Port Lligat on Spain’s Costa Brava, is a niche in the rock wall coast line of the Mediterranean Sea, just around the bend from Cadaques. This tiny fishing village is where surrealist artist Salvador Dali lived and painted for most of his adult life.
We ended up here more or less by accident, since we had booked no hotels in advance between our visit to the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres and our last three nights in Barcelona before returning to San Francisco. Our only plan was to rent a car and go.
This was both wonderful and a mistake. Wonderful because our path took us to Cadaques and Port Lligat, two glorious, sun bathed Mediterranean villages hugging two coastline coves. The mistake was, without planning, we hadn’t bought advanced tickets for the Dali house admission, so we didn’t get in.
No matter! The gardens and views are amazing and there are plenty of surreal sculpture installations to capture the imagination, including a baby grand piano spilling its guts.
The house is perched on a rock hill overlooking the sea. It is studded with olive trees, outbuildings, patios and flowers planted in teacup pots. Videos give visitors a complete art history into Dali and his wife Gala’s life here, along with all the idiosyncracies of his controversial life, politics and religious views.
In front of the swimming pool, designed a la a surrealist’s view of the Alhambra palace complete with lion fountains, a Pirelli tire sculpture frames the famous Mae West lips sofa. All visitors take their turn posing on the sofa for a photo.
Dali and his wife Gala bought the small fisherman’s cottage in Port Lligat from his childhood nursemaid. He developed and expanded it over the years, and it became the place he retreated to. The rock outcroppings of place take on surrealistic forms in his paintings.
Lips are a Dali icon. In the 60’s he made ruby studded gold lips worn as a pin. If you want, you can buy a glass knock-off in any of the affiliated museum shops along with moustache adorned t-shirts and Dali-designed perfume bottles. The man was definitely an entrepreneur who capitalized on his reputation and his talent.
The surrealists discredited him. Leftists disowned him. Priests embraced him. Socialites basked in his aura. Hollywood gave him entrée. He appeared on the cover of Time Magazine at age 32. Sigmund Freud was his hero.
Art critics weigh in about his apolitical position of the Spanish Civil War. Some say everything he did was sexually and psychologically motivated. Others say he was an exploiter and showman. He was said to have applauded Franco’s assassination of his good friend, poet Federico Garcia Lorca as a surreal moment of life.
Whatever you think of Salvador Dali, his work is astounding and a visit to his birth place of Figueres and the Dali Theatre Museum is a must if you go to Barcelona. It’s only an hour north by AVE fast train going 200 km/hour.
We hadn’t planned on going to the beach because we are no longer sun worshippers. But, we needed a respite from visiting so many cities (Barcelona, Bilbao, Granada, Girona, Figueres) and historical/architectural points of interest.
Cadeques turned out to be the perfect place to settle for three nights. I would recommend longer. Five days wouldn’t be too long! More on Cadaques to come. Everything about being in a white-washed Mediterranean village is true. In Spain, it’s even more true because of the food and the people, to say nothing of the leisurely strolling and shopping.
It’s a dog’s life, too. Not just for Salvador Dali.
And to know and feel the Mediterranean, I took off my shoes and put my feet in the beautiful, clean, clear water and walked the curve of the shoreline.
A Glimpse of Dali’s Jewelry: Surreal Glitz and Glam in Figueres, Spain
As you may have guessed, I’m back in the U.S.A. recovering from jet lag in my sister’s NoCal home, though missing my morning cup of Spanish espresso. Fuerte. Muy fuerte. My body is still in the state of “Does anyone know what time it is?”
We love those ruby red lips to wear. Would you?
Memories of Spain are swirling in my brain, especially the glitz and glam of Salvador Dali’s gem encrusted jewelry creations on exhibit at the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres, a 15-minute train ride beyond Girona.
Dali’s relationship with his place of birth is powerful, deep and intense. He rescued and restored the burned out theatre across from the church where he was baptized, and where he held his first exhibition as a painter. The museum is his personal design based on his own aesthetics. It holds the representative range of all his works created during his lifetime.
The connotation of limp clocks. You guess why.
This is why you go to Figueres and then on to Cadaques-Port Lligat, to explore the persona of Salvador Dali as translated through his art and antics.
The museum brochure advises visitors to take any circuitous path through the museum if they wish — there is no chronological order to a visit. You get to create your own surreal experience, according to Dali’s non-plan.
Travel Tips, What We Did and Should Have Done
Car Rental: we rented a Europcar online in advance and picked it up at the original downtown Figueres train station knowing we wanted to drive north along the Costa Brava. Fortunately, we arrived at the old station. We didn’t realize Figueres has two train stations, one for the AVE high-speed train and the older downtown station that serves mid-distance (older) trains. So, when we wanted to return to Barcelona on the AVE, we had to return the car to the original station and then take a taxi to the high-speed station. An added expense of 17 euros. Europcar does not serve the Figueres AVE station. To get to Cadaques on public transport is difficult.
Sleeping: we booked and pre-paid for a charming bed and breakfast country inn online in advance using Booking.com. We thought, oh, great, a countryside experience. The inn is about 15 minutes beyond Figueres in a small rural village with one pub/eating place. We arrived early evening with the intention to spend two nights, but the inn was located on the curve of a main side road with constant traffic, so with little sleep we decided to leave the next morning, visit the museum and head for the coast.
Visiting Dali Theatre-Museum: If you arrive early, parking is plentiful in the adjacent garage. We didn’t need tickets in advance here but you might depending on season and time of day. The main entry is opposite the church on the square. Don’t miss the jewelry exhibit. It’s easy to miss since the metal door is obscure and is through a separate entrance. Your museum ticket includes admission to this part, too.
Dali’s wife and muse, Gala, appears in many of his paintings. In this one, above left, is she fragmented or defined as floating eggs? Eggs as Dalian symbolism appear everywhere.
Recommendations: In hindsight, I would stay two nights in Girona, rent a car there, drive to Figueres in the morning and go directly to the Dali Theatre-Museum, and then go on later in the afternoon to Cadaques and spend at least three to five nights there. It takes about an hour to drive from Figueres to Cadaques and road signs are good, although the road is narrow and curving. Pay attention to the roundabouts. It stays light until well past 8:30 p.m.
Salvador Dali is an enigma to me. I see and understand his creative genius. I question his non-political position in the face of two wars that destroyed his country and most of Europe. Surrealism was both an art and political movement. By eschewing politics, did he further his artistic career more than any other contemporary? More than Picasso or Joan Miro?
Many in the arts world called Dali a fortune seeker, greedy. In response, he created the Avida Dollars necklace, shown above left, as a snub to the critics. His jewelry is one more testimony to his creativity and skill to reimagine the ordinary in a spectacular way. And, what can we say about those ubiquitous eggs?
Let’s just create a Cadillac that rains on the driver and passengers each time the umbrella that floats above opens, to say nothing of the ship that floats alongside in the air. A buxom figurehead adorns the car hood, protecting all who ride.
Where is your imagination?
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Travel & Tourism
Tagged art, Cadaques, criticism, Figueres, Girona, history, museum, photographs, Salvador Dali, Spain, tips, tourism, travel