Where is world's only penis café? Outside the progressive town of Taormina in Sicily , of course. Join Rough Guides writer Kiki Deere as she finds some phallic fun in southern Italy. The information in this article is taken from The Rough Guide to Italy your essential guide for visiting Italy .
My long hair brushes against an erect penis. I grab the bannister and my hand firmly grips a dark phallus. Excited male members line a windowsill.
Others pop out of corners. There's even a large one on the balcony. First thoughts? I'm on the set of a porn film? Perhaps visiting a female brothel?
Wrong. I am in Turrisi and visiting Sicily's penis café.
I eagerly open the café menu, predictably penis shaped, and the first image is a courgette with two tomatoes.
A group of middle-aged ladies giggle nearby. The source of mirth is a large penis on their table. Their husbands shift uncomfortably in their seats, not knowing where to look.
But if the penis café sounds vulgar, I'm about to discover it's not that simple.
Massimo is the the third generation owner and keen to fill me in on the history.
"The café was opened in 1947 by my grandfather" he says. "It wasn't then as it is now, it was more like a post-war bazaar. A souvenir shop and café where customers came to drink almond wine . That's the traditional drink here. This area of Sicily was once a winery for the Greeks. And wine was sweetened with almonds before transporting."
I sip my own almond drink, which nowadays is mostly white wine.
Indeed. Poets, writers, painters and actors came to Sicily for its natural beauty. They loved the Mediterranean and fell for the Greek ruins and Mount Etna .
So Taormina became a magnet for 19th century artists wanting peace and seeking inspiration.
Massimo explains. "Painters looked back back to the Hellenistic period and saw nudes. Many of which were created in Castelmola. Photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden, set his nudes of young boys here. And so bohemian attitudes and sexual openness became a way of life. That's what my grandfather wanted to reflect in his café."
This must have been a liberal corner of Italy as I couldn't see my Italian grandmother here, calmly sipping coffee in the 1950's, surrounded by assorted phalli.
Massimo's family commissioned all the café's pieces which were created by Sicilian artisans. What's on display is part of a larger collection that remains behind closed doors.
"Valuable objects are best not displayed," Massimo says. "Many people try to steal them. I had to install cameras last year"
In the 1990's a customer spotted men fleeing the café carrying an outsize penis. It was clearly not their own. And they stuffed it into a car and drove off.
The witness noted the number plate, called the police and the car was tracked down.
The thief turned out to be a lawyer from Catania . He returned the penis and claimed he and his friends were, "overtaken by the moment".
A Sicilian lawyer fleeing with a large, stolen penis? I laugh at the thought.
In fact the bar's reputation is widespread and so popular others have tried to recreate it elsewhere.
However, the area and the penis café are inseparable.
Massimo muses, "The café's rooted in a social and cultural context. It wasn't born here by chance. Many factors led to its creation, right here, in 1947."
Behind me, sits a statue of Taormina's patron Saint . It seems out of place: innocent, yet surrounded by erotic memorabilia.
"This is Sicily . This is our history", Massimo says, as he points to an old wooden cart decorated with intricate arabesques which hangs from the ceiling.
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The café's large visitor book lies open on a stand and I can't resist a look.
Most comments are drawings, mainly customers expressing delight with infantile sketches. Some sketches are the full package, others just cartoon testicles.
It seems customers are prolific artists and Massimo now has over 100 'visitor books' dating back to 1952.
He despairs at where to place the next volume, but he's grateful for his customer's endeavours. And in fact, the café's logo and menu were inspired by customer art.
But every detail here is considered. In the bathroom, I look in a penis shaped mirror. Even the tap's carefully chosen: two round handles are testicles: he spout's a phallus, and the water jet replicates bladder-emptying relief.
As I leave, Massimo gives me a folded business card which I slip into my pocket and forget. Until later. Then I flip it open. A small paper penis pops out. Naturally, it's erect and serves as a perfect reminder of Castelmola's exciting history.
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Raised bilingually in London and Turin,