When making a trip to the motherland, it can be difficult to visit the best of Sicily in a short space of time. Cefalu (Chef-a-lu) however, is one destination I have no regrets for choosing. There’s no other word to describe it, absolutely perfect. The fresh pasta, seafood and hello… cannolis, rich history, exquisite architecture combined with crystal clear beaches – you can’t go wrong and without a doubt, I’ll be back.
So it’s interesting how we ended up in Cefalu. You see, when my boyfriend Jamie gifted me a roundtrip flight to Palermo for Christmas, that’s where he intended to go. Palermo – end of the line. (We’ll just casually brush aside that my family roots are from the Catania metropolis near the base of Mt. Etna.) But once I started going down a rabbit hole of researching the best and must-visits of the Palermo region, Cefalu was a choice I couldn’t ignore.
For Sicilians, summer months are spent at the beach. The streets of Palermo become deserted as locals head out to Mondello and the surrounding beaches for the day. To give them credit, a Sicilian tan is a hefty goal I’m not ashamed to aim for either. But I started stumbling across forum after forum posing the almighty question:
Which beach town is better, Mondello or Cefalu?!
Mondello is local. It’s only 15-minutes from downtown Palermo and has some of the most stunning coastline you’ll ever see. Period. But public transportation in Sicily is horrendously unreliable, driving is a death-sentence and taking a taxi is sacrilegious. Staying downtown in Palermo during the evening and sunning ourselves on Mondello’s beaches in the afternoon just wasn’t feasible as a tourist over a five-day period.
Cefalu on the other hand offers the best of both worlds. Known as one of the finest resort towns in Italy, it combines remarkable beaches with an authentic, historical and visually mesmerising center all in one small village. Plus, it’s only an hour direct train from Palermo (6.20 Euro) so it was beyond easy to combine the two destinations.
My favourite part of Cefalu was simply – all of it – looking at it, eating in it, and living amongst it. We stayed at Hotel Riva Del Sole (and loved Pasticceria Gelateria Tentazioni Giuseppe next door for a daily espresso pick me up). The hotel was modest and slightly dated but had a rooftop and balcony overlooking the sea and the service was friendly enough. There are also many affordable Airbnbs overlooking the seafront to consider as well.
So when in Cefalu it’s perfectly acceptable, in fact, assumed that you’ll be sunning on the beach during the day, sipping an aperitif at sunset and socialising in the main piazza after a late dinner in town.
Being in Cefalu felt like a proper holiday. We’d put our daybed request in the night before (25-30 Euro for two beds and an umbrella for the day) at Lido Pura Vida as we had a 20% discount through our hotel, but there are many that line the beach if you arrive early enough, and spent all day sipping Sicilian Morettis and taking a welcome relief from the hot sun in the aqua blue water.
Grinning from ear to ear…
“Do you love it? Because I love it. I mean I really love it! Look at this water though! Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This is the best place in the world.”
The sand soft on your toes (after you get over the first few feet of rocks), the water shallow and warm on your body – even better, no weird bits. Floating with not a care in the world, looking back at the charming Porta Pescara hugging the coastline, the cathedral standing high and the mesmerising backdrop of La Rocca mountain towering over the town (if only we had time to climb it), it was bliss.
Eating in Sicily is an event in itself, but eating in Cefalu is an experience.
You’ll never accomplish it all your first time around as there is just too much choice. Dining on seafood in the open air, watching the sunset while sipping an aperitif, and letting the hours run away from you while listening to live music under the evening lights of the Duomo. Pure magic.
They say cannoli a day keeps the doctor away! No, not really but I still had a minimum one a day just in case.
Where we ate in Cefalu
Al Gabbiano is the first place we ate when we arrived in Cefalu and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Overlooking the busy beachfront, the fresh seafood with homemade pasta, exquisite yet affordable Sicilian rose and friendly service made our experience here a memorable first impression.
Enoteca le Petit Tonneau is a very small enoteca with one of the best sunset views in town. Snag one of the 3 tables on the veranda to devour charcuterie and a carafe of wine. The place itself is instaworthy but has limited capacity so book ahead.
Ristorante Kentia al Trappitu – the food was delicious but honestly, even during the day when we felt very underdressed in our bathers considering the upmarket decour, the view outside took our breath away and all our shame went with it. Anywhere on this street you won’t be disappointed dining during the day or at sunset considering the location.
Bar Duomo has been one of the most popular food destinations in all of Cefalu since 1952. It’s best known for its gelato and desserts, but it’s also perfect for cocktails and people watching to the beat of live jazz under the lights of the town’s famous cathedral. With my ultimate dream combo of negroni and cannoli in hand, I was in heaven.
TINCHITE’ Taverna & Putia was recommended by a local and so we tried their tasting menu. Frankly, we found it very filling but a bit overrated as it was quite modern. The cannoli here was one of my favorites, but we preferred to dine more traditionally for the remainder of our trip.
Where to eat in Cefalu (that we missed out on):
Bastione is a centre of innovation, food and culture. It’s reputation suggests it’s meant to be an amazing experience of learning about the area from a sustainable perspective, but we unfortunately didn’t have time to splurge on their tasting menu at Bastione & Costanza.
Ristorante e pizzeria Baglio del Falco is set in a rustic garden just outside Cefalu center. We considered taking a taxi just to experience this setting (which has great reviews) but ultimately decided to stay local.
Cortile Pepe and Le Chat Noir are very close to the cathedral and also came recommended by locals but as I’ve mentioned, in Cefalu there’s too much choice and often not enough time.
After leaving Cefalu we had two nights in the center of Palermo, and even made the day trip (we took the forbidden taxi) to Mondello. I’ll tell you about it in my next blog. But the moral of this story is… I love Cefalu. I love Sicily. And I will be back!
Top of my list to visit in Sicily include:
- Linguaglossa (where my heritage is from)
- And the list goes on….