Cefalu is a popular town, situated on the northern coast of Sicily between Palermo and Milazzo. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful towns in Italy and is certainly one of Sicily's top resorts.
Sicily Visitor Comment: Cefalu was one of our favourite places in Sicily. A perfect combination of pretty seaside, charming old town and stunning cathedral.
The town of Cefalu spreads out around a large bay and below a huge rock which towers up behind the town and is known as La Rocca.
A long sandy beach stretches out in front of the town of Cefalu and as the town curves round the bay the houses of Via Vittoria Enanuele drop directly down to the sea. This gives the beach a particularly attractive appeal. The beach is a lovely beach of golden sand though like many beaches in Italy some parts are for use only if you hire a sunbed.
Whilst it is the beach that draws many visitors to Cefalu it is the gorgeous old town behind the beach that makes this the perfect holiday destination.
The 12th century cathedral is undoubtedly the highlight within the town. The exterior is decorated but not overly ornate and is very nicely proportioned, with Norman style towers either side of the entrance and a recurring 'arched windows' theme.
The exterior of Cefalu Cathedral gives little clue to the splendour of the interior, above all for the many decorative mosaics that can be seen - the highlight of these is called 'Christ Pantokrator' and features an amazing level of detail and colour. The mosaics were installed by experts brought in specially from Constantinople during the middle of the 12th century.
Such is the quality of the mosaics and the cathedral that it is one of nine buildings listed by UNESCO as part of the 'Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale' sites.
The cathedral was built in Norman style during the reign of Roger II. Tradition has it that he ordered it to be built here when he escaped from a storm and landed on the beach of Cefalu.
Within the town itself there is the obligatory sprinkling of Sicilian churches to discover, and a few fine palaces - best among these are the 13th century Palazzo Maria, the 15th century Palazzo Atenasio Martino, and the 16th century Palazzo Piraino. You will come across many small but fascinating architectural details as you explore.
The Osterio Magno is one of the key buildings to see and is the remains of a 13th century palace. It is thought to have belonged to King Roger II. This can be found on the Corso Ruggero which is the main street in the historic part of Cefalu and this lively street has a number of palaces and baroque churches to admire.
An unusual sight is the Medieval washouse, the 'lavatoio mediovale' which has been carved out of rock. Water springs from the mouths of a number of iron lion heads. The water comes from the Cefalino river and next to the arched entrance to the covered area is an inscription saying 'Here flows Cefalino, healthier than any other river, purer than silver and colder than snow'.
The Museo Mandralisca has a good archaeological section with finds from the area around Cefalu and from the Aeolian Islands. Amongst its displays are a beautiful cup decorated with images of a tuna cutter, "Tagliatore di tonno", and a beautiful portrait by Antonello da Messina.
The most readily identifiable feature in Cefalu is a natural one - the very large rock known as La Rocca, and once home to the Greek Temple of Diana, and to the original town that stood here, parts of which can still be seen. The 'new' town is largely spread around the base of La Rocca. It is a half hour steep climb to get to the Temple of Diana but worth it for the temple and the views.
Also on top of the rock are the remains of the Castle of Cefalu. The castle was built in the 13-14th century on the remains of an earlier Norman castle. The ruins are free to visit and you can get some great views from here.
The harbour is in a seperate bay a little further round the coast from the centre of Cefalu. Cefalu is still a busy fishing port today with tuna fishing being one of the key industries. It is a pleasant ten minute walk along the sea front to the harbour. Fishing boats dock here as do any yachts and pleasure boats arriving at Cefalu. This is also the depature point for ferries which set out from here each day to the Aeolian Islands.
If you continue walking past the harbour you get a lovely view of the rocky cliff and islets of the other side of the harbour bay. You can also see the ruins of the old Caldura tower.
Cefalu is one of eighteen beautiful Sicily villages (i.e. listed as 'most beautiful villages of Italy)'
Places to visit nearby
Close to Cefalu is the hillside Sanctuary of Gibilmanna, a pilgrim destination. The church is somewhat reminiscent of the cathedral of Cefalu in style and inside has a beautiful Baroque altar.
Inland of Cefalu is the Parco Natural Regionale delle Madonie with its beautiful scenery. The Madonie Regional Park is part of the UNESCO global geopark network.
A great day trip from Cefalu is to visit the lovely medieval town of Castelbuono which is situated in the park and has a large Arab-Normal castle at its centre. A little further inland the village of Geraci-Siculo also offers some splendid views over the hills of the Madonie Regional Park.
Termini-Imerese is to the west along the coast and has some Greek and Roman ruins to explore.
You can find more local travel ideas in the guide.