On the Dali Trail

The top right hand part of Spain, close to the border with France (the Alt Emporadà), is famous for several things, chief among them being it was the stamping ground for Salvador Dali. I have never been much of a Dali fan, but following in his footsteps seemed as good a theme for planning a visit as any other. So, off to Figueres and Cadaques we went (we will complete the Dali triangle later in the week with a visit to Pubol). 

Figueres is a 45 minute train ride from Girona, so the 9 o’clock train got us there in plenty of time to deposit our luggage at the hotel (Hotel Duran), have a coffee in the square and still be in plenty of time for our 11.00 am entry into the Dali Theatre-Museum (if you are planning to visit you should book before hand – visits are staggered, and you are expected to turn up at your appointed time or risk forfeiting your entry).

The Museum is a highly distinctive building. The tower part of the building is all that remains of a 16th century fort, which Dali christened Torre Galatea in honour of his wife, Gala. He was responsible for both the exterior and interior decor. The eggs on top of the building are a symbol of future life whilst the facsimiles of small bread rolls adorning the walls symbolise nutrition. The Museum contains the most extensive range of Dali’s works held anywhere in the world. After seeing his work it seems a pity that for many (including moi) his name is synonymous with melting clocks and drooping drawers, as he is so much more than this.

The central courtyard confronts the visitor upon entering, and it alone is worth the price of entry:

But, it was his jewellery designs that particularly captivated me – they were just beautiful:

We spent a couple of hours in the Museum, shuffling along with the rest of the crowds – turns out this was a holiday weekend as Sunday was Whitsunday and Monday was therefore Whit Monday (the second Easter as our hostess at the Cadaques hotel explained to us). As a result, both the Dali Museum and Cadaques the next day were teaming with tourists, mainly French speaking.

We escaped the tourist crowds, many of whom obviously just come to the Museum and then out again, and ended up in the main square which was also teaming with people, but this time with locals. A number of bands were playing and young and old Figuerians were there (many with their fold up chairs) dancing away to the music – a dance that looked like circular line dancing.

Walking around town we also admired a couple of art nouveau buildings:

before heading up the hill to visit the Sant Ferran castle that sprawls atop a hill not far from the Dali Museum. The castle dates back to the mid 1700s, and was built to defend this part of Spain from France. It is absolutely massive, covering some 32 hectacres and built in the shape of a star. It was capable of housing 6,000 troops. I must admit to tagging along with the boys purely because I felt I needed the exercise rather than any desire to see the Fort/Castle but I found it quite beautiful. The Figueres tourist board needs to visit Port Arthur as they could make this into an amazing tourist attraction as it is currently sadly overlooked by visitors to the town.

Having ticked off the sights we returned to the hotel to rest and recuperate before dining in the hotel’s ornate restaurant (one of Dali’s haunts):

I had initially learnt about Cadaques from the glorious photos of a food and travel photographer called Dave Hagerman (check him out on Instagram @davehagerman). He had visited Cadaques and photographed the town and numerous sea urchin meals, which is apparently a famed local dish in the region. So, when I spied asparagus with smoked salmon and a sea urchin foam on the menu I knew I had to have it – and it was yummy:

I continued on my adventurous food way and followed this up with rabbit and spicy snails! Also very tasty, although a few too many snails for me. I think the waiter was very impressed with my ordering, and joked that I could use the snail getting out implement on Pete, if required.

So, all in all our 24 hours in Figueres was very successful. Next morning found us at the bus stop, ready to catch the 10.00am bus to Cadaques. The bus trip is a bit of a milk run, stopping at various places before tackling the windy road across the hills into Cadaques. After an hour on the hot and stuffy bus, on windy roads, we were grateful to be disgorged into the sunny streets of Cadaques – which was absolutely heaving with tourists. We thought if this is what it is like in May it must be complete bedlam in summer, so were reassured when the lady at the hotel told us it was a holiday Monday, and it was as busy today as in the height of the season. 

Cadaques is stunning – a small, white washed village hugging the coastline. I imagine it is a bit like many Greek villages, but with less blue trim. 

We spent a very happy afternoon wandering the streets with all the other (mainly French and Spanish) tourists in the bright sunshine. 

We briefly visited the church, which sits next to our hotel (the chiming of the bell wakes us in the morning, and mercifully ceases at midnight):

The lanes are narrow and cobblestoned or paved, and every home seems to own a cat. The cats freely wander the streets and can be found sunning themselves in every nook and cranny:

Another quaint feature of the town is the painted doors of the service boxes (electricity? Water?) outside many of the houses:

Our home for the two nights is Hostal Vehi, run by a very friendly local family:

On booking.com our room was described as having city views. I guess that was true!

Certainly the Hostal is very comfortable and bright and sparkling clean, having undergone a recent refurbishment I suspect. Part of the refurb was obviously state of the art toilets that incorporate an electronic bidet. We were too frightened to touch anything in case we ended up with an unintended squirt up the derrière:

That evening we enjoyed a delicious Catalan seafood stew called Zarzuela at a bustling but very friendly little seafood restaurant, La Sirena, and toddled happily off to bed after admiring the night lights of the village:

I must admit to exaggerating a tiny bit when I entitled this entry on the Dali trail , as in reality we were coming to Cadaques regardless of the Dali link – it just so happened that there is another Dali ‘museum’ in Cadaques, or actually at Portlligat, which is alongside Cadaques. This museum is in fact Dali’s house, where he lived and worked from 1930 until 1982 (he moved to Pubol Castle for the last few years of his life after the death of his wife Gala). And, I also have to admit that we only saw the house from the outside as it was completely booked out on Monday, and on Tuesday we wanted to hike to Cap de Creus and only limited times were available so we missed our opportunity – next visit!

The Cap de Creus hike was a 16km round trip, along a well sign posted and popular pathway through olive groves and gorse bushes. Throughout the hills are dry stone terracing and a large number of small stone huts and stone mounds, which we assume were for shepards to shelter in, or maybe something to do with olive storage. The pathway often afforded us views into small bays and across the Mediterranean Sea.

Out of nowhere a shaggy dog appeared on the track and was clearly intent on guiding us towards the Cap as he would go ahead then turn back to look for us and not continue until we came into his sight. He led us all the way up to the top, and then disappeared. We thought he might get commission for leading people to the restaurant!

It certainly worked in our case as after admiring the 360 degree views we decamped to the restaurant and enjoyed lunch on the terrace – sitting in the sun and admiring the view.

The walk back was in blazing sunshine so we were grateful to finally get back to Cadaques for a shower and rest, before yet another evening meal. My original choice of Can Tito came to nothing as it was closed, so we moved on to Casa Nun which had been recommended in various sources. We were hardly greeted with open arms, and by the harried looks on the two waiting staff (one of whom I think was the English, or American, owner) and the way the dishes were slapped on the table we felt something may be amiss tonight. The food was okay – my fish soup starter was terrific but the grilled rabbit was dry and unexciting. But, the house Rioja that was part of the set menu was delicious, and for 22euro (including bread and a dessert) pretty good value in this tourist town – and, I loved the tiles on the wall, which the owner told me were original.

This morning we had to drag ourselves away from this charming seaside village and return to Girona, but I certainly hope we return one day to spend longer just chilling out. 

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