Discover a family-friendly city in NZ’s south
WRITING about the glamorous resort town of Taormina in Sicily recently, and wishing I was there right now (oh, the charm of the place) reminded me of another unforgettable town that sits high above Taormina.
You couldn’t even call it a town, a village is more appropriate, it is very tiny, and most visitors to Taormina don’t bother with it.
We would not have made the effort to ascend the hill to Castelmola if we had not had insider intelligence from our driver who picked us up from the airport.
“You must visit the Bar Turrisi in Castelmola,” he said. “You will have to go up the steep hill, you could take a bus, but you really have to see the cafe. The owner has a collection of – how can I say it – male things.”
Well, the mind boggled, didn’t it? Our driver would not elaborate but our curiosity had grasped the gist.
We could see Castelmola from down in Taormina. It looked like a little village in the sky clinging for dear life to the very top of a stupendous mountain. We wisely took the bus up, for it turned out to be 550m above sea level. The hairpin bends with sheer drops made for an exciting if not terrifying journey.
Well, how can I describe the Bar Turrisi to you while keeping myself nice and saving you blushes? I’ll have a go.
This delightful narrow cafe on five rickety levels held what I could only guess was the largest private collection in the world of “male things”. Apart from the obvious large statues and wooden carved figures with their phallic inclinations, there were cabinets full of plastic penis objects, from drinking straws (don’t dwell) to candles and water jugs with penis handles.
The phallic object d’art was everywhere: on counters and shelves, in paintings and plaques, on the walls, carved into the backs of chairs, twisted into iron staircase rails, in every nook in the wall and every small corner of this extraordinary cafe.
We explored all of the five levels, sitting on penis chairs (don’t think too long) sipping our coffee from penis cups, looking out over the small balconies on each level to the narrow and charming streets below. When we thought we’d spotted every penis in the place we found more: a rooftop fountain with a delightful arrangement of willies stacked around a rearing centrepiece spurting water (I know, I know).
Then yet more of the male things: painted on the mosaic tiles on the tabletops, standing decoratively around a punch bowl, forming the bases of lampshades and then, the piece de resistance, a monstrous wooden one, the size of a cannon, sitting arrogantly along the length of a long wooden table in a large alcove. Hundreds of people had carved their names in this big beauty. Give you an idea of its grand size?
We sat on the rooftop terrace with our coffee surrounded by penis-shaped pots with pink geraniums growing festively from their tops, and looked over rooftops to the magnificent bell tower so close across the chasm of the street we could almost touch it. Coming back down the café’s narrow staircase we had to duck down, limbo-style, beneath a long wooden penis reaching across the stairwell. Even in the bathroom the taps continued the masculine theme. Bar Turrisi is quite the travel experience, but there is more to this historic cafe than the male things. It has a marvellous history, which you can read in the penis-shaped visitors’ book, and is also famous for its almond wine, an ancient recipe belonging to the Turrisi family. The dry white wine is sweet, aromatic with almonds which leave an after taste. Perfect with a dessert from the excellent menu. (You actually visit Bar Turrisi to eat and drink as well as gasp at the male things.)
Castelmola village is delightful, so high you look down to the glittering blue of the Mediterranean from wide vantage points and catch glimpses of it between the clusters of multi-level houses and buildings. Castle ruins encourage you to explore, cypress trees and olive groves enchant. It is quiet and hazy up there in a summer’s afternoon and the steep walk down takes you back to those heady delights in Taormina.
Castelmola, close to Taormina, is worth the climb just to see the sights at Bar Turrisi.