Most fans of Salvador Dalí are familiar with the fact that the surrealist artist was born in the Costa Brava region of Catalonia Spain, but not everyone knows that this region is the best place to experience the inspirational world of Dalí. The Costa Brava region of Catalonia is situated in the northeast corner of Spain and is best known for its sunny beaches, all-inclusive resorts, rugged landscapes, hiking and biking trails, fine dining, and for being the birthplace of Salvador Dalí. It is in this area of Spain that Dalí drew inspiration for many of his surrealist works and it is here that fans of his work can best get a sense of the artist’s life and actually visit the places that inspired him. The three most famous places which form the so-called Dalian Triangle are the much-visited Dalí Theatre-Museum in Dalí’s hometown of Figueres, his adulthood home in Portlligat, and his wife Gala’s sanctuary at Púbol Castle. However, visitors can also delve deeper beyond the Dalian Triangle to visit the fortress in which he served his military duty, see a few of the castles he admired, taste wine at one of his favorite wineries, eat at restaurants he once ate, visit a museum that contains some of his childhood toys, enjoy the beauty of his favorite summer town, and hike in his favorite natural park where he drew inspiration for his art. Not only can visitors find a persistence of Dalí’s memory in these places, but such an itinerary can help visitors discover more off-beat places to round out their Costa Brava holiday.
10 Places to Experience the Inspirational World of Salvador Dalí in Costa Brava
Below is a list of 10 places that we recommend for Salvador Dalí fans based on our visits to Costa Brava, although you are likely to find traces of Dalí throughout this area that he loved so much. The most comprehensive website pertaining to the Dalian Triangle sites is the Gala Salvador Dalí Foundation, which manages all three of the properties as well as cultural and research related activities concerning the artist. To find out more information about any of mentioned attractions and to plan a trip to this area, check out the very helpful Costa Brava Girona tourism board website to get started. All of the places mentioned in this article are within the Province of Girona (one of the four provinces of Catalonia within Spain) and are within reach of Barcelona. For those exploring other parts of Catalonia, check out the information-packed official Cataluyna tourism website. The Spain tourism website is a good starting point for those traveling throughout Spain, and don’t miss the Museo Reina Sofia, which has a great collection of Dalí works, if you are in Madrid.
Salvador Dalí in Figueres
Figueres is a city that is almost synonymous with Salvador Dalí when it comes to tourism. It is the city where the artist was born in May 1904, it is the city he built his infamous surrealist art museum and theater, and it is the city in which he died in 1989. The main highlight is of course the Dalí Theatre and Museum which is a project that was undertaken by the city of Figueres and Dalí himself to display the artist’s works and contains works from both his personal collection as well as artwork built specifically to be housed in the museum. The location of the museum is special as it was the site of the former municipal theater where Dalí’s artwork was displayed for the public for one of the first times in 1919, and it is also the final resting place for the artist who is buried in a crypt below the stage of his theater. Dalí actually lived the final years of his life at Torre Galatea (tower topped with eggs in the annex of the museum building). The museum contains the single largest collection of Dalí’s work with artwork spanning all periods of his life, including the famous Mae West furniture installation. Navigating the museum itself is a bit of a surrealist experience which is as the artist intended. Dalí said about the theatre that: “I want my Museum to be like a single unit, a maze, a great surrealistic object. It will be an absolutely theatrical museum. People who come to see it will emerge with a feeling of having had a theatrical dream”. You might want to buy a book from the museum to get a better sense of the art and design of the museum as there are not a lot of posted explanations, although there is now a recommended visitor route to help direct one’s visit (Dalí probably would not have approved but we found it helpful). Reservations are not normally necessary to visit the museum, but try to visit early in the day and avoid weekends, as this museum can be very crowded. Don’t miss the Dalí Jewels exhibition (a separate entrance but included with the Dalí Theatre and Museum ticket) that has a great collection of jewelry designed by Dalí and many of the pieces are quite stunning.
In addition to the must-see Dalí Theatre and Museum, there are a number of other Dalí related locations you can visit that are located within walking distance of the museum. You can see the exterior of the house in which Dalí’s family lived at the time of his birth located at no. 20 Carrer de Monturiol (there is a small plaque outside); there are plans to open the home to the public in the future. You can also visit the Church of Sant Pere (large church near the museum) where Dalí was baptized, attended masses and celebrated his first communion. It would also be Sant Pere that would later hold his funeral services. If you like toys, I’d recommend the Museu del Joguet de Catalunya, or Toy Museum of Catalonia (1 Carrer de Sant Pere), which houses a large collection of toys in a former mansion and includes a few items from Dalí’s childhood, including a family photo album and a teddy bear. You can eat at Cafeteria Astoria (15 Rambla, recent reviews on Tripadvisor are not very positive however) which was frequented by the artist and you can also eat and/or stay the night at the Duran Hotel & Restaurant (no. 5 Carrer de Lasauca) which was a popular Dalí hangout and place to stay on trips back to his home town. These are some of the most popular places, but given that Dalí spent over 80 years living and visiting this city you’ll likely find traces of the artist all over the place.
Salvador Dalí at Sant Ferran Castle
Sant Ferran Castle is actually also located in the city of Figueres, but it sits on a hill outside the city center. The large military fortress was built in the 18th century and was actually used until the 1990’s. It is the largest monument of Catalonia and the largest bastion fortress in Europe. It was here that Salvador Dalí completed his military service in 1927. It was hard for me to imagine Dalí serving military duty in a uniform! Today visitors can walk around the massive fortress; the sheer size is quite impressive as it was built to hold up to 6,000 troops and 500 horses! I would highly recommend the awesome adventure tour at Sant Ferran Castle that includes a guided jeep ride, exploration of the tunnel system, and a unique raft experience in the giant underground cistern system. You are then able to do the regular self-guided walking tour of the rest of the fortress. Reservations are not necessary for a self-guided walking tour but if you wanted a guided tour or to do the full underground water experience, you will need to make reservation in advance. You can make reservations by contacting the fortress or via Les Fortaleses Catalanes which operates the tours. The castle is a 10-minute drive or a 15 to 20 minute walk from the Dalí Theatre and Museum.
Salvador Dalí in Cadaqués
Cadaqués has a reputation for being one of the most painted villages in the world given the number of artists who have depicted it in their work. This once isolated sleepy fishing village attracted a number of artists and writers such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Marcel Duchamp for its whitewashed buildings, vivid colors, and rugged beauty. Salvador Dalí often spent summers here with his family and it was on a summer holiday in 1916 that he met Catalan painter Ramon Pichot, which is considered a pivotal moment in Dalí’s artistic career. Cadaqués was one of the artist’s favorite places in the world and it would be here that he would spend quality time with his family and with many of the people who were influential in his career. In 1929, Dalí met his muse and later wife, Gala, in Cadaqués. It is not surprising that the couple would later choose to make their home in the nearby village of Portlligat. Today, Cadaqués is a popular summertime destination for both Spanish and international tourists from around the world. Visitors can still see many of the same sights as Dalí such as the cobbled streets of the Old Town, the large Church of Santa Maria (beautiful altar, interesting history, and great views from the terrace in front), the Cala Nans Lighthouse (can hike to the lighthouse), and the bay with its beaches and bobbing fishing boats. Dalí also liked to climb the hill behind the town, Mount Pani, and sketch and paint the city from this viewpoint. The Cadaqués Museum (15 Calle Narcís Monturiol) has an exhibition dedicated to Salvador Dalí and is worth a stop. You can still see the exterior of the Dalí family holiday home, where his sister Anna Maria lived until 1989, near the Llané Beach although it is not open to the public. Those familiar with Dalí’s work, will recognize many places, especially along the waterfront, he painted during this time in Cadaqués and you might want to bring along your own sketchbook! Along the waterfront, be sure to check out the Salvador Dalí bronze statue by Ros Sabaté. To get a view from the sea, we recommend a boat ride or kayak trip (there are several options); we personally did a cruise from Roses with Don Poncho Cruises. For eats, you can try former Dalí haunts and have Mediterranean food at Casa Anita (16 Miquel Rosset), tapas at L’Hostal (8 Passeig), or Lebanese food at El Barocco (2 Carrer des Pla d’en Retalla) which uses a logo designed by Dalí. You might also consider Bar Casino (located at the Cadaqués Friendship Society, 1 Plaza Doctor Trèmols) for coffee or Café de la Habana (2 Carrer del Doctor Bartomeus) for drinks and entertainment. If you want to feast like Dalí while in Costa Brava, the El Barocco website notes that artist’s favorite foods here (before it was a Lebanese restaurant obviously) were steamed mussels, Catalan shoulder of lamb, grilled lobster with garlic, Empordà grapes, Empordà muscat wine, and Vichy Catalan mineral water.
Salvador Dalí in Portlligat
Portlligat, or Port Lligat, is a small village near Cadaqués located in a small bay on the Cap de Creus peninsula. In 1930, Dalí would purchase a home here and establish his only real permanent place of residence which he would regularly live in until 1982. Dalí met Gala (real name: Elena Ivanovna Diakonova) in 1929, and it is probably this new relationship and his family’s disapproval of his partnership with the older married woman that led him to buy a home of his own. He loved Portlligat because of its isolation and scenery and both the bay and the island here are depicted in several of Dalí’s paintings such as The Madonna of Port Lligat. The initial home was simply a small fisherman’s hut in a bad state of repair, but over the years Dalí and Gala would fix up the hut and expand it by adding additional huts and annexes until it became the labyrinthine structure that can still be visited today. It was here that Dalí and Gala lived much of their private lives and the place where Dalí regularly worked. The house itself does not contain much artwork by Dalí, but it contains many of the original furnishings and belongings of the artist and his wife, and is probably the best place to get a sense of how Dalí actually lived with its stuffed polar bear, phallic swimming pool, cricket cage, oval room with strange acoustics, and his studio. The gardens and pool area are definitely worth exploring once your get outside. The house with the giant eggs perched on top can be viewed from the exterior, but to visit the interior of the Salvador Dalí House-Museum in Portlligat, you’ll want to make a reservation (by phone or online) as the number of visitors is restricted each day and tickets regularly sell out in advance. Before or after your visit, you can stop at a small building across from the ticket office to watch a film about Dalí’s life that rotates in different languages at regular intervals. In front of the house, you may see a yellow old fishing boat named Gala which was Dalí’s boat; a company called Barca de Gala (telephone: +34 617 465 757) offers boat rides on this boat around the Cap de Creus which can be a special way to explore the shoreline for Dalí fans.
Salvador Dalí in Cap de Creus Natural Park
The Cap de Creus is a peninsula and a headland in the far northeast corner of Spain, that stretches from about Llançà to Roses and includes some very scenic natural spaces. The landscape here is notable for being rocky and barren compared to nearby areas, with rocky cliffs, hidden coves, islets, and interesting wind-eroded rock formations that made it a setting for which Dalí would draw a lot of inspiration. Dalí is said to have confessed his romantic feelings for Gala that first summer he met her on one of the cliffs along the Cap de Creus. In 1998, most of this land as well as sections of sea were designated by law as a natural park which provides general protection and forbids things like construction works, camping, and non-traditional fishing methods. You can find information, including recommended hiking routes, for the Cap de Creus Natural Park online or from the information point at Sant Pere de Rodes monastery (a must-visit site!) or the information center at the Cap de Creus Lighthouse (Far de Cap de Creus, Cadaqués). We highly recommend checking in at the lighthouse information center and then exploring the area around the lighthouse (Hiking Route #15 during our visit, the Cova de s’Infern is worth the hike down) and then hiking the Tudela trail (Hiking Route #17 during our visit) which takes you past the Cala Culip, Cala Cullero, Trudela, and Mirador de Pamperris. Along the Tudela hiking route, you’ll pass a number of coves, cliffs, and rock formations that Dalí would certainly recognize. The large rock formations were particularly inspirational for Dalí and his work. For instance, his painting The Great Masturbator (1929) is based on a rock that you can still see today along this route and even his famous Persistence of Memory (1931) includes craggy cliffs similar to those of the Cap de Creus in the right corner. Today, in front of many of the large natural rock formations, you’ll find small Corten steel panels scattered around the site that feature cutaways that highlight how some of the natural rock formations resemble animals. This tradition of identifying the anthropomorphic properities of the rocks dates back to the local fisherman who would use them as navigational tools. Later Dalí would do this and now the tradition continues with imaginative locals and tourists walking along this scenic path. If you are planning to do a lot of hiking at the Cap de Creus Natural Park, or elsewhere in Costa Brava, I highly recommend buying a copy of The Costa Brava Way book which includes the full Camí de Ronda (GR-92) hiking route as well as numerous coastal paths all the way from Blanes, Spain to Collioure, France. We did several shorter hikes here and elsewhere in the area and loved them; it is not difficult to see why Dalí and so many other artists drew inspiration from the landscapes of Costa Brava.
Salvador Dalí and Quermançó Castle
The Quermançó Castle is an 11th century castle that was once owned and occupied by the Counts in the Empúries region of Catalonia. The castle was of interest to Salvador Dalí, likely due to its remote hilltop location and being ideally situated between his hometown of Figueres and his adulthood home in Portlligat. Dalí is said to have tried to purchase this castle but the price was too high. What is most interesting about Quermançó Castle is the uses that Dalí is said to have proposed for the castle. The first is as a gift for his wife Gala to use as her own private residence. The second idea attributed to Dalí is that he wanted to put a rhinoceros in the basement of the castle for tourists to come view (the man certainly was fascinated by rhinos!). Another idea, and the most interesting, was to build a natural pipe organ within the castle so that when the strong tramuntana northern wind blew, it would “play” the instrument and make music. The castle is now privately owned and in a state of ruin. It is located about 2 km north of Vilajuïga, Spain atop a large hill. It is only accessible by foot, but the interior is closed to the public. The castle can be admired from afar along N-260.
Salvador Dalí in Peralada
Peralada is a village in Costa Brava that was once home to the Frankish Counts of Peralada, and today visitors come to see its historical convents, churches, Peralada Castle (now a popular casino), and to sample the local wines. The town is a very pleasant place to explore with all its history and medieval buildings, but it also has a Salvador Dalí connection. Dalí was a friend of Miguel Mateu, a businessman who purchased Peralada Castle and founded the Castillo Peralada winery. Dalí made several visits to the castle and even painted and gave some speeches here. It is also said that guests to Salvador Dalí’s home in Portlligat were often welcomed with a glass of Castillo Perelada Rosado cava. In honor of this relationship between the artist and Miguel Mateu, the winery has created wines in their Torre Galatea line using labels with Dalí-style typography, including the Torre Galatea Reserva 2009 and the Torre Galatea Cabernet Sauvignon. Wines can be tasted at La Botiga del Cellar near the castle and the Castillo Perelada vineyards and wineries can be visited by appointment. The Peralada Castle is very photogenic from the exterior (there are often swans in the pond next the castle), but it is a private residence that is not open to the public although a portion is open as the Casino Perelada which consists of slot machines, a table games area, and two restaurants. Access to the machine games room is free, but you will need to pay to access the table games room (access is free for those who have dinner in the restaurant). The castle grounds also contain a number of additional buildings that are open to the public as the Peralada Castle Museum and entry includes a visit to the 14th century Gothic church, Carmelite convent and cloisters, a nineteenth century library, a small wine museum, a glass and ceramics museum, and a free glass of cava either in the convent cellar or at nearby La Botiga del Cellar located across from the castle (keep your ticket). Wine has been grown in this area since the Middle Ages and a speciality of the area is the Garnatxa de l’Empordà, a naturally sweet wine produced from the Grenache grape. You can visit a number of wineries throughout the Empordà region to sample the local wines which are becoming more well-known outside the area and were favorites of Dalí. For instance, we also had a pleasant visit to nearby *lavinyeta in Mollet de Peralada. Laurence and I both enjoyed our visit to the museum and cava tasting as well as our walk around the city (stop at the Peralada Tourism Center at 6 Plaça Peixateria for a map and visitor information). If you visit, be sure to raise a glass of Empordà wine and toast Dalí!
Salvador Dalí and Castell d’Emporda
The Castell d’ Emporda is a 14th century castle that has recently been renovated and turned into a beautiful 4-star hotel and restaurant. Salvador Dalí admired this castle and tried to purchase it as a home for his wife Gala from its then owner Pedro Arpa. Similarly to Quermançó Castle, it is said that Dalí wanted to make a deal that included paying for the castle with his art, but the owner only wanted cash, so Dalí purchased the Castle of Púbol instead of this one. The Castell d’ Emporda has a great setting and a rich history and it is easy to see what might have attracted Dalí. Today, you can stay in one of the rooms at Hotel Castell d’ Emporda, have dinner at its restaurant Le Drac, or just stop by for drinks on its beautiful poolside terrace. During our visit, many people who were hiking or biking in the area stopped by for a drink and to take a look at the castle. We had drinks on the terrace around sunset; my piña colada was huge and so good! Then we had a dinner at the dragon-themed Drac Restaurant; the food, service, and atmosphere were wonderful and romantic. Laurence loves dragons and I love castles, so it was a perfect setting for us! If you visit, take a look inside the small chapel of Maria del Remei that was constructed in the 15th century adjacent to the castle if it is open. Local people still come to this chapel and marriages can still take place here. Also for war history buffs, the castle owner, Albert Diks, built Europe’s biggest scale model of the Battle of Waterloo which is on display at the castle as well as the film that was produced using the model.
Salvador Dalí in Púbol Castle
Púbol is a small town and its main landmark is Púbol Castle which dates back to the 14th century although the castle sits on the same site as an earlier 11th century castle. It is this castle that Salvador Dalí purchased and gifted to his wife Gala in 1969. He gave her the castle so that she would have a peaceful place to go and rest and a place where she could be queen of her own castle. It is said that Dalí was only allowed to visit Gala here upon receipt of a handwritten invitation from her. Following Gala’s death in 1982, Dalí was quite depressed and lived here as his health began to decline, and he was only persuaded to leave for Figueres in 1989 following a fire at the castle. Today, visitors don’t need an invitation and can visit the Gala Dalí Castle in Púbol and see where Gala spent her later years and where she currently is buried in the crypt next to the castle. Both Dalí and Gala contributed to the decoration of the castle, and the castle contains furniture and some art created by Dalí as well as temporary special exhibitions. Be sure to check out the small pool and garden outside. Reservations can be made in advance, but are only required for larger groups or if you would like to book a guided tour.
Salvador Dalí in Santuari Els Àngels
Dalí and Gala were officially married in a civil ceremony in Paris in 1934. But later in 1958 the two tied the knot again during a Catholic ceremony in Dalí’s beloved Costa Brava at the Els Àngels shrine in Sant Martí Vell. You can find Santuari Els Àngels, or the Sanctuary of the Angels, just outside the city of Girona in the Massís de Gavarres. The hermitage was started in the fifteenth century and the actual church dates back to 1718. The church is free to enter and it still serves as an active church. This sanctuary complex, as well as others in the area, have been renovated and modernized to provide lodging, dining, and event spaces. It is a popular place for avid hikers and bikers given its location at an altitude of 484 meters (1,588 feet), panoramic views, and budget-friendly prices. There are many hiking trails in the mountainous area and we saw lots of people hiking and biking up as we drove along the twisty road to the sanctuary. There are a few places along the way that you can stop for views of Girona, the Pyrenees, and other nearby areas. This is a great spot if you want to get away from things and it is also a hotspot for those interested in astronomy as it is located near the Les Gavarres Astronomic Observatory which regularly holds public activities at and near the Santuari Els Àngels.
BONUS Salvador Dalí Site: Barraca d’en Dalí (Dalí Hut)
In Palamós, you can find a small stone hut that built for Salvador Dalí to be used as an artist studio by his wealthy friend Alberto Puig Palau as a gesture of friendship. It quite unlikely that Dalí ever used the secluded studio, but there are a few photos of him standing in front of it. The stone hut was made with a nod to surrealism with a slated door. You can find the little hut (it is free to visit) by following a path into the forest for about 5 minutes from Platja de Castell, a beautiful undeveloped beach worth a visit in its own right. It is generally referred to as the Barraca d’en Dalí, or the hut or barracks of Dalí. Laurence and I did not know the hut existed during our trip so we never made it here, but we did spend some time in Palamós. In addition to the beach, we recommend visiting the fishing museum, the boat harbor, and trying some of the local seafood. Palamós is one of the last commercial fishing ports along the Costa Brava coast. Thanks to a reader for recommending this bonus Dalí site, literally hidden in the forest!
Have you visited any of these Salvador Dalí sites in Costa Brava? If not, which would be on your itinerary for a Costa Brava holiday? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts and advice, and are happy to answer any questions about our travels in the Costa Brava area of Catalonia Spain.
**Disclosure: The majority of our lodging, attraction entrances, and transportation in Costa Brava was provided by the Patronat de Turisme Costa Brava Girona as part of their Bloggers-In-Residence Program; however, we chose all the places we wanted to visit and this article contains only our own honest thoughts and opinions.**