When I was younger, one of the great movies I’ve watched more than once was the Godfather. Although the movie series were shot mostly in America, it has put Sicily on the map. Over the years I have read bit by bit about this island in Southern Italy. I got more and more interested and the idea of visiting this place has been in listed in my bucket list and finally we went. We have chosen a quiet historic town called Cefalu as our base in Sicily.
Arrival in Palermo
12/06/2016 – We landed at Palermo Airport from London Gatwick around lunchtime. The airport is relatively small but the good thing about this is you can get out quicker. The hired car companies (we pre-booked back home) are not actually at the airport. There is a shuttle bus just outside by the airport exit that takes visitors to the car pick-up counters and their car parks.
Downtown Cefalu and its Landmarks
Cefalu is a small city in the province of Palermo. It is about 70kms east of the capital city. The road from the airport to Cefalu is mostly along the coastline heading towards Messina via SS113. The town centre is dominated by the mountain La Rocca di Cefalu. Most activities are around this rocky mountain. Some travelers go up the mountain to enjoy the view; we did not because it was too hot that week in Sicily and there is no toilet up there, according to one traveler.
Situated at the foot of La Rocca is the Cefalu Presidiana Marina. You can walk along the side by its concrete wall as far as you can and have the full view of the La Rocca and its lighthouse.
There is also the Cathedral (Duomo di Cefalu), which is built right at the foot of the mountain and is facing the Piazza (the Square). We arrived at the Duomo about 3pm one afternoon and I guess we were at the right place at the right time – there was a wedding and the bride was just getting out of her bridal car and was going up the stairs of the entrance of the cathedral. My Nikon was clicking non-stop until the bride reached the top of the stairs. I managed to capture one of the dramatic moments in this historic church!.
The Piazza (The Cefalu Square), is a nice area to sit and have something to eat or drink or just watch the tourists come and go. Around this Square are narrow streets which is a combination of flats, novelty shops and restaurants. The Museo Madralisca is also in one of the narrow streets in this area just off the Square. Some streets are leading towards the beach.
A typical narrow streets leading to the Square
Parking in Cefalu
On the one side of this mountain is the town centre where most shops are including the post office and the supermarket. On the other side is the tourist side. Parking in Cefalu is a real challenge. It is almost like they don’t want people to park in town. You need to buy a parking ticket from the shops and then you need to scratch off the time on the card and display it on your dashboard. The blue parking ticket is used for blue line parking areas.
Our Rented Villa in Cefalu
The villa is a hidden paradise at the top of the hill. Not literally top of the hill but it is on a steep hill. It has an amazing sea view of the Tyrrhenian Sea, which is part of the Mediterranean Sea. The fantastic view is matched with a feel and smell of a rain forest. A very quiet and beautiful place. The only sound we can hear during the day is the murmur of the small infinity pool and the waves from the coast down below. It is so calming up in this place, it is such a novelty!
The villa is built so that it has a view of the sea and mountains from every room (2 bedrooms in total) and even from the bathrooms! This is exactly what you call a relaxing place to unwind.
Inside the villa. When we are not outside by the pool we stayed mostly in this lounger bed. I read here most of the time during the day. We normally go out in the afternoon when the heat is milder.
Outside the villa. Sometimes we take our lunch here whilst enjoying the view and the peaceful surroundings. We cook most of the days so we saved a lot from our budget.
Office inside the villa. I still did some work during our stay here but in a peaceful and relaxing place for a change.
Places We Ate At in Cefalu
Although we cooked our food most of the days, we also went out for an Italian dinner at the veranda restaurant called La Trinacria. It is a perfect place to watch the sunset. The service and the food were very good and prices were not too expensive. They have good selections on their menu. Overall the place was good and ideal for tourists. The view especially was something that enticed us to go there.
Beautiful sunset view from the Veranda
On another night we also had dinner at one of the restaurants off the Cefalu Square. In this stretch of a narrow alley are different restaurants. We also had a good meal here and we were happy with the very good service.
Relaxing Holiday with a Twist!
16/06/2016 (10am) – Sometimes things could happen when you least expected it. On this particular day it was 40 degrees celcius in Sicily! The humidity is 26% and the wind hammers at 43kms/hour. We were planning to go out but it was baking hot out there that we’ve decided to stay put and see how it goes in the afternoon.
About noontime whilst we were resting in the lounge, 3 local men were rushing towards our villa. One of them was Antonio, the gentleman who takes care of the garden of the villa. He quickly mounted off his motorbike and ran straight towards the back of the villa and the other man followed him. One of them knocked fiercely at our glass door. Although we were surprised by the unexpected visit, we did not hesitate to open the door immediately. The gentleman was explaining something rapidly in Italian and of course we could not understand. He then stepped inside and led me into our bedroom whilst my partner checked what Antonio was up to at the back. The older guy showed me the fire through the glass door from our bedroom, just one meter away from the house! Jesus!!
The villa is a sprawling bungalow. We normally spend most of our time in the lounge, we did not notice the sound of fire burning outside the bedrooms at the west side of the building. The strong wind was coming from the east so there were no smoke visible in all the views from the lounge/dining and kitchen.
I quickly gathered our important things like passports, phone and wallets and went outside ready to flee but the only road down to/from the villa was on fire! We went to the next house down the hill. The owner showed us the way down; a steep hill with overgrown spikey grasses and trees. He assured us that was the only option to get down to the main road. The hill down looked scary but due to the strong wind, the fire could spread down in minutes so we left the car at his garage with our big suitcase inside and off we jumped, slid and ran until we reached the main road. We ended up with cuts on our legs and arms but we felt safer when we reached the main road.
One local from the church of the nearest village, St Ambrosio took us in his car and brought us to the church for safety. At 6pm the sky towards Palermo was still on a thick smoke.
The seashore at St. Ambrosio where we cleaned our cuts and bruises.
The locals at St. Ambrogio, including our very supportive agent, who did not only worry about us and her other clients but also worry for her family and her own home up the hill. She made sure we had treatment for our cuts and secured a temporary place for us to stay.
Watching the fire from St. Ambrogio Village
The following day we were back at the villa. The main house did not catch the fire despite of its proximity to it. We went back to the town centre during the night to just chill out. The town was calm and people were just chilling out; no traces of fire burns anywhere. The tourists areas in town were not affected by the fire afterall. It was business as usual.
Our Last Day in Sicily
18/06/2016 – Our flight was at 8pm but we left the villa early and decided to visit the famous palace in downtown Palermo.
The entrance of the Palatine Chapel inside the palace. A very impressive chapel of the Norman kings of Sicily.
Inside the chapel
The altar of the chapel
The palace is big and there are more to see but taking photos are not allowed on the upper floors, where the most important paintings are displayed. But I can say this place is worth a visit.
We are glad we spent our holiday this year in Sicily. The fire was just an interruption. It made us more aware of what to include in our packing in our future travels. We have also experienced the hospitality of the locals in St. Ambrogio Village, who have helped us when we vacated there, and most especially our agent Margherita and her team. She made sure we have a place to stay for the night at St Ambrogio. We are very grateful to them all.
We have only seen a fraction of Sicily; there are a lot more to see and to experience in this island.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ till next journey ~~~~~~~~~~~~