Italy Day 8 – Cefalu, Sicily

We were up and out early this morning, largely because we didn’t trust Ditzy, the GPS. We were scheduled for a food and walking tour of Cefalu.  Giving ourselves a lot of time was a good decision because Ditzy misdirected us several times. We finally found a parking lot on our own.

Ambra, our guide, is a lovely young local woman. She met us and the only other tour participant, an Australian woman, Mia, in front of a café. We got cappuccinos to go and ambled down the ancient cobblestone streets. We’d been on a “golf cart” tour the day before and it was interesting to hear the guides’ differing approaches to relaying information about Cefalu.  Ambra’s focus included a lot of folk tales, myths, and Sicilian lore. We heard about a freshwater spring known for helping to bring women true love, or if love didn’t work out helping women rid themselves of it. There was also a story about an Arab King who fell in love with a young Sicilian woman, cementing ties between the two cultures.

At our first stop we entered a local bakery; the scent alone nearly made me swoon. Ambra bought us each two local specialties; a sandwich on a freshly baked roll filled with slices of fried chickpeas and a square of sfincione (a thick doughy pizza) with traditional Cefalu toppings– tomatoes, onions, herbs, anchovies, breadcrumbs, and parmesan cheese. Neither of us ate the whole thing, just a nibble.

From there we walked to the shore. We stopped at a medieval laundry where fresh water continually flows. Square basins had been cut into the rock and were used to clean clothes and bedding. The constantly flowing water rinses the soap (made from ashes) away and into the sea.

A few stops for picturesque views of the town, including the old fisherman’s gate (Porta Pescara) and the old Jewish quarter, along the way to our next tasting. The old Jewish quarter remains a quiet residential area and gave us a good sense of how people live.  Ambra remarked that it is mostly occupied by older people since younger folk like to have larger living space and amenities, available a short distance out of the old city. Many of the apartments in town have been bought by investors and now operate as Air BNBs.

Our next tasting was arancino, the most traditional of Sicilian street foods. Arancino are rice balls filled with meat or cheese, covered with breadcrumbs and fried.  They are inexpensive and are offered with all sorts of filling combinations. We also had a cannolo for dessert, followed by a taste of granita, fruit ice. I tried pistachio, which was like eating an intense nutty smoothy.

By this point I’d walked more stairs than my legs were happy about and would have ended the tour there, but Ambra had a couple more places to show us. We saw where one of the gates of the city had been located, the narrowest street in Cefalu, and streets decorated with ceramics.

Tour ended we window shopped (and did a little souvenir shopping) on our way to Piazza del Duomo. The cathedral is closed between 1-3, so we sat under an umbrella and had a light lunch—Caprese salad for me, a fancy arancino for Kathy. We watched kids ride scooters and play while they dodged tourists (or crashed into them).

When the cathedral opened, we were among the first to enter. Cefalu’s Duomo is known for the enormous and strikingly beautiful mosaic of Christ Pantocrator (all ruling). The Duomo began construction in 1131, after King Roger II survived a violent storm and ran aground in Cefalu. He promised God to build the largest cathedral he could to thank him for saving his life. The cathedral was expanded over the centuries and includes architectural details from the Norman, Roman, Arab, and Byzantine periods. One odd and recent, controversial addition, which doesn’t fit at all, are abstract stained-glass windows installed in 2003.

Now exhausted, Kathy and I slowly made our way back to the car, walking through a very residential neighborhood.

When we returned to our villa it took me less than five minutes to fall into a deep sleep. I was awake for sunset, a blaze of orange and gold. Then watched moonrise. Dinner was at the resort’s excellent restaurant—grilled squid for me, fresh pasta with shrimp for Kathy. She said it was the best pasta she’d ever eaten.