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Palermo and Cefalù: the heart of the Sicilian history

This time we spend some days in two of the most iconic Sicilian destinations: Palermo and Cefalù. Both cities share rich and unique historical backgrounds that will capture the attention and interest of any visitor. Here is our short summary of the days spent there.

The Politeama Theatre – located in the central Piazza Ruggero Settimo, represents the second most important theatre of the city after the Teatro Massimo. It houses the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana.

Palermo: three days surrounded by culture, music, food and history

On an early Friday morning, we left “our dock” in Ustica and headed to Palermo: it’s a 40 nautical mile crossing that we managed to cover sailing with nearly perfect wind and sea conditions. There is quite a lot of traffic in the area, especially when approaching Palermo, so extra care has to be taken to avoid big tankers.

Approaching Palermo from Ustica

At 1:00 pm we were already moored at Marina Salpancore, in the heart of Palermo at the end of the so-called La Cala: a narrow gulf, with plenty of different marinas, in an extremely convenient location which has the added value of being perfectly sheltered from any kind of sea and wind. It reminded us of our homeport in Barcelona, also well-known for being very well protected and right in the city center.

La Cala harbor is right in the center of Palermo – La Cala was the main fishing port in Palermo, until the 16th century when it lost most of its size due to receding waters.

If it’s this warm in May, can’t imagine how it will be like in August

The end of May is probably one of the best times of the year to visit Palermo, it’s warm but not hot which means you can walk around without feeling like you are in a hot tub.

Piazza Pretoria, also known as the Square of Shame – the fountain was considered the representation of corrupt municipalities.

In threes days we walked an average of 15-20 km a day, as we were following both our instinct but more importantly some key recommendations a friend gave us (thanks to Antonio!!!). We noted all the places we wanted to see on a Google Map – by the way, feel free to use it, should you decide to visit Palermo, as it contains all the “must-see” places and “must eat” food!

Palermo in a nutshell

Palermo, as many other places in Sicily, has been conquered and developed by a few different cultures: Cartagenans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans. Everywhere you walk, you feel constantly surrounded by its history.

History in Palermo is all around: this is nymph Amaia

If I’m asked to summarize Palermo in “a few words” I’d say that: it’s an extremely cosmopolitan city, where up to 31 different ethnicities live in pretty good harmony.

It’s a also city where not everybody understands the law in the same way: it’s pretty usual to see a 10-year-old kid driving a scooter with his little brother seating in the back seat and none of them is wearing a helmet. It’s a noisy and alive city: Italians have the tendency to scream, “Palermitani” are one level up.

The Church of San Cataldo (Piazza Bellini) – Erected in 1154 as a notable example of the Arab-Norman architecture which flourished in Sicily under Norman rule on the island.

But Palermo is also the city of street food, music, and culture: with plenty of young people full of entrepreneurial ideas, we think Palermo’s future is bright and the city will develop more and more over the next decades.

Delicious dinner at Santamarina Bistrot in Piazza Pietro Speciale

It’s much more than this, it’s a city you have to visit at least once: I can’t promise you’ll like it, but if you do, you’ll probably fall in love with it.

We are not going to list all the places we have seen (but the map above will contain most of them) and there are plenty of blogs and guide out there, where you can find information about Palermo. We honestly enjoyed getting lost walking in its narrow streets and discovering Palermo’s contrasts: the city has two faces, the morning face and the night one. Make sure you see both!

Palermo Cathedral was erected in 1185 and dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

Finally, just one recommendation: if you go to Palermo, make sure you don’t miss the streets markets (Ballaró better to be seen during the day according to some Palermitan folks we talked to), here is the list of the three markets and what to expect from each of them:

  • Ballarò Market (Via Dalmazio Birago)

Ballarò is the “oldest food market in Palermo”, according to a 10th-century Arab author’s travel log. It is held in Albergheria, one of the five Norman quarters of Sicily’s capital city.

  • Vucciria Market (Via dei Frangiai)

One of the main tourist attractions in Palermo is the Vucciria Market. Today the old market has almost disappeared entirely and you’ll find only a few fishmongers. When the sun goes down, the Vucciria market comes to life: starting with aperitifs and continuing till late with dance and chaos!

  • Del Capo Market (Via Cappuccinelle)

Probably our favorite: the fruit and vegetable stalls are lined up to the right and left of each other in the narrow street. Here you will find Sicilian delicacies such as saffron, salt capers, or pistachios of the best quality at very reasonable prices.

Cefalù and the Norman Duomo

The next Monday, we left Palermo and continued our journey east: next stop Cefalù. It was an easy trip characterized by light winds and calm sea: which often translates to “engine was on for most of the time”. We actually tried to get the most of the gennaker, but it was just a 30 minute moment of glory, then the wind died and we were motoring again.

Trying to get the most out of the light winds…

We arrived in Cefalù at 6 pm, dropped the anchor in front of the old city, took some pics, and then decided to check the nearby harbor hoping it offered some better protection. The pilot book (it’s The Guide for people exploring unknown areas by boat) was indicating that it was allowed to drop the anchor inside the port, just behind the pontoons: and so we did.

At the hook in front of Cefalù

We spent the entire week there, once again working during the day and getting around at night. Every time we wanted to go to land, we took the paddle (as we always do…) and in a couple of minutes, we were at the nearby pontoon. From there, a panoramic path takes you to the ancient town of Cefalù.

In Cefalù it is allowed to anchor inside the port: a pretty convenient way to explore the town

Before leaving Cefalù, we visited the Duomo, a masterpiece of Norman art: a handsome and imposing two-towered Norman cathedral. Begun in 1131, this mighty church dominates the rooftops of the Centro Storico. The building’s interior is decorated with lovely mosaics created by twelfth-century Byzantine artists.

The Duomo is worth a visit: this picture is taken from the inside of one of its towers.

What’s next?

At this point, as the weekend was approaching, we had two potential and valid plans: either rent a car in Cefalù and spend a few days visiting Catania, Messina, Taormina, and Agrigento or get the most out of Bolero and sail to the Aeolian Island (despite an unclear weather forecast for the incoming days): guess what we did?

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2 years ago

Grazie!! I love your post and your gaze into everyday life .

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