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Relaxed old-school glamour: springtime in Cefalù, Sicily | Sicily holidays

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I was consuming selfmade crostata (jam tart) on a roof terrace within the Sicilian city of Cefalù and studying about Helius, the traditional Greek god of the solar. Sicily is supposedly the inspiration for the deity’s island in The Odyssey and this makes excellent sense – with greater than 300 days of sunshine a yr, Helius would love it right here. The island is particularly pretty in spring, when it’s quieter, cooler and extra peaceable than within the scorching summer time.

Cefalù is an historical fishing village virtually precisely midway alongside Sicily’s north coast. It’s prized by Italians as one of many island’s loveliest beach-side locations. Barbara De Gaetani, a licensed tour information who grew up right here, advised me the attract of the place is tough to clarify: “Many different locations are attractive however not as seductive. You may really feel life flowing right here, and it’s no accident that many film-makers have used the city as a location.”

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In contrast with Sicily’s ritzier spots, to me it feels extra genuine and has a kind of relaxed old-school glamour. It’s additionally simple to achieve by prepare from Palermo (about 50 minutes); from Catania, on the opposite facet of the island, it takes round 4 hours, together with a change in Messina.

The place is stuffed with extraordinary Arab Norman structure and, as with most Italian cities, I discovered there have been virtually too many stunning buildings and church buildings to soak up as I wandered slowly by means of the streets in the direction of the cathedral within the central sq.. Inside, famed Twelfth-century Byzantine golden mosaics cowl the domed ceiling. Up shut they’re much more extraordinary than they appear within the footage, and nonetheless shine brightly all these years later.

‘Dangerously addictive’ cannoli pastries are excellent with an espresso. {Photograph}: Tasty meals and pictures/Getty Pictures

I spent lengthy moments wanting up at radiant Christ Pantocrator (the Almighty) as he gazed down serenely, his fingers held up in an advanced association that signifies “Jesus Christ”. In accordance with legend, King Ruggero Secondo (Roger II) constructed the duomo after being saved from a horrible storm at sea. He’d knelt on the deck of his ship and prayed for assist, promising to erect a cathedral to God’s glory if he made it again alive. After washing up secure and sound on the seaside of Cefalù he set about holding his finish of the discount.

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In any case that divinity, I continued by means of the maze of streets searching for one thing extra prosaic, the lavatoio medievale, a washhouse inbuilt 1514. Steps down from the road led to a sequence of low troughs, every with a stone scrubbing floor at one finish. River water flows by means of bronze lion heads to fill the troughs earlier than heading out to sea, and the place was nonetheless used nicely into the twentieth century. I walked across the troughs getting my ft moist, imagining the washerwomen of the previous, and feeling grateful for laundry machines. A brief stroll away is the picturesque Porta Pescara gate, which frames the seaside fantastically.

Behind the city is a steep cliff referred to as the Rocca di Cefalù. The trail was closed for upkeep after I was right here nevertheless it’s open once more now and a brisk 45-minute uphill climb gives panoramic vistas over the city and surrounding coast. There’s a ninth-century Temple of Diana on the way in which up (put on respectable footwear as the trail will be slippery).

One of many issues I like most about Cefalù is that the seaside is simply a few minutes’ stroll from the outdated city. And unusually for Sicily, it’s a beneficiant crescent of soppy golden sand, quite than a typical rocky seaside. Good for bambini, it’s one of many causes the city is so common with Italian vacationers. In spring you’ll want a jumper and lightweight jacket as you stroll alongside the promenade, and whereas the ocean stays chilly, as a cold-water swimming addict, I loved the blast of endorphins after I plunged beneath the waves.

The Palatine Chapel in Ventimiglia citadel, Castelbuono. {Photograph}: Alamy

One other day I walked half-hour east alongside the coast highway to swim at Cala Kalura, a candy pebbly cove with swimming-pool ladders down into the sea. If you happen to get fortunate, like I did, you would possibly see a pair of kingfishers trying to find fish as the nightfall falls.

The Cefalù meals scene is usually a little touristy however there are some pretty locations. My favorite was La Brace, the place the service is pleasant and the menu contains conventional swordfish rolls and different delights. On the far fancier Triscele, I ate fantastically introduced gamberi crudi (uncooked prawns) served in a swirl of citrus risotto on the romantic terrace.

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Among the greatest ice-cream on the town will be discovered at L’Angolo delle Dolcezze together with cannoli, the dangerously addictive cigar-shaped candy pastries stuffed with ricotta. Cassata, a cake layered with ricotta and lined in violently inexperienced icing, is a conventional deal with, however for me nothing beats cartocci, doughnut spirals, once more stuffed with the ever present ricotta or, even higher, with custard. Bar Duomo on the Cathedral Sq. is a superb spot to get pleasure from one with a espresso and a few relaxed individuals watching by day.

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Cala Kalura … a 30-minute stroll out of city. {Photograph}: Davide D Phstock/Alamy

At night time, it’s the place for an Aperol spritz earlier than dinner; I additionally loved an aperitif of Castellucci Miano, an award-winning straw-coloured white wine, on the sea-view terrace of Le Petit Tonneau.

I stayed at Agrodolce B&B (doubles from €75, two-night minimal), the place the rooms are easy, the placement excellent and the breakfast heavenly. Rita, the proprietor, radiated Sicilian heat as she served me selfmade crostata together with croissants, fruit and espresso, and inspired me to have seconds of all the pieces. There are many different mid-range choices on the town, however for a splurge, Le Calette (doubles from €323 B&B), on the coast east of city, gives luxurious suites and beautiful views.

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On Rita’s suggestion, I caught the 7.45am bus from the station, winding up mountain roads in the direction of Castelbuono, a small city famed for its funghi di bosco, mushrooms foraged from the forests. It was a vertiginous route and I used to be very glad to not be driving. Rita had instructed – insisted truly – that I come right here to go to the Palatine Chapel inside Ventimiglia citadel. Constructed within the late seventeenth century, it comprises the cranium of Saint Anne, mom of the Virgin Mary, and is gloriously overdecorated: vibrant gold partitions are lined in maximalist stucco depictions of allegories and non secular figures in baroque type. I spent a very long time wanting round, feeling dizzy and uplifted suddenly.

I’d learn that there have been hidden work contained in the Matrice Vecchia church on Castelbuono’s predominant sq., however I couldn’t discover the sunshine change and the darkish steps down below the altar seemed forbidding. Finally I gave up ready for the priest and ventured down utilizing my telephone torch.

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Homes line the seaside in Cefalù. {Photograph}: Roman Sigaev/Alamy

The crypt is roofed with frescoes courting from the medieval ages to the Renaissance – together with some alarming depictions of skeletons enthusiastically climbing out of their coffins on Judgment Day. I used to be glad to resurface into the daylight, and spent some time sitting watching the donkeys stroll up and down the slim streets. They’re used as garbage collectors as a result of the lanes are too slim for dustbin lorries, and seemed fairly grumpy about it.

I finished for lunch at Ristorante Nangalarruni the place the charismatic proprietor, Giuseppe, and I argued about mushrooms. I don’t like them in any respect however he was adamant that if I tasted his pasta I’d fully change my thoughts. We made a deal. He introduced me spaghetti cacio, pepe e funghi di bosco and watched anxiously as I twirled my fork and took a chew. He was proper: the dish modified a lifetime of bias, and stays the most effective meals I’ve eaten in Sicily. Later I caught the bus again to Cefalù and took an extended siesta to sleep off all these carbs – one other excellent day on Helius’s sunshine island.

Laura Coffey’s guide, Enchanted Islands: Travels by means of Delusion & Magic, Love & Loss (Summersdale, £16.99), is printed on 2 Might. To help the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Supply expenses might apply

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