A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to be invited on a press trip to Cefalù with my sister Estella. She was writing a piece for a magazine. The foodie, blogger and a explorer in me couldn’t resist the invite. So Sicily became our home from home for a long weekend with Massimo Villas being our hosts. You can read about my first visit here.
Cefalù stole a little piece of my heart and Estella and I often would reminisce about our exploits in the town that is nestled up against a craggy rock that is in essence its backbone. For over two years I have wanted to return. Revisit the town, explore the surrounding area and become more acquainted with that terracotta topped resort.
Return I did and it felt good to be back.
After an exhaustingly early start, Steve and I finally got to Cefalù at around 2.30pm. Tired and hot we made our way through the old town to our apartment. Wanting a different holiday experience than my luxuriously palatial villa, we wanted an old town apartment and to be right in the mix. The less driving the better!! Our apartment booked through Booking.com couldn’t have been in a more perfect location. About a 10 minute walk from the cathedral square in one direction and the beach to the other. Far from luxurious, in fact it was more than basic but it was clean, comfortable and had everything we needed including glorious air conditioning! The rooftop terrace with views that I would never tire of being one of its selling points. Waking up and looking out over the rooftops to the Duomo and hearing the sea can never get boring.
Day one in Cefalù for us was getting acquainted with our surroundings. Finding a market to stock up on breakfast essentials as well as our evening terrace aperativo for the beautiful Cefalù sunsets was next. It has become a bit of a holiday tradition for Steve and I to take our drinks and nibbles outside in whatever outdoor space we might have and watch the sun set before venturing out.
We took an evening stroll down to the Piazza Duomo. Live jazz was being sung in the square so we took a seat at Cathedral Coffee. A Gelateria and bar that offers amazing views towards the cathedral and within a perfect distance to hear the soulful voice of the jazz singer. A local beer for Steve and an Aperol Spritz for me. Memories come flooding back as it was in this very same spot that I had tasted my first ever Spritz. We sat for a couple of hours enjoying the warm evening, listening to the music and feeding off the buzz of the locals and tourists alike taking their evening passeggiata.
After meeting up with Giuseppe, a friend I had made on my last visit to Cefalù for coffee at Bar Duomo, Steve and I took ourselves on a little tour of the town. Starting with the beautiful Cathedral. The cathedral dating from 1131 is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale. Outside, the structure is fortress-like and dominates the skyline in the surrounding medieval Cefalù old town. Inside it is serene and barely decorated apart from the wonderful modern stained glass windows. A highlight being the painted walls surrounding the alter. We took time to sit and watch the gentle ebb and flow of visitors pass in and out. A lovely calm spot to shelter from the summer heat.
From the cathedral we set off on foot around the old town. Cefalù old town is made up of narrow medieval streets so cars really are a no go here. Besides, being on foot means you can experience the hustle and bustle of the thriving centre. Fishermen repairing their nets sit amongst the touristic gift shops. Frutta e Verdura shops, bakeries, Gelateria’s and cake shops line every street as well as a multitude of bars and restaurants. You won’t go hungry!
Don’t forget to visit the Lavatoio Medievale. A medieval wash house where all the townsfolk washed their clothes right up until the 1980’s! Amazing.. it does get busy at times but it’s well worth a look.
After picking up delicious local delicacies from the many bakeries and fruit shops in Cefalù I headed back to the apartment to pack up a picnic for our climb of La Rocca. La Rocca is where the town of Cefalù was originally founded due to it being so high up. Original settlers could hide away from invading troops from other lands. Once at the top there are many ruins from different different periods in history. Right at the top of the rocky crag you will find ruins of a Norman castle dating back to 1061. May I suggest you head for the castle first on your climb. It is at the highest point and the views are quite breathtaking overlooking the coast and the mountains. From there make your way down to The Temple of Diana.
You will need €4 per person to enter the site (July 2018). The climb is steep and the pathway definitely wouldn’t pass health and safety laws in the UK but it’s manageable if you are pretty fit and healthy. Steve and I climbed in sandals but would probably recommend a more robust footwear for my readers. In some places the pathway is very close to the edge so if you suffer from vertigo be warned.
The sense of achievement we had once we reached the Temple of Diana made us feel great. Like we had conquered Everest! Steve and I must have climbed in heat well over 30 degrees C, but drank plenty of water and took it pretty slowly. At the Temple of Diana there are a few rustic picnic tables and chairs which we took advantage of. Out came the picnic of local delights. We had certainly built up an appetite. It was a great spot to recharge and refuel.
After our descent we made our way back to our little apartment to shower and prepare ourselves for our excursion to Caltavutura. My friend Giuseppe had organised an evening up in the mountains culminating in a meal at a local restaurant, Alter Ego. Caltavutura is approximately 30 minutes drive from Cefalù and is a town perched very near to the top of another rocky peak. With stunning views overlooking the Madonie Mountain range it’s the perfect place to witness a typical Sicilian sunset. Every one being outrageous in its beauty.
We made an excursion to the museum of Caltavutura which was opened especially for us at this late hour. Full of local history it’s a must if you visit the town on your Sicilian adventure.
From the museum we made our way down the steep streets to Alter Ego where we were greeted by chef Gesualdo Faulisi. A local man and good friend of Giuseppe. He wanted to share with us his love of the locally grown wheat from where the flour it creates goes into his homemade bread, cakes, biscotti, couscous and pasta. Everything from his restaurant is homemade and homegrown so we were in for a treat with his specially curated menu just for us! Course after course of local dishes with a twist were presented. Freshly made couscous with tuna, homemade fettuccine with courgette leaves and salted ricotta, aubergine parmigiana, mushroom caponata and the most wonderful semifreddo with a sauce made from the fruit of the prickly pear. To have alongside we shared a bottle of local wine from Abbazia Santa Anastasia which happened to be a scheduled visit the following day. It was great to have a little preview of what we were likely to expect. Make sure you stop off at Alter Ego if you happen to be near Caltavutura. Gesualdo and his staff are keen to share their love of what their country and surrounding land have to offer.
The most local vineyard to Cefalù is Abbazia Santa Anastasia. About a 30 minute drive up into the mountains in the direction of Castelbuono. A completely organic and biodynamic vineyard that grows indigenous and international grapes. Not only that, the converted abbey is now a luxury hotel with an outstanding restaurant running alongside.
We planned our visit around lunch time so we could enjoy the a la carte menu and experience a wine tasting to compliment. As expected, the menu highlighted the wonderful local produce available in this area with fresh fish, organic vegetables and meat.
With three choices of tastings priced at €15, €20 and €25 you can set your budget. As Steve and I were making this our special holiday treat we decided on one tasting at €20 and one at €25. That way we could try a broader range of wines. The tasting menus consist of 4 wines each so with buying into the two different options we could try 8 between us.
Alongside our lunch of octopus salad, swordfish with anchovies, pasta with wild boar ragu and seared tuna with a tomato sauce we sampled the wines. The sommelier on hand was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and above all able to pair our wines with our dishes. This made for a magical lunch experience.
After dessert we took ourselves on a little walk before settling in the shade for an hour or so. We were able to order drinks from the bar as we enjoyed the stunning views out across the vines. Abbazia Santa Anastasia really is a beautiful place and I would highly recommend booking in for lunch and a tasting or if you are very lucky an overnight stay. With a swimming pool and spa facilities you could really go to town and pamper yourselves. I would love to go back someday and do just that!
For a full blogpost on my visit click here.
Our final afternoon in Cefalù was spent on an organised boat trip. When holidaying by the water Steve and I always like to get on a boat and explore from a different angle. We did a little bit of research online and found a company called Visit Sicily Tours. They offer a range of full and half day boat tours as well as bus tours to Palermo amongst other places. We decided on the Coast to Coast tour. An opportunity to spend a few hours exploring the coastline around Cefalù with two chances to swim, snorkel or just plain relax. I am so glad we took the trip because the views back to Cefalù from the water were something I will never forget. The cost of this boat trip is €30 per person (July 2018) and it lasts 2 – 3 hours depending on which time of the day you board. We took the afternoon option which was 3 hours in total.
Our final evening was spent at Da Sasá. A fabulous restaurant serving fresh fish as a specialty. The views out over the sea at sunset were to die for. We were very fortunate at getting one of their last tables outside. Steve and I ordered local wine and ate tuna and sea urchins! How very Sicilian of us and how utterly delicious. Put this place on your list!
I readily admit that Sicily is one of my all time favourite places that I have visited. I am a massive Italy fan and pretty much without fail end up somewhere there on my annual holiday. Like I said earlier, it was my second visit to Cefalù and the one and only place abroad that I have visited twice. The people are kind, welcoming, cheery and polite and I would return in a heartbeat. With regular flights from the UK into Palermo and Catania you could find yourself sitting with an Aperol Spritz in hand in next no time.
Disclaimer: I was not paid for this post and all views are my own as always.