Just one hour's drive east of Palermo, sitting serenely between its natural bay and the towering rocky granite mass of La Rocca, is Cefalù.
Cefalu is one of the Mediterranean's undiscovered jewels, the epitome of picturesque grandeur. Cefalù has a beach, winding and narrow medieval streets, and delightful restaurants overlooking a rocky coast. Everything is under the ever-present gaze of the Norman-Arab-Byzantine cathedral, one of the greatest churches of southern Europe. Nestled between the Madonie Mountains and the sea, Cefalù's mountain boasts the ruins of a large fortress and an ancient Sicanian-Greek temple. The view from the summit is inspiring.
Cefalù has a long and lovely beach with clean, golden sand, without doubt one of the best in Sicily. It is very easy to get to, just a short walk from the main road leading through town. It gets very crowded in the summer months, but not quite to the same extent as the beaches near Taormina. Public showers are available on the western side of the beach.
Il Duomo, the cathedral built by the Norman King Roger II circa1131, is the dominant structure in the town. Its two towers rise up well above the rest of the buildings. The exterior is well preserved, while the interior has been restored several times throughout the centuries. It is more Gothic and Romanesque than Byzantine in character but still has impressive mosaics.
A much more strenuous, yet rewarding, exercise is to climb up to the summit of the promontory above the town. It is steep, and it takes a good half hour, but the views of the coast and the sea from there are impressive. The walk will also take you to the ruins of an old fortress and temple devoted to the goddess Diana from the fifth century BC.
The Mandralisca Museum was founded by a local art collector who bequeathed his art treasures and extensive library to the town. It houses the Portrait of Unknown by Antonello da Messina, an extensive collection of shells, and a variety of objet d'art, among which is a Chinese puzzle in ivory.
The beach and the sea offer excellent opportunities for sunbathing, swimming and other water activities to keep families happy. There are pedal boats for hire at the beach in Ogliastrillo, 4km (2.5 miles) west of Cefalù. Fishing is available everywhere. Walking in the hills to the south of town is another popular activity, and there are several gentle routes that can be enjoyed by kids.
Directly south of Cefalù is the wonderful Madonie National Park with its charming villages and towns, such as Castelbuono, its delightful scenery, its impressive mountains and some wonderful walking. It is no coincidence then that after Taormina and Palermo, Cefalù is probably the most popular tourist town in Sicily, offering something for everyone.