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It does not take long from the Roannais, in the Rhône-Alpes (and our base near the medieval village of Perreux) to enter the original and surreal world of Salvador Dali.
A delightful stop-over in Carcassonne, and then onward (or, I should say, downward) towards Barcelona. Conveniently enroute with just a slight, but pleasant detour, and you are in Figueres, Dali’s birthplace, hometown, and the impressive grand homage and dedication to his life and art in the incredible form of the surrealistically magnificent Dali Theatre Musée. An absolute ‘must-see’ if you are travelling in the vicinity. Truly remarkable !!
Just a few kilometres further on, and a careful drive over some exceptionally impressive, rocky, and stunningly beautiful hillsides (reminiscent of some of the landscapes in Dali’s famous paintings), you eventually wind down to the simple white buildings and seascape of Cadaqués – the sleepy fishing village and house (Casa Dali) where Dali and his wife, Gala, spent most of their time together (almost 60 years !), and where he conceived, created and produced most of his renowned works. The house is fascinating and bizarre, of course, and in a beautiful setting overlooking the bay, and with beautiful gardens.
But first, Figueres and the magnificent Dali Theatre-Musée.
The Dalí Theatre-Museum is, without doubt, one of the historical milestones that has left the greatest mark on the character of Figueres. It is situated in the old municipal theatre, and has become one of the main cultural places to see in the city.
Designed by Dali, himself, it holds an important exhibition, which, through numerous works, allows you to take a trip through his life and artistic career – the man considered a master of Surrealism. The site was extended with the Torre Galatea, where the artistic genius died.
Another two museums complete Figueres’ wide cultural offer: the Catalan Toy Museum, which exhibits an interesting collection of toys from different periods and the Empordà Museum, where you can penetrate the history and art of the county.
All this will contribute to uncovering a town with a deep Catalan nature, as demonstrated by its being the home of the sardana, the typical Catalan dance.
The excellent location of Figueres enables you to make interesting trips throughout the county.
On the coast are picturesque places like Colera, a seaside village which has beautiful beaches like Garvet and Els Morts; Llançà, with a lively marina; Cadaqués, home of the Salvador Dalí House-Museum, and Port de la Selva, where the Romanesque monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes is located.
To the south of Cap de Creus is Roses, which preserves remains of the ancient Greek colony of Rhode, and Castelló d’Empuries, where the church of Santa María (10th C.) is outstanding.
This part of the Costa Brava has large protected areas. In the Gulf of Roses is the Aiguamolls de l’Empordà Natural Park, an important ecological reserve and refuge for water birds. For its part, the Cap de Creus Natural Park is an excellent place from a natural point of view and a clear example of the appearance of the Costa Brava.
The cuisine of Figueres combines raw materials from the sea and the mountains. From the nearby coast come fish, which are served boiled, baked, grilled or in sauce. Other recipes, like chicken or rabbit with spiny lobster and beef with vegetables, wild mushrooms or fruits, are also typical. To accompany these, you can choose any of the excellent wines and cavas labelled under the Ampurdán-Costa Brava Denomination of Origin.
Cadaques and Casa Dali
It was cactus hot when we reached Cadaques, after an incredible winding drive up an over the craggy hillside of multi-coloured rocks and olives growing out of the burnt earth. This was certainly Dali’s country. You could feel the presence of the man. Memories of his desolate and paranoic-surrealistic landscapes flooded into my brain. I was in Dali’s realm, at last!
At the head of Cadaqués bay rises the network of narrow cobbled streets and white houses making up the old town.
Above the outline of the town, the image of the church of Santa María, a carefully restored church with a white façade, stands out, housing a magnificent Baroque style reredos. Modernist architecture, for its part, has left its distinctive imprint on some of the most notable buildings in the town, like the Casa Serinyena.
During the first decades of the 20th century, the town became an important European cultural centre. Many leading artists, like Picasso, Chagall and Klein, found their particular source of inspiration in this beautiful corner of the province of Gerona.
However, it was Salvador Dalí who gave Cadaqués international fame. The artistic genius spent long periods here during his childhood as well as establishing his home there.
His house-musuem, beside Port Lligat bay, to the north of the town, enables you to get to know part of the extensive work of this master of Surrealism.
The wide cultural offerance of Cadaqués ranges from its many museums and art galleries, like the Municipal Art Museum, which exhibits works by artists who maintained close links with Cadaqués, or the Perrot-Moore Museum, which brings together works of European graphic art, without forgetting the now traditional International Music Festival, which is held annually in the church of Santa María.
There is no doubt that in the very early days of Dali’s life the little fishing village of Cadaques was incredibly remote (it still is, in some sense) and a very small, traditional, isolated place. Dali and his wife Gala lived here together for over 50 years. Now it is still white buildings and pleasant, despite more tourism.
Their house, made up of a series fishing huts, renovated and converted over a number of years, is also surprisingly very simple, but stunning, and although there is a typical Daliesque quirkiness to the place it also has a very homely ‘feel’, and a woman’s ‘touch’ is ever-present.
There is plenty to feast the eyes, and a permeating playfulness which is pure Dali in most of the rooms. The gardens and swimming pool areas have a definite surrealistic personality, and Dali’s presence can really be felt everywhere.
It is a wonderful place, and reflects their long marital relationship – Dali and his muse, Gala. It was a privilege to enter their personal domain, and, to be fair, somewhat of an intrusion. But I loved it all ! Particularly his studio with his multitude of objects, artist’s paraphernalia, paint brushes, and where one of his last unfinished paintings still sits on his easel. His chair in position, as he always preferred painting sitting down. A poignant reminder of his ongoing creativity, but also his, and our own, mortality.
Probably not suited to everyone, but I certainly recommend a visit. The whole area has a wholesomeness about it, and, of course, if you are into Dali you are definitely enjoying and experiencing his own beloved landscape, rocks, sea, and Spanish traditionalism.