Sunday was the first day of touring with Best of Sicily, and six of us traveled about six miles southwest of Palermo to Monreale to see the Arabo-Norman-Byzantine cathedral. According to Frommer, there’s an old local saying about the cathedral: “To come to Palermo without having seen Monreale is like coming in like a donkey and leaving like an ass.” Be warned!
Monreale lived up to its billing as one of the world’s greatest medieval treasures. Although the exterior is quite plain, the interior has nearly 54,000 square feet (!) of mosaics and 4,850 pounds of gold, and the floors are covered in marble. If I hadn’t seen the Capella Palatina the day before, I would designate the cathedral in Monreale one of the most beautiful church interiors I’ve ever seen (Sainte-Chappelle in Paris on a sunny day, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, France, and the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, Canada, rank at the top). The Monreale cathedral IS beautiful, and it definitely makes my top ten, but the Capella Palatina in Palermo stands alone as number one on my list.
After an hour or so in Monreale, we returned to Palermo to see one of the farmers markets. This one differed from the market in Campo dei Fiori because fish mongers galore inhabited the tiny stalls. It was a wonderful walk.
We stopped briefly in the heart of Palermo so the rest of our group could see the Four Corners and the Fountain of Shame and then headed to our final destination—medieval Cefalù, which is on the Tyrrhenian Sea about 50 miles east of Palermo. Unfortunately Sunday traffic in Palermo is worse than it is any other day of the week because of the markets, so it took us one hour to navigate eight blocks along the main north-south street in Palermo and another hour to reach Cefalù. It was so ridiculous, and I was so hungry!
By the time we got to Cefalù we had only a couple of hours to eat and see the sights. My first choice was to eat (it was about 2 p.m.), and Kate, fortunately, agreed. We got a table at a nice restaurant (Lo Scoglio Ubriaco) on a cliff above the sea, ordered our lunch, and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited to be served. We’d ordered a half bottle of white wine, and we finished it and our bread long before lunch arrived. The restaurant was full when we arrived, and we were the only ones there when we finished. The lunch was definitely worth the wait—pasta with sardines for Kate and pasta with bottarga (tuna roe) for me—but by the time we finished and paid, we had only 10 minutes before we had to rejoin our group. We missed Cefalù’s beautiful beach and the cathedral completely!
Now you might think that I’d seen enough churches Saturday and today, but no. The cathedral at Cefalù has the oldest Byzantine-Norman mosaics in Sicily and they are described as some of the world’s most brilliant. Alas, I missed them! You’ll miss them, too, because I have no photos—mi dispiace (I’m sorry). At least we got to see the iconic view of the city from the hills above!
Weather = perfect! Company = outstanding! Food = excellent (but way too slow). Monreale = stunning! Palermo market = fascinating! Cefalù = who knows? Total score = 4 of 5