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Days of Sicily, Knights of Malta – Part 4: Cefalù and the Winding Road to Taormina

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Continued from Part 3. (Series begins with Part 1).

If you’ve been reading this series you may be wondering how we could have come to Part 4 of a Sicily travelogue without going to any beaches. Isn’t this a famously beautiful Mediterranean isle?

For one thing, our October visit came a little past the hot season. More important, though, we’re just not terribly beachy people. Coastlines everywhere have beaches. From my apartment, I can take the subway to one. For me, going to a foreign country is an opportunity to dive into history and culture. And food.

Having said that, here’s the beach at Cefalù, an old town on Sicily’s north coast, where we drove after finally saying goodbye to Santa Flavia and the Palermo region. It was a windy day, and less than hot, so only a few watery locals were enjoying the waves. You can see the town itself in the background.


We found parking along one of the coastal roads and hiked along the seaside into town, where palm trees and blue umbrellas gave way to medieval streets.

The town dates, in some form at least, back to ancient Greek times, but its main DSC01625-duomo-interior architectural attraction is, not surprisingly, the duomo (cathedral). (An Italian town without a duomo? Impossible.) The interior of Cefalù’s 12th century Norman cathedral is famous for its mosaics. In the inset photo, the blue figure of the Christ Pantocrator (you can just make it out above the lighted window) is an especially striking example. (Check out the closeup image at Wikipedia).

Approaching the duomo there’s a big touristy cafe/restaurant. Eating outdoors is one of the greatest pleasure of visiting the lands of the southern Mediterranean. Throughout the trip we ate just about every lunch outdoors.



I enjoyed visiting the adjoining cloisters. Visually they’re nothing spectacular, but a handout explains the symbolic meaning of the figures carved into the tops of the columns, and no amount of terrible Dan Brown books can spoil my interest in symbols.



There isn’t all that much else to see in Cefalù itself. But step out back, and there’s rocky drama.



Sicily is known for fine ceramics, and Cefalù is where we found the most beautiful P1070635-vase examples at the best prices. This vase is just one of numerous pieces we bought there, all in one wonderful shop where we just couldn’t stop grabbing things.

Most went for gifts, but the vase was ours.

After a brilliant early dinner of fresh seafood at an outdoor restaurant near the duomo, we said goodbye to Cefalù and headed back along the waterfront to the car, under a gorgeous afternoon sky adorned by a bright moon.


Plugging our next destination, Taormina, into the GPS, we set off, expecting the device to take us to the eastern coast via the main roads. It wasn’t a direct route by any means, but the only alternative appeared to be a long, slow, winding mountain road through the interior. No way the GPS would take us that way, right?



Well, yes, there was. And this is where I was very glad we had an Audi and not the cheap sort of car you often get from rental agencies when you don’t specify something high-end. I have my doubts about how well a small, cheap car would have gotten us through this part of our excursion – a much longer part of our journey than we had expected. I believe the road is known as the SS185, if you’d like to make a note of what to avoid when you’re in Sicily.

Unless, that is, you’ve got plenty of time, a good vehicle, and a portable toilet, and would like some amazing views of one of the most famous volcanos in the world. Seeing Mt. Etna in this way turned out, on reflection, to be worth the hassle.


When we finally arrived at the coast, the GPS directed us to an obscure back road up the mountain on which Taormina sits – a road that turned out to be closed. After a stop in the neighboring town of Giardini-naxos to use the bathroom at a tiny cafe belonging to a kindly couple, we finally made our way up a much more sensible route into the cramped but beautiful old town, and miraculously found our hotel.

Night was already descending, and so it was by night that we first experienced this fascinating little city.


I’ll have much more on Taormina in the next installment.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.