Situated on the northern coast of Sicily, about 70 km from Palermo, Cefalù is a town of about 15,000 inhabitants and one of the greatest seaside resorts in the province of Palermo. The town, which is part of the Madonie Park (Regional Nature Park, which includes fifteen municipalities in the province) is included in the club of the most beautiful villages of Italy, which means a unique combination of small Italian towns which are distinguished by artistic, cultural and historical interest and by the harmony of the urban livability and services to citizens. Built, probably at the end of the 5th century B.C., on a promontory dominated by an imposing rock, Cefalù took its name from the Greek Kefaloidion, whose meaning is bound with the characteristic shape of the rock that rises above it, like a head. Over the centuries the town was dominated by Greeks, Syracusians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans. Traces of a pre-Hellenic settlement are the megalithic walls, which surrounds the current historical center, and the Temple of Diana, situated high on the rock, La Rocca. The Roman domination influenced the geometric and regulated urban layout, while traces of the Byzantine age (crenellated walls, barracks, storage tanks, churches and furnaces) are located on the rock where at that time inhabitants lived. The town however, is most famous for its medieval feel and monuments at the base of La Rocca.
The Cefalù Cathedral is one of Sicily’s major Norman monuments built by Roger II between 1131 and 1240 as an act of thanks to God after surviving a shipwreck nearby. In the Cathedral the Norman architecture and Arab, Byzantine, Latin and Nordic art are harmoniously combined in a wonderful synthesis of styles. The dominant feature of the cathedral are the two majestic towers with battlements. Each spire is different: one has a square plan surrounded by flame-shaped merlons, the latter symbolizing the Papal authority and the mitre; the other has an octagonal plan and Ghibelline merlons, symbolizing the Royal and the temporal power. The façade has a magnificent portico, with three arches supported by four columns and an imposing, richly decorated marble portal, dating back to the15th century. The battlement on the south side and the presence of numerous underground passages contribute in giving the building the look of a fortress. The interior of the Cefalù cathedral is Latin cross plan. The nave is divided by arches supported by marble columns, while the wooden ceiling, with its painted beams, bears an obvious Islamic influence. It was probably planned that the entire church should be decorated in mosaic, but it was only completed in the presbyterium area. It still covers the apse and some half of the side walls. Roger II brought masters in the technique of mosaic from Constantinople. They adapted their traditional Byzantine decorative art to an architectural structure that was Northern European origin. The dominant figure of the decorative scheme is the bust of the Christ Pantokrator, portrayed with a hand raised in Benediction on the semi-dome of the apse. In his left hand he carries the Gospel of John, in which can be read, in Greek and Latin: "I am the light of the world, who follows me will not wander in the darkness but will have the light of life" (John, 8:12). The mosaic decoration that includes other figures too is considered the finest Byzantine mosaic in Italy.
Next to the Cathedral there is the charming Cloister of Cefalù which has four galleries of slender twin columns surmounted by carved capitals decorated with Biblical figures and mythological scenes.
This was Roger II's favorite home before it was owned by the Ventimiglia, a feudal family who ruled the whole Madonie area for years. It bears two architectural styles. The façade, in volcanic rock and gilded stone with its two elegant two-colour gemeled windows, dates back to the 13th century. The square tower, instead, dates back to the 14th century. Its trefoil window, which is surmounted by a magnificent arch, is in the Sicilian chiaramonte style. The Osterio, now completely restored, is used for art exhibitions and lectures.
La Rocca of Cefalù, the rock, known by the Phoenicians as Hercules promontory, is a massive spectacular calcareous crag with an altitude of 270 meters. The mythological and legendary origins tell of the importance of the area. A Greek myth tells of the love and despair of the handsome shepherd Daphnis, Sicily's Orpheus. He was blinded by the goddess Hera whose daughter he had betrayed, and was then transformed by the god Hermes into the huge crag that dominates Cefalù and that gave the place its name. The ancient Greek inhabitants saw it as a gigantic head, and "head" is in fact the meaning of the town's name.
Sitting at the top of La Rocca there are the remains of the Cefalù Castle. The structure dates back to the 13th-14th Centuries. It had a rectangular plan of 35 m. x 20 meters. What is left of these ancient stones has made it possible for experts to formulate a firm hypothesis on the layout of the castle which consisted of two towers and twelve rooms. The castle dominates the surroundings of Cefalù showing how important strategically La Rocca and castle once were.
The Temple of Diana
Near the ruins of the fortress at the top of the rock of Cefalù are the remnants of the Temple of Diana, a Megalithic building which dates back to the 9th Century BC. It is believed to have originally had a sacred function connected with local water worship, in fact, into it there is a cistern which also dates back to the 9th Century BC. Because of its strategic position, which dominates the surrounding area, the building probably had a defensive role as well.
The most remarkable testimony of the Kephaloidon (Cefalù) are the fortifications, the so-called "megalithic walls" built with the technique of dry stone with huge blocks three feet thick. The walls, still very well preserved today, most notably on the northern side, encompassed the whole town giving it the appearence of an unconquerable stronghold. Up to the 600's, along the walls, opened four doors: two to the south, "Land Door" in Piazza Garibaldi, and "Osuna Door" in Columbus Square, to the west, "the door of the Navy or weir" and to the east "Giudecca door".
The lovely Porta Marina of Cefalù with the Gothic arch is the only remaining city gate of the four that once afforded access to the town. It leads to the colourful fishermen's quarter, where scenes were shot for the film Cinema Paradiso.
Marchiafava Bastion is a splendid terrace on the sea of Cefalù from which, on clear days, the Aeolian Islands and a large stretch of the eastern coastline are distinctly visible.
The Medieval wash-house
Is located at the mouth of the Cefalino, a little river which originates in the mountains surrounding Cefalù. After running for some kilometers underground and beneath some of the houses in town, the river flows here into the sea. An ancient Greek myth says that the water is actually the tears of a river nymph who is still crying for the death of her beloved husband. An elegant lava staircase leads to the basins carved in the rocks where the water flows through 22 gisa vents, 15 of which have the form of lion heads. The Lavatoio was used by women until recent times, who knelt to wash their clothes by hand on the stone scrubbers.
This museum was founded by Enrico Piraino, the Baron of Mandralisca, in the 19th century and includes fine archaeological, shell and coin collections. It also houses an art gallery and a library with over 9.000 historic and scientific works, including incunabulum, 16th-century books and nautical charts. Among the most important paintings are ‘”The portrait of man” by Antonello da Messina, "View of Cefalù" by Francesco Bevilacqua, "Christ on judgment day" by Johannes De Matta, and a series of icons on the second floor. Archaeological jewels include a late hellenistic mosaic and a 4th- century BC krater with a figure of a tuna fish cutter.
A soft and thick focaccia seasoned with primosale, pecorino or caciocavallo cheeses, anchovies, onions, bread crumb, oregano, parsley, oil, salt, pepper and tomato sauce.
Rice balls filled in different ways: with tomato sauce, peas and meat or butter, mozzarella and cooked ham.
A mix of fried vegetables, seasoned in semi-sour sauce. The vegetables may change, but they usually are eggplant, tomatoes, onions, olives, celery, capers, raisins, cinnamon and almonds.
Fried artichokes, peas and broad beans cooked in a sweet and sour sauce with vinegar, lemon and sugar. It is served cool.
Grilled vegetables served cool and flavoured with oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
Is a tasty snack food most often served as an appetizer. The fried crocché are made with mashed potatoes (the main ingredient), fresh eggs, sharp grated Italian cheese (Sicilian caciocavallo is ideal), a dash of black pepper.
Pasta alla Norma
Pasta alla Norma, is cooked with tomato, basil, ricotta salata or pecorino cheese and fried aubergines.
Pasta al Nero di Seppia
The pasta dish called "nero di seppia" contains the black ink extracted from the glands of the cooked cuttlefish and includes squid chunks, olive oil, sautéed garlic or onions, tomato puree , white wine, parsley and pepper.
Pasta con la Mollica
A dish traditional to the Sicilian peasants, is seasoned with oil, garlic and anchovies, and tossed with grated bread crumb.
Is a delectable and poetic miscellany of flavors and aromas, and is the main dish for the Festival of the Holy Savior. It is made with a ragù sauce of meat and fried eggplant.
Is a pasta dish made with sausage sauce and fresh ricotta.
Are rolled slices of swordfish or tuna. Swordfish ones are filled with provolone cheese, breadcrumb, garlic, basil, parsley, egg and inner parts of fish, all shredded and braised with onion. Served with a sauce made with oil, garlic, lemon juice, parsley and oregano. The tuna rolls are filled with breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, eggs, pecorino cheese and tuna pulp. They are first fried then cooked in a saucepan with tomato and onion.
Cotolette alla Siciliana
Are boneless meat covered with breadcrumbs and soused with vinegar and flavored with Parmesan cheese and garlic then fried in a pan.
Sarde a Beccafico
Is deboned sardines arranged on an open previously greased pan, covered with breadcrumbs, anchovies, pine nuts, cinnamon and raisins, then baked. They are then sprinkled with lemon or orange juice.
Cheese is very common on all Sicilian tables. The most famous is ricotta cheese, made fresh from the many mountain towns. It can be baked in the oven or dried in the sun. Other great Sicilian cheeses are tuma, caciocavallo, provola, pecorino, primosale and ragusano.
Cannoli are made of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough. Just before serving, they are filled with ricotta cheese and various combinations of tastes such as chocolate, candied fruit, pistachio nuts.
Cassata is a sponge cake layered with ricotta cheese, sugar, chocolate pieces, candied fruit and a drop of maraschino (liqueur), covered with glaze or a layer of marzipan and generally decorated with green pastel icing and candied fruit.
The three days of Carnival in Cefalù are celebrated with great fanfare. People decorate their vehicles, float style, dress in costumes and beautiful masks, and merry making abounds.
Is celebrated on March 19. The night before, along the lines of an old pagan tradition, bonfires are set and controlled in various parts of the town. The townspeople come to celebrate and toss in old clothes and objects and celebrate the holiday.
August 2nd to the 6th Cefalù commemorates the most important festival of Cefalù that of SS. Salvatore, titular and historical patron saint of the Cathedral Basilica. During this week there are special open markets, music events, firework displays, processions and the traditional game of the "Ntinna a Mari ". This challenging game, played on the last day of festivities, where participants, usually the young men in town wanting to show their physical prowess, try to walk on a well-soaped pole overhanging t he bay, to reach a flag attached to the end of it. It is quite difficult to arrive at the flag since not only is the pole quite slippery but there is an officiating judge on a boat who has a rope attached to the end of the pole who gives it and extra shake as needed to keep the game alive. The young men, tossed many times in the water below, continue until one of them finally reaches the flag.
Sagra ra Pasta a Taianu
On the second week-end of August there is a festival dedicated to a typical local dish, the pasta a taianu, (see “Pasta” above) which dates back to the time in which the Arabs ruled the island. The name, in fact, derives from the Arabic word taio, which indicates the type of clay/terracotta pot in which the pasta was cooked.
Christmas and December 31st
Christmas in Cefalù is celebrated with joy and happiness but also great religious devotion. Christmas Eve brings a tradition of young people wandering through the streets singing the typical Christmas lullaby, the "Ninnaredda". The city is decorated with festive lights and nativity scenes. During the holiday period, the city offers a rich program of entertainment. December 31st, is the festival of the children. Recently, in fact, Cefalù has reintroduced the ancient tradition of "Vicchiastrina" and her husband "Maccavaddu". She is an old witch whom the children believe lives with her husband on La Rocca. She comes down at a certain time of the night to hand out sweets and toys to good children. The arrival of the old witch is signaled by noisemakers and clanking tin cans carried by those that follow her on her mission
The "Madonie Park" is a protected reserve encompassing several townships, including Cefalù, Pollina, Castelbuono, Geraci Siculo, Petralia Soprana, Petralia Sottana, Polizzi Generosa, Sclafani Bagni, Caltavuturo and Collesano, as well as the villages of Gratteri, Isnello, San Mauro Castelverde, Scillato and Lascari. The flora plays a leading role in the territory of the Park. This botanic paradise, together with its peaks reaching 1,979 meters of height, houses more than the half of the 2,600 Sicilian species and about 150 of the 200 endemic species. The most important one is Abies Nebrodensis, with 29 specimens. The wildlife is characterized by the 65% of the nesting birds and by all the mammals which can be found in Sicily. The Park is also well-known for its interesting geological aspects and its landscape. From several points, it is possible to admire wonderful landscapes like Etna, Nebrodi, and the Aeolian Islands, which offer an unforgettable and almost unreal view at dawn and at sunset.
Castelbuono is a mountain town about 20 kilometers from Cefalù. Even though there are traces of settlements of the Greek and Roman period, the genesis of Castelbuono begins with the construction of a small village in the Byzantine period, which developed into a larger town in medieval times. The "Castle" (from which the town takes its name), was built by the Ventimiglia family in 1316. From this center grew the present day town with an estimated population of about 8000. For those who go, recommended is a visit to the "Castle of Ventimiglia", of course, but also, to the Mother Church (1362), the Church of San Francesco, and the Church of the Holy Rosary (1580). Among the many typical agricultural products of Castelbuono is Manna, a sweet nectar extracted from the bark of ash trees.
The name of Pollina has uncertain origins. Maybe it derives from Greek Apollonia that is dedicated to Apollo or from Greek Polla that means spring. The village grew around a Norman castle in the medieval period, but unfortunately now in ruins. In 1187 the castle was the property of the bishop of Cefalù and around 1300 it came into possession of the Ventimiglia family. The very small town still reflects its old medieval configuration and feel. Among its monuments there is the Cathedral Church that preserves most beautiful works of art by Gagini such as the "Natività" (nativity), the "Pietà" (piety) and the "Madonna Calva" (The bald Madonna). The "Teatro Pietra" (Stone theatre) is important for its semicircular plan, built in 1979 in the typical form of a Greek theater.
Gibilmanna, is a small year-round attraction, which draws religious tourists to this breathtaking place, sitting in the Madonie mountains, only a short drive from Cefalù. The forests in the surrounding area make a magnificent background for mystical inspiration. Gibilmanna affords a superb view from the belvedere in front of a 17th century church which draws visitors to the town. From there vistas of the Madonie and summit of Pizzo Carbonara can be admired. The view of the sea and Cefalù are beautiful. Visitors to the town are also beckoned by this sacred shrine to the Blessed Virgin at the baroque Santuario di Gibilmanna. On the 17th of August, 1760, when the shrine's coronation was being held, three miracles, which were afterwards recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, were performed by the Blessed Virgin: two blind devout Christians got their sight back and a mute devout churchgoer recovered his speech. These miracle cures turned this shrine into one of the most renown in Sicily. Behind the sanctuary is a museum which, among the pieces of its collection, has a typical Sicilian beautifully decorated cart. These carts were drawn by horses or donkeys and were used for work but decorated for beauty and prestige.
Small village of about 250 inhabitants to 4.5 km from Cefalù has a nice beach and a few restaurants and cafes open in the evening. It's ideal for those wishing to spend a quiet day.
The name of Gratteri, small town far 15 km from Cefalù, derives from Greek kratèr that means basin. Originally it was a Byzantine fortress conquered by the Muslims between 835 and 838. The town grew towards the end of the 13th century due to a castle, now destroyed, and built by the Ventimiglias. The present town center was built in the 16th century in the same place where previously a river flowed. Its monuments are the Old Matrix erected by the Ventimiglia family and inside remain several graves of the family. It is also possible to visit the Church of St. Maria del Gesù the oldest church of Gratteri.
The beach of the Lungomare of Cefalù, famous for its flow of local people but most of all for the tourists that starting from march/april to october are many – The beach goes for about 1.5 km, it’s free but in summertime starting from may to october is equipped with bars and restaurants, sunbeds and umbrellas (not free). During july and august the beach of the Lungomare of Cefalù, especially during the weekends is very busy, for this reason we suggest you to watch out for the traffic, along the Lungomare you can find payment parking. It’s a sandy beach, the water is clear and the seabed is not deep, for this reason is suggested for families. To found this beach all you have to do is reach Cefalù and follow the directions sea.
The Salinelle beach is located 7km from Cefalù direction Palermo on the SS 113 follow directions Piana di Lascari after junction Hotel Carlton. The Salinelle area is flat and near a very long beach. There you can find equipped areas, it's possible during july and august to spend entire afternoons with friends, the sea is clear. Good for families and group of friends, this beach is suggested for windsurf activities. The seabed after a littlebit is deep so after for example a storm watch out because it can be dangerous. The Salinelle beach is a good option during july and august. The beach is equipped with bar.
This beach stretches for about 15 km until Campofelice di Roccella, after about 5 km joins the Salinelle beach. It’s pretty wide and it has got many accesses from many sides. We decided to call it Capo Playa beach from a famous land in Cefalù. The beach is made by sand and pebbles, it’s often windy so you can find many surfers, be aware in the water because after a littlebit is very deep, so watch out for your children. Some years ago a piece of equipped beach was born so during july and august you can benefit of the services (payment). The beach is 4km far away from the centre of Cefalù on the SS 113 direction Palermo. You will find indications for the Hotel Carlton so turn right, you will pass a railcross and after it turn left. You can try to park right after the railcross. Be aware of where you park the car because especially in summertime presents many busses because of the near Hotel.
Mazzaforno / Ogliastrillo
Mazzaforno is an area about 3km from Cefalù, from this area you can access to many little beaches. The beaches are sandy and pebbles, other presenting little rocks. Some points are accessed by natural rocks. The main beach called Mazzaforno is a sandy beach, and the access is just close to the famous Castello Bordonaro near the “Baia dei 7 Emiri” residence. To get to the beach you will spend 5 minutes walking. The seabed is presenting little rocks and sand. To get to Mazzaforno you have to drive the SS 113 direction Palermo. Just in front the junction for the highway you will find the signboard Mazzaforno. Drive through for about 500 metres, then turn right and left indication Castello Bordonaro. There you will find the second access to the beach. After 500 metres you will find the residence “Le Terrazze”. Park at that point. Follow a renewed little street made by rocks and you will be in the main beach of Mazzaforno.
The little beach of Caldura is located about 20 minutes by foot from the historical centre of Cefalù. Pass through the harbour and follow directions for Hotel Kalura and Hotel Le Calette. You will pass a path and after it you will be in the little beach. To get down you have to use steps between the Hotel Kalura and The “Coast Houses” residence. The little beach has got pebbles. In the beach there are rocks from where you can dive in the clear water. If you get there by car follow indications Hotel Kalura or “Coast Houses” residence. By foot pass through the harbour and follow indications Caldura and you will get to the small beach.
The beach of S. Ambrogio is pretty wide and it’s composed by rocks and sand with some pebbles. The sea is very clean and clear. The beach is not crowded because is not very well known and because of the rocks but it’s perfect to spend some relaxina time. This beach is located 6 km from Cefalù direction Messina. You will find the indications and a parking.
Finale di Pollina
This beach is very pretty for its calm during the low season months – while in high season is very crode especially in july and august. In these months young people organize parties right on the beach. The beach of Pollina is located on the SS 113 direction Messina at about 12 km from Cefalù. You have to follow the SS 113, and after 3 railcrosses you will find indications For the "Valtur" village. Just on the left side of the street you will find the access. The beach is sandy and pebbles and the sea is beautiful.