Cefalù is considered one of the most beautiful towns in all of Italy and is certainly the most visited city in Sicily. And for those reasons alone, and since I was told the city literally overflows with tourists in the summer (and I better get there before they arrive), I took the trek on Monday to see what I could see.
There’s probably a lot that could be said about this town of 13,000 full-time residents, a UNESCO World Heritage site that includes a medieval town and long beautiful beaches. Or about La Rocca, the huge rock mountain at the center of the city, said to resemble a snail that keeps guard over the town. Only, I’m not the one to say any of it. I honestly didn’t see that much.
I arrived on the main street, which was filled with people. And I do mean filled. An officer directing traffic while the sidewalks bustled with crowds. I simply cannot image what this town is like when tourists arrive. As it was, people were very close together and maybe only 10% were wearing masks – mostly around their necks or arms. The beach was definitely better, only in that it allowed for social distancing and the weather was good.
The truth is, I was tempted to leave. I was rattled by all the activity. But since I had made the effort to get there, I figured I should make a little more effort to actually see something. I wanted to hike La Rocca, but the trail was closed. I found the cemetery and I love cemeteries. I could have walked around this one for a long time, but no sooner had I taken this photo when I was informed it was 12:30 and the cemetery was closing.
Finally, I found a route that took me above the city and back along the sea.
The road then dropped me within walking distance of the Duomo, the two-towered Norman cathedral built in the 12th Century.
Here there were no people! A few milling about the streets, but none in the cathedral, except four workers whose job it was to direct throngs of sight-seers who had not yet arrived. It always feels like such a gift to visit an empty church devoid of people. To feel the space.
To the delight of the workers, I agreed to pay €7 to visit the towers, the roof, and get closer to the mosaics. (I’m pretty sure I was their first paying visitor of the day and it was already after noon.) What I saw was absolutely worth the €7. And to see it alone, I would have paid more. (Note: they took a temperature scan of me before I was allowed to pay and tour! And yes, all the guides were wearing masks. The church, like all churches I’ve visited, has hand sanitizer in multiple places. After paying for the tour, they actually made me use the hand sanitizer before proceeding.)
mural of details
Then I wandered the streets a bit
Eventually found the sea again
Now it was around 3pm (15:00) and I was hungry. My one big challenge when traveling is my frugality. The truth is, I am always pretty frugal (which is often met with some amusement from my friends). But add to that an additional three months that I hadn’t planned for while traveling and an unwillingness to go into credit card debt and, well… I’m watching my money very carefully. Even in the States, I’m disinclined to pay for meals that I can eat at home. (I’m a simple but very good cook.) Which means, when traveling, I hate to spend my money on restaurants unless I know the food will be good. Really good. As in, worth the expense. And this, as far as I can tell, is the one disadvantage of traveling alone. No one to push me or help me make a decision. I was hungry and I walked by many restaurants, considering each one and the possibility of a fantastic meal, unique to Sicily and the famous cuisine I had read so much about… and… ultimately I chose to eat the apple I had brought with me instead. (Ok, yes, this could be considered my one big travel fail of this trip. But I’m willing to live with that.)
I’m not one to buy souvenirs, but jewelry… I am easily persuaded to purchase something beautiful I will wear. I would have bought these earrings but the store was closed. Having passed many stores with locally-made ceramics, I succumbed to a small dish (in which to place my earrings, of course!)
Then I was off to Castelbuono, conveniently on my way back to where I’m staying, in the Madonie Mountains. This town is half the size of Cefalù and much more modern – by 200 years. 😉 As you might expect, the town gets its name from the castle built upon its highest peak.
Again, I was able to find a place to park and walk into the old medieval part of the city, which like every other Sicilian town I’ve encountered, is lovely. Mostly, I only wanted to see the castle. Unfortunately, it was closed. But as I turned the corner and walked under the arch, my heart heavy and my mind preoccupied with the demonstrations happening all across America, my spirit lifted when I saw this.
A temporary installation in the castle, Sacro Refugio
Then back through another archway…
And into another church
It was now aperitif time, when people gather in the town square (almost always in front of the local cathedral), and socialize while imbibing in the drink of their choice, along with some nibbles or something sweet. I find it hard to photograph people without their permission, so I strolled the perimeters of the square.
It was time to sit, to relax, to take it all in. Savoring a fresh cannolo, with a small tray of marzipan treats to go, I watched the locals. It was a thing of beauty. Old men in clusters talking, school-age children riding their bikes and swinging about enjoying their new freedom (and almost all wearing masks), and adults casually strolling and chatting. I was the rare, if only, outsider, met with smiles and curiosity. It was too special to photograph but I will always remember it fondly.