Cefalù is known as one of the Sicily’s biggest tourist attractions, right alongside Taormina, so I was skeptical to visit it when I put it on my Sicilian itinerary. This postcard-perfect Arab fishing village had been gentrified by Norman King Roger II, who founded one of Sicily’s most magnificent cathedral. My mother and I decided to visit, hoping that it had retained its old town charm. Since the town is small, we spent an afternoon wandering around the colorful village, sparkling sea, and pretty harbor.
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When we arrived to Cefalù, my intuition that the town would be packed (ESPECIALLY in the month of August, when all the Italians are on vacation) was spot on. However, I was surprised by the fact that this little fishing village was still able to maintain a lot of its original charm! We parked right outside the beach and stepped out onto the boardwalk. It was a hot Wednesday afternoon in August and the beach was flooded with people. I could barely see them since they were all huddled under mountains of umbrellas piled over one another. On one side was the sparkling and savage Mediterranean Sea and its beach covered in vibrant and colorful umbrellas, on the other was the colorful and softer old fishing village.
FIRST STOP: VIA VITTORIO EMANUELE
The journey begins on the main street of Cefalù, Via Vittorio Emanuele, where one can find most of the historic sites and shops. The main street truly is meant for an iconic dolce vita passegiata. Cannoli carts, Granita stands, corner cafés, streets with laundry hanging from clotheslines swinging from one building to the other, and quaint stores flood the streets of Cefalù.
A few stores that caught my eye (no pun intended!) include an authentic fishnet store that was open for business! A dozen colorful fishnets hung in an arched open doorway. The colors and the way they were displayed gave the fishing village an extra pinch of charm (not that it needed it to begin with) to accompany the town’s brightly hued boats and twisting narrow streets.
At times we did walk by the occasional tourist store or trap, but even those were exploding with Sicilian charm. Sicilian ornaments, the famous wooden Pinocchio’s, linen dresses, and handmade cloths lined the storefronts. I have to say…you would occasionally see the traditional God Father t-shirt or kitchen apron. It was a bit sad to see that Sicily had fallen victim to these stereotypes and felt the need to appeal tourist’s appetite for movies such as the God Father. Sicily is far from anything like the God Father, no matter what the media portrays. It is a happy, jolly, and vivacious community of people who are very passionate about their hometown, roots, and of course—food!
SECOND STOP: IL LAVATOIO MEDIEVALE
One of the first stops along Via Vittorio Emanuele was Il Lavatoio Medievale, or the Medieval Wash or Roman Bath. The story behind Il Lavatoio Medievale of Cefalù is an ancient one, as this is the area where women would come to wash and rinse their family’s clothing many centuries ago. Just imagine what life was like back then! Today it is an adorable and romantic spot where one can go sit down and read a book while escaping the sizzling Sicilian heat. There is even a cute café perched halfway down were one can enjoy un caffé or gelato while getting inspired by the romanticism of Il Lavatoio Medievale!
MUST EAT: ARANCINO
We were starting to get hungry, so I decided to indulge in one of Sicily’s most FAMOUS lunch cuisines—l’arancino! For those of you who don’t know what an arancino is, it is a Sicilian specialty: stuffed rice balls coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. A must-have street food when in this beautiful region. I grabbed a mozzarella and prosciutto arancino for a quick lunch on the go from Pizzica. I’ve had the ragu or meat sauce arancino on another occasion and highly recommend that as well if you get the chance. To quench our thirst, we grabbed a couple of freshly squeezed juices from one of the many juicers on the street—I chose an in-season dragon fruit and watermelon from Zagara Juice Bar. My mom and I found a small house entryway on Via Vittorio Emanuele with about 15 steps leading up to the door and decided to sit on the steps and devour our lunch on the street—typical Sicilian style.
THIRD STOP: PORTICCIOLO DEI PESCATORI
From the famous Porticciolo dei Pescatori, or fishermen’s marina or port hole, you can catch a glimpse of one of the few parts of the Cefalù beach that is not packed with people. The Porticciolo was filled with people sitting on its steps under the shade eating an arancino, slice of pizza, or refreshing gelato. Luckily, I was able to break through them all and catch a glimpse of those Mediterranean cliffs and the sea.
FOURTH STOP: DUOMO OR CHIESA DI CEFALU
We turned onto the second main road in Cefalù, Corso Ruggero, and stopped in front of the Duomo or Chiesa di Cefalù and its small piazza. Although, when you walk by you may think its just another of Italy’s enchanting churches, the Duomo di Cefalù is much more than that. In fact, it is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Arab-Norman architecture.
MUST EAT: I CANNOLI BE HAPPY IN SICILY <3
On our way back to the car, my mother and I stopped by Via Vittorio Emanuele once again. We had walked by an ADORABLE cannoli cart that was lined with people waiting for a taste, simply called Cannoli. We decided to indulge in another Sicilian delicacy before hopping in the car and heading towards Palermo.
The quest to find the perfect Sicilian cannoli is impossible. Why you may ask? Because the way the ricotta cheese is worked in the East and in the West is completely different. There is no such thing as the best or perfect cannoli, but rather a cannoli whose ricotta is thicker, uses different milk, or is worked more than another. This cannoli is one of my favorites from the west side in Cefalù—pistachios sprinkled on one side and chocolate chips on the other. If my mom’s face doesn’t say it all in the below picture, I don’t know what will – It was delicious and light!!!
We had made our way from beautiful beaches and a picture perfect setting to the ancient cathedral built by the Normans and the towns’ infamous arancini and cannoli. Cefalu is a “discovered” gem. I can’t say undiscovered because it’s packed with tourists during peak season! But it’s still a gem and worth uncovering during an afternoon visit.
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