics and art prints within these and other shops. There are also some niche and boutique shops found in the town. There are a few local artists selling their work in different parts of the town. The paved and cobbled streets and alleys make for a pleasant saunter in the cooler parts of the day.
There is a medieval 'lavatoio' or laundry in the lower part of the old town which has areas with pools, made for washing clothes, which are filled by a stream. Reached down a curving staircase, it is an interesting reminder of the past.
The Rocca itself is worth ascending to view its archaeological remains including a fortress at the top, from which there are spectacular views. Going upwards via the ancient staircase, the Salita Saraceni, the remains of the Temple of Diana, dating to around 800 BC, can be viewed. There is a fee to go up the Rocca but the route is maintained for walkers and a good challenge in comfortable walking shoes.
View of the Rocca
Getting to and Around Cefalu
Most people fly to Sicily via airports at Palermo and Trapani, and Catania Fontanarossa in the South. Sicily has a good road network though some of the routes have a toll. Travellers can also use transport such as buses or take taxis. Car hire is a possibility from the airport and there are a lot of main car hire companies operating in Sicily. It is advisable to prepare and to book in advance.There are rail routes connecting parts of the island. Cefalu has its own rail station not far from hotels and it is a pleasant walk to the old historical quarter.
To get from Palermo airport to Cefalu, there are buses and trains or the possibility of hiring a car. From Catania Fontanarossa Airport there are a lot of car hire companies outside the airport and it is possible to take a route through the centre of Sicily. Again its a good idea to be prepared in advance for this. There are shuttles and buses to Catania where there is also a train from Catania Centrale to Termini Imerese and from there a route to Cefalu. There are also buses and shuttles from the airport to Catania and buses from there to Enna in the centre of Italy and then to Cefalu.
To get from Trapani Birgi Airport to Cefalu, there is a bus to Palermo then a train to Cefalu from Palermo Centrale station. Car hire is also possible from the airport.
Once in Cefalu it is easy to walk around the old town and towards some of the more modern parts of the town. The city has good road connections and with its own rail station, is convenient for excursions. There is a traffic limited zone with penalties, like many Italian cities, so it is necessary to observe the signage and it is a good idea to plan where to park if going by car.
Piazza Duomo in Cefalu
Things to See Outside of Cefalu
The nearby Madonie Regional Natural Park can be visited and has delightful towns and villages throughout. The area is also popular with walkers and hikers.
The popularity of Cefalu is leading to more visitors to neighbouring towns along the beautiful northern coast of Sicily. Further, Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is a convenient train ride away and has many wonderful architectural sights including a large cathedral.
From Cefalu port it is possible to take a ferry, during the peak season, to visit the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily. Due to the unique characteristics of each, they make an interesting excursion.