I really didn’t know what to expect with Cefalu. It’s not a name that comes up often when you consider visiting Italy or Sicily. It appears to be more well-known and popular inside Italy than outside but maybe that’s changing.
The coastal town, located about an hour east of Palermo offers great beaches, stunning views, deep history, good food all in a charming, picturesque seaside city.
Here are some of the highlights during our weeklong stay with the kids.
Any discussion of Cefalu has to start with the beaches. The coastal town is literally perched on the rocky hills over the water and there is a stunning run of beach just at the foot of the old town.
The beach includes sand (sometimes unusual in Europe) and is mostly protected. One day had some mild waves but all the other days were very calm with little to no current. The water was clean, blue and mild. Each day we were there was relatively crowded with the weekends, as you’d expect, being the most crowded.
The beach was a mix of private and public sections. You could pay to rent chairs or umbrellas and get access to a bar on the private sections or set up on your own in the public sections. Even if you didn’t opt for the private areas, there were vendors walking up and down the beach selling just about anything you might need.
We didn’t grab any blankets, hats or umbrellas (you could get them cheaper off the beach) but we did take advantage of the coconut slices and five euro beach massages. Not something you’d find at the typical State-side beach.
If you were patient you could find street parking for a few euros but there was also a big lot just across from the beach with all day parking for seven euros.
There were also many small restaurants an easy walk across the street from the beach (if you didn’t want to venture up in the city) to grab a drink or snack.
Unlike some of the other coastal resort towns that are built up around the water, Cefalu comes with its own history and you’d be missing a large part of the ancient city if you didn’t get a tour or at least walk through many of the twisting streets.
The main historical attraction is the Cathedral in the center of town. The Cathedral, begun in 1131, in a style of Norman architecture which would be more accurately called Sicilian Romanesque. The exterior is well preserved, and is largely decorated with interlacing pointed arches. It is a UNESCO world heritage site noted for its mix of Norman, Arab and Greek styles.
The Dining & Shopping
The small streets are stuffed with all sorts of shops from high-end custom designed sandals to typical souvenir trinkets. We spent an afternoon walking the main shopping district and poking our heads into all of them. There was a shop to meet just about everyone’s needs.
The dining options were also varied and impressive. You could have a white table cloth sit down meal with stunning views over the old city walls to the aquamarine water. Or follow your nose to the friend smells of a quick Sicilian street food snack.
There was also many places to take a break in the late afternoon and sit for an apertivo and a small snack.
If the views just within town are not enough, you can take a hike up to the top of the Rocca, once the site of an Arab citadel, that sits high above the town. It’s a relatively easy hike, both our kids did it without much complaining.
The hike is mostly on a paved path but does trickle out to dirt and gets a little tricky near the top, but the effort is well worth it to see the panoramic views in all directions.
There is a nominal charge to gain entry to the path. If you have time, don’t skip it, but go early, bring water and wear sneakers.
Finally if you need a little break or looking for a change of scenery, don’t miss the small (very small) seaside town of Sant Ambrogio, just a short drive over the hills to the east of Cefalu. This tiny town literally built into the hillside overs more stunning views, a couple of restaurants, a very nice wine shop and beach access. A nice little hidden gem to while away a sunny afternoon.
While we didn’t spend our entire vacation in Cefalu, we certainly didn’t regret making it our home base. The people were warm and friendly. The food was excellent. The beach was great for the kids and there was plenty of other things nearby. Don’t overlook the charming seaside town of Cefalu if you are planning a Sicilian vacation.