The Tyrrhenian sea laps gently along the beaches of Cefalu as the curvature of the land cuts into the medieval town. Sounds of sea birds occasionally pierce the gentle ocean breeze. My overnight train from Rome left me here to escape the big city atmosphere and experience a few days of southern village life in Sicily.
The long promenade leads me toward town from the small bus station. Before long, two local men approach me. They have rooms to rent and wonder if I need a place to stay. After a chat with them, I decide to go with the one that looks more trustworthy. His name is Angelo. I grab my bag and walk with him into the heart of the medieval district. He keeps up a fast pace for his robust build. His black pants are held up over a white t-shirt by old threadbare suspenders, revealing a pair of badly worn loafers. I sense a genuine spirit and like him from the start.
The morning air is cool and moist with the smell of salted fish. As we enter the old part of town, we turn onto Cortile Siracusani Street and pass through a tunnel into a tiny square courtyard where Angelo lives with his family. The narrow buildings are tall and crowd together. Winding stairways, small iron balconies, and pots of flowers add a touch of charm. Angelo has a small apartment above his home with a kitchen that I agree to rent for a few days.
While exploring the village that afternoon, I decide to make a chicken stew in my kitchen. Stepping inside a small macelleria, butcher shop, I see meaty chicken legs behind the glass. “Prendo due gambe, per favore,” I’ll take two chicken legs, please. The balding man behind the counter wraps them in paper and points to a packet of seasoning. I shake my head yes, and pay him. My next stop is the verdure, vegetable shop. Here I buy potatoes, carrots and mushrooms. What a welcome change from home, where all my groceries are purchased in one store.
After I return to my apartment, I run up the stairs to the kitchen and pull out a large pot. I brown the chicken legs in oil, add water and the seasoning packet, and simmer. Soon the vegetables are added. While it is bubbling away, I look through the window and notice the courtyard almost completely immersed in shadow as the sun begins to set. Lights start to flicker behind curtains as the night closes in.
The room fills with the pungent aroma of rosemary and sage. I ladle up a bowl full of rich meaty goodness. My stew is a success.
Walking the medieval village deepens my understanding of close living. Narrow winding streets hug corners. Laundry dries from upper story clothes lines and voices carry down through open windows. Gray stonework is dotted with black motorbikes.
These medieval wash basins, located close to the beach, sit on the site of ancient Roman public baths that were later converted by the Arabs. The Discesa River provided the water for washing.
My walk along the ocean involves some climbing upward through rocky pathways lined with brush. Ocean mist clings to my hair and clothes like a web.
Cefalu is one place I would love to revisit. The medieval village, the amazing shore-path views and the tasty chicken stew all culminate into an outstanding memory.
I encourage you to view the following video on Cefalu put out by The Compulsive Traveler. It gives excellent footage of the medieval village and, interestingly enough, the courtyard and apartment they stayed in appears to be the very same one I found. http://www.compulsivetraveler.tv/videos/1160-The-medieval-district-Cefalu-Sicily