Discovering Salvador Dali’s homeland

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Dali's home in Portligat

Dali’s home in Portlligat

Catalonia in the most northern part of Spain, on the border with France, was the home of the Surrealist artist, Salvador Dali. Whether you love his work or not he is considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century. Anyone interested in art should not miss out on a visit to Figueres to see his amazing museum. I arranged my trip to take in the Salvador Dali triangle which includes not only the museum, but also Púbol Castle, Dali’s gift to his wife Gala; and his own home at Portlligat, Cadaqués.

To get a real insight into Dali and his work the theatre-museum in the centre of Figueres, the town where he was born must be the first of the three to visit. Dali spent over ten years creating it to show off his creations. I don’t think I have ever seen a building quite like it, the exterior of what used to be an old theatre, is painted shocking pink. Inside are over 1,500 pieces, paintings, sculptures and monumental installations from the many artistic periods of his life. I have to say that prior to my visit I was not a devotee. Certainly, not all his works are to my liking, but I have become an admirer. Of particular fascination is the painting of the back of his wife, Gala which when you come closer, is a painting of Abraham Lincoln. The museum is made up of three spaces – the theatre–museum which has been converted into a large open exhibition space; additional rooms filled with his work, and another space devoted to the jewels he designed. Having orchestrated such an unusual place to showcase his works, it is only fitting that he is buried here although sadly alone and not with his beloved wife, Gala.

Gala and Lincoln

Gala and Lincoln

On the coast and seemingly not far from Figueres is Dali’s home at Portlligat, one of the bays of Cadaqués. The literature I read about the place didn’t highlight the route but I have to say, if you are planning to drive, that the road is steep, windy, and goes up and down a mountain. I am sure the views are wonderful but to be honest I was so petrified I didn’t, or rather couldn’t look.

At Portlligat, Dali bought a row of fishermen’s houses and converted them into one dwelling incorporating his studio. The rooms remain very much as they were when  Dali lived there. On numerous levels and quite small, except for the bedroom, each one has its own bizarre character. On entering, there is a large stuffed bear to greet you, and on a higher level Dali’s bed is positioned with the reflection of a mirror to look out through a picture window onto the Mediterranean sea.  You are only permitted ten minutes in each room, and only a few people, eight to nine are allowed in at a time. Out of season, there are queues so it is essential to book in advance. The bay was filled with fishing boats but apart from homes, and a couple of hotels there is very little else there to see. Worth noting that after our harrowing drive, we sadly couldn’t even find anywhere to buy a cup of coffee. There was a shop there but although open when we arrived, there wasn’t anyone around to serve us.

Fortunately Cadaqués, a charming fishing town is nearby and with lots of steep winding, narrow streets, is an ideal place for an overnight stop. I would have loved to have stayed and found out more about the area, but sadly our time was limited. However, sometimes in your travels, you come across something that makes a trip really special. While exploring, we came across a lady feeding numerous cats. She told us that she and a fellow colleague have established a cat refuge near the church of Santa Maria, setting up a programme to neuter as many as possible. It was really lovely to see the cats queuing up for their food. What was extra special was that they all had been given names.swimming pool at Dali's home, Portlligat

The third part of our tour took us to Púbol Castle, which dates back to the eleventh century, and was a gift from Dali to his wife. Although Dali refurbished and decorated it, with his paintings hanging everywhere, it is obvious that Gala had a say in the design. On her dressing table is the black Chanel bow that is often seen in portraits that he painted of her. On the upper floor, on view is a collection of her haute couture gowns. Music by Wagner is played as visitors walk around.

The couple had an unusual marriage. She entertained her lovers, and legend has it that he was refused access without her written permission. She is buried in the crypt, and on her death in 1982 he came to live here, so that he could be near her. Outside, in the garage, stands their Cadillac. In the garden, which is quiet small for a Castle, Dali designed a Wagnerian fountain, as well as the most amazing wire sculptures of elephants. Here too, when visiting, it is essential to book.

the garden at Pubol Castle

the garden at Pubol Castle

Apart from the odd tourist shops, there isn’t very much nearby. However, we found a local restaurant Can Bosch, which much to our delight, was filled with locals which is always a good sign as we must have been the only tourists. The Spanish have their main meal at lunchtime, and the three-course meal of the day with a glass of wine was just €11. Most of the occupants were eating a rather filling looking dish of diced meat mixed with rice. We tried a less substantial local speciality, slices of white toasted bread spread with fresh tomatoes made into a puree with garlic and olive oil.

We hired a car for this trip, flying into Girona. It would be equally possible to include this itinerary as an add-on when visiting Barcelona.

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