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. 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. Sicily's penis café.
I eagerly open the café menu. It's 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? A large penis on their table. Husbands shift uncomfortably in seats. Not knowing where to look.
The penis café may seem vulgar. But it's not that simple.
Massimo is the owner. He's third generation. 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 of a post-war bazaar. A souvenir shop/café. And customers drank almond wine. A traditional drink here. This area of Sicily was once a winery for the Greeks. And wine was sweetened to be transported."
I sip my own almond drink. Nowadays it's mostly white wine.
Indeed. Poets, writers, painters and actors came here for its natural beauty. They loved the Mediterranean. And fell for Greek ruins and Mount Etna. Taormina was a magnet for 19th century artists wanting peace. And looking for inspiration.
Massimo explains. "Painters looked back back to the Hellenistic period. They saw nudes. Many were created in Castelmola. Photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden, set his nudes of young boys here. Bohemian attitudes and sexual openness became a way of life. My grandfather wanted to reflect this in his café."
This must have been a liberal corner of Italy. 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 pieces. And they were created by Sicilian artisans. An even larger collection 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. They were carrying an outsize penis. Clearly not their own. 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 was a lawyer from Catania. He returned the penis. Claiming he and his friends were, "overtaken by the moment".
A Sicilian lawyer fleeing with a large penis? I laugh at the thought.
In fact the bar's reputation is widespread. It's also popular. And many 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. 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. He points to an old wooden cart. It's decorated with intricate arabesques. And hangs from the ceiling.
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A large visitors' book lies open on a stand. I can't resist a look.
Most comments are drawings. Customers expressing delight with infantile sketches. Some the full package. Others just cartoon testicles.
Customers are prolific artists. And Massimo now has over 100 'visitor books'. The first was opened in 1952.
He despairs at where to place the next volume. But he's grateful for his customer's endeavours.
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. The spout's a phallus. And the water jet replicates bladder-emptying relief.
As I leave, Massimo gives me a folded business card. I slip into my pocket and forget. Until later. Then I flip it open. A small paper penis pops out. Naturally, it's erect. Serving as a reminder of Castelmola's exciting history.
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Raised bilingually in London and Turin,