Cefalu is a leading Sicilian seaside resort, about half-way along the northern coast of Sicily, facing the Tyrrhenian Sea.
It is one of the most important centres of art, culture and history on the island, and also has daily ferry connections with the Aeolian Islands (although Milazzo is closer to the islands and has more regular ferries), and together these two factors make Cefalu a very popular destination in Sicily.
The combination of an interesting old town and harbour and easy access to beaches have ensured that Cefalu is now one of the most important travel destinations on Sicily.
Italy This Way comment: Cefalù is a lovely town - it is listed as one of the most beautiful towns of Italy, and certainly one of our favourite towns in Sicily - and we recommend you allow a couple of days to explore as you tour the island
The first thing you will notice when you arrive in Cefalu is the position of the town itself, squeezed beween the sea and a large rock. Originally it was a small fishing port that was squeezed onto this small area of land and although more recent development has extended the town to some extent it still retains the feel of a small fishing town.
There is also a very nice and very popular sandy beach adjacent to the harbour, with the tall medieval houses as a backdrop. The beach is quite long and continus west beyond more recent development and to the end of the town. On the coast to the east of the historic centre you reach the more modern port of Cefalu, which is much larger than the tiny historical fishing port (and of less interest to visitors).
As well as the beach and important major monuments you can also explore the narrow streets of the medieval centre in Cefalu, which is very picturesque although often busy. This medieval centre is quite extended, and occupies the streets between Corso Ruggero, the Piazza del Duomo and the seafront. Corso Ruggero is where you will find most of the shops and cafes.
The old town and harbour are overlooked by the cathedral in Piazza del Duomo, one of the most attractive churches in Sicily and the most important attraction in Cefalu. This piazza is a lovely square, planted with palm trees and surrounded by restaurants: the perfect place to pause for a coffee.
Because of its importance we have a separate feature for the cathedral: for full details of this important 12th century Arab-Norman monument see Cefalu Cathedral.
While beaches, shopping and sightseeing are the main entertainment during the day, Cefalu remains active late into the evening, during the summer at least, with a good selection of bars and restaurants to choose from in the old town and along the seafront promenade
Churches and buildings in Cefalu
As well as the cathedral, Cefalù boasts other religious buildings of artistic value, such as the 18th century Madonna della Catena, built in yellow tuff and characterized by a porch formed by a large round arch supported by two pairs of columns with Ionic capitals.
At the center of the façade, between two pairs of windows, there is a niche with a statue of the Madonna, then from the loggia, via a few steps, you reach the portal that gives access to the church. Inside there is a statue of Saint Espedito, and to the left is a votive dedicated to San Rocco, the patron saint of the city.
Equally interesting is the baroque style Church of Santo Stefano. You enter this church via a double flight of stairs and a portal decorated with baroque figures of souls in purgatory. The left tower, culminating in a spire, serves as a belltower.
Other churches that can be visited include the Church of Saint Trinity, whose facade has a portal decorated with floral motifs and heads of angels, and the Church of Saint George (now St Leonard), dating from the Norman period of Roger II whose two superimposed galleries, decorated with floral and landscape scenes, are the main highlight.
Among the other buildings of note in Cefalu, the Osterio Magno is important, and thought to have once been the residence of King Roger II. It is also known as the "Domus Regia". Now it is just the tower that remains, rectangular in shape and dating back to the Norman period.
However it is really the general atmosphere and the old streets of Cefalu set against the clear blue waters of the sea that gives Cefalu its charm and that will make a lasting impression on you.
In the Mandralisca Museum, the archaeological section is very extensive with exhibits from excavations in the area near Cefalu and on the Aeolian Islands. Note in particular a late Hellenistic mosaic, and the famous "Tagliatore di tonno" of the 4th century BC.
There is also an important collection featuring Greek and Roman coins, and another very important section of the museum is linked to nature, with the presence of many fossil shells. See also Cefalu history before visiting the museum.
The Rocca and the Temple of Diana
On the rock overlooking Cefalù there is a very old building known as the Temple of Diana made from boulders stacked without any mortar. It takes at least half an hour to climb the steps from the town to the Temple and on to the top of the Rocca but both the views and the monument make it very worthwhile. The view across the town and cathedral with the Tyrrhenian sea beyond is very beautiful.
The access to the path leading up the Rocca is not well signposted. Follow Corso Ruggero south from the Piazza del Duomo as far as Via Carbonari, then turn left on the small road that leads up the hill, called Vicolo Saraceni. After a few hundred metres you reach the access to the path up the Rocca.
The temple is a prehistoric megalithic shrine thought to date from the 9th century BC, on which another building was constructed during the Greek Age (5th century BC), and itself later transformed into a Byzantine church.
Adjacent to the shrine there is a hole - tank covered with slabs and stone circles and surrounded by a ring of medieval walls. The function of this Temple of Diana has always been considered a mystery although it is thought possible that it was a sacred spring, which was installed on a primitive indigenous worship of water, which then became a shrine in the fifth century BC.
As well as beaches, art treasures and scenic landscapes visitors should also take time to enjoy the traditional Sicilian cuisine. As a priority in Cefalu try the ‘Arancine’ with meat, the 'Frittedda' (a dish made of vegetables), the 'Sfincione' (stuffed bread), and among the specialties for a coastal village, the so-called ‘Beccafico’ sardines.
Places to visit nearby
Between the two ports in Cefalu there is a headland and fort called the Bastion of Capo Marchiafava. Newt to the bastion there is a belvedere where you can see along the coast as well as watch the waves crashing on the rocks below.
Close to Cefalù there are also several monuments worthy of particular note including the Sanctuary of Gibilmanna, dedicated to SS. Virgin and surrounded by lush vegetation. The church has a large porch in the gothic style with bell towers with pyramidal spires that recall Cefalu Cathedral.
Inside, there is a Statue of "Mary and the Child" attributed to Antonello Gagini. In the 18th century, the Chapel of Our Lady was enriched with a magnificent Baroque altar with a marble frontal, the work of Baldassarre Pampillonia.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.