Day one in Cefalu started with a a freshly brewed coffee and some banana bread that Estella had smuggled from the UK! We figured we would be arriving late in Cefalu. In fact it was nearly midnight. No time for breakfast shopping so banana bread it was! Our hosts from Massimo Villas had kindly left us coffee so we were able to make what seemed like quite a traditional Italian breakfast in the end. They quite often eat cake for breakfast so we felt like locals.
After breakfast we hopped in the car and drove the 6km drive into Cefalu centre where they were holding their weekly Saturday market. You could practically pick up what ever your heart desired there. Clothes, shoes, cooking pots, pans, utensils and the most important thing for us was the local produce. We wanted to buy ingredients to make traditional Sicilian fair. In Sicily artichokes come into season in April so they were all over the market. We purchased 10. We had never prepared an artichoke before now but we thought we would give it a go. There is always Google to ask if it all goes wrong!
Alongside the artichokes we purchased aubergines, peppers, onions, garlic, capers, currants and pine nuts to make the traditional Sicilian dish, Caponata. To accompany that, fennel and oranges to make a salad.
We stopped off at the cheese stall and purchased some creamy ricotta and mature pecorino. Both made locally. Then at the next stall we picked up some local honey to eat with our cheeses.
After our market visit we made our way down to the “Old Town” to find our tour guide Angelo. We were meeting by the cathedral. Angelo, a friend of our hosts at Massimo villas took us on a tour of the main sights in Cefalu. There is so much history with Arabic, Spanish, French, Norman and Italian influences. Sicily is a bit of a melting pot culturally which makes it an exciting place to be. We went inside the cathedral as our first point of call. Started by the Norman King Roger the second in 1131. It’s famous for its Byzantine mosaic decoration and its restored cloisters. It’s situated in the heart of Cefalu old town surrounded by palm trees and below Cefalu’s dramatic rocky crag.
From the cathedral we made our way through the narrow streets to the small harbour. Once a bustling fishing port. Fisherman still work here and catch many fish for the local fish market and the restaurants. Sadly the industry doesn’t thrive like it once did.
From here we made our way to a restaurant for an early lunch. Cortile Pepe was the restaurant chosen by Angelo who by the way is a born and bred local. His choice of restaurant for lunch was based on his knowledge of Cefalu so Estella and I were happy! Angelo suggested we try lots of local specialties. We both said that fish dishes were at the top of our list. Estella and I don’t eat meat but fish is a definite yes. So after a little consultation with the owner, Angelo had ordered for us. Dish after dish came out for us to sample. Firstly a little sardine flan with pesto and tomato. Sardines are a very popular fish in Sicily. Then came three more dishes. A local fish pate on a broad bean purée and the highlight for me, slow cooked octopus that had been finished on the barbecue with a beetroot purée. It was so tender and delicious I didn’t want it to end! There was also grilled aubergine on an aubergine purée.
After our tasters of the fish course we moved onto the second course. Various pasta dishes were sent out for us to try. A big pasta tube with fennel and a local fish, a crescent shaped stuffed pasta with shrimp and a pancake filled with ricotta on a tomato sauce. Once again, all cooked beautifully and so tasty.
We were then offered dessert. A little pot of the creamiest tiramisu that I had ever tasted and a deconstructed cassata which is a local specialty here. Sponge with ricotta and candied fruit usually covered in marzipan. This was a modern twist on the original so the marzipan was left out. We finished our meal with the most delicious coffee and dessert wine made locally on a small island called Pantelleria just off the mainland.
We were blown away by the quality of the local produce and the hospitality of the restaurant owner. Everyone in Cefalu is so friendly, warm and welcoming. An absolute joy to be around.
From here we left Angelo after making brief arrangements to meet later on in the evening for drinks and dinner alongside Massimo from Massimo Villas and his chums. On the way back to the car we stopped at L’Angelo Delle Dolcezze Pasticceria Geleteria to sample some gelato. Obviously we were full from lunch but Angelo had said it was the best in Cefalu and he wasn’t wrong! Estella and I decided to share a cup of pistachio and strawberry. At two euros it was a bargain. The cup was overflowing and the flavours were divine. The pistachio flavour was silky and creamy. The strawberry was fruity, a bit like a sorbet. So good!
A taxi arrived to pick us up at 6.30pm to take us into the centre of Cefalu. We had arranged to meet Angelo, our fantastic guide from earlier at the cathedral again. We took a little passeggiata (stroll) along the waterside battlements in the old town before meeting up with Massimo back in the piazza in front of the cathedral. We made our way to one of the bars with outdoor seating in the square and sat down. Our waiter, Salvetore took our order and a few moments later he returned with four Aperol Spritz cocktails. A mix of Aperol and prosecco over lots of ice. I was dubious as I am not a cocktail drinker normally but this was a drink that I would have again. The Aperol is bitter in taste but the prosecco sweetens it slightly. The colour is fantastic too..
Lots of Massimo and Angelo’s friends came to join us as we sat in the square enjoying our aperitif. Giuseppe and Franco to name but a few. We all sat together chatting in English and Italian or a “mash up” of the two whilst we finished our drinks and then we all moved to a restaurant nearby. Fish was their specialty which suited Estella and myself just fine. We let Massimo order for us so that we would have the best dishes.
We were presented with a wonderful fish platter to start full of oysters, clams, octopus, anchovies…you name a fish and it was on there! The platter was beautiful to look at and the quality of the fish was superb. I am not normally an oyster fan but these were very good. I wonder if I could be converted to liking them now? I guess I would need to try them again to find out.
Our main course was a filled pasta dish with local fish and a tomato sauce and a seafood risotto. The plates were put in the middle of the table and we helped ourselves. That’s my style of dining. Dessert was cassata and an almond semi freddo. Again, it was put in the middle and we could help ourselves. Delicious.
On the way back to the beach to catch our taxi home we stopped of at an Enoteca. Enoteca’s are wine shops that you can try wine at reasonable prices by the glass and then if you would like you can buy bottles. We had a glass of local red wine each whilst standing outside in the warm night time air.
The next morning Estella and I prepared a simple breakfast to have out on our terrace. Ricotta cheese with local honey and some beautifully juicy oranges. This alongside some freshly brewed coffee was delicious.
We were picked up by Giuseppe at 10.30am. We had met Giuseppe the night before. He is one of Massimo’s good friends, a doctor but also has holiday let’s of his own in Cefalu town. He was in charge of showing us around for the day. We had discussed a few ideas with him the night before over dinner culminating in a little trip on his boat!
We started off in the car to Gibilmanna. A beautiful church and monestry nestled high up in the hills above Cefalu.
From Gibilmanna it was back in the car to Isnello where they are building a state of the art planetarium high up in the hills. We were given a little preview of the project before it opens to the public in July. Funded by the Italian government, it’s going to be a real pull for tourists in that area.
Back on the car again through the winding hill roads to Castelbuono. We parked up and took a little stroll around the town then took in a stop at the church there. They had the most beautiful frescos in the vaults there.
We stopped off at a specialist shop called Fiasconaro to try their famous pannetone. We were told that they make pannetone for the pope and it’s one of the most famous in the whole of Italy. It was truly delicious as we sampled the different flavours on offer. Some were spread with a gorgeous almond paste which took the flavour to the next level. I can see why the pope would buy his pannetone here! After pannetone came gelato obviously. This time I opted for coffee and pistachio flavours which they served with a lovely biscuit.
Back in the car along more winding roads to Cefalu to catch up with the skipper of Giuseppe boat. He was ready for us when we arrived so we hopped aboard and made ourselves comfortable for our boat trip. We did a loop around the bay and then moored up out at sea for lunch. We had stopped off at a little cafe prior to getting on the boat to purchase some savoury nibbles. Arancini (a local Sicilian delicacy), pizza and some small flavoured bread rolls alongside some chargrilled vegetables.
Whilst having our lunch we did a spot of sunbathing while Giuseppe learnt some new boating skills from his skipper. Estella and I were happy to lay out in the beautiful sunshine.
We began our return back to shore and then something rather special happened. Dolphins began swimming along beside the boat! It made our day. Especially Estella’s as she has always had a soft spot for dolphins since she was a child. Giuseppe also has a holiday business called Madonie Holidays. He has apartments to let in the heart of Cefalu and also specialises in boat tours.
From our boat ride we drove home for our final night in Cefalu and at our wonderful villa. We had decided to cook up the veggies we had purchased from the market on our first day. I made a fennel and orange salad and Estella made an aubergine and pepper stew based loosely on the Sicilian dish caponata.
Everything about our weekend was perfect. Our hosts at Massimo Villas couldn’t have done a thing more for us. From the moment the keys to our villa were handed to us we were made to feel like part of the family. I know that sounds rather corny but it’s true. Every one of our guides said the same thing that friendliness was in their genes. It is second nature to them. I truly believe that Estella and I made some friends in Cefalu and if we return we would be greeted with a massive hug and a smile. If ever you holiday in Sicily and end up in Cefalu then I urge you to contact Massimo Villas before you look elsewhere. I promise that you won’t be disappointed. We certainly couldn’t praise them highly enough. To be honest I felt quite emotional leaving such an idyllic place behind. I have my sights set on a return in October and would love to stay longer to experience more of what the island has to offer. I better get saving!