There are few artists quite as recognisable as Salvador Dalí.
In fact, it's difficult to imagine the development of art in the twentieth century without the image of the pointy-moustachioed surrealist immediately springing to mind, not to mention his oneiric paintings of elephants walking on endless, stilt-like legs, exhausted clockfaces draped over the branches of trees, and countless other wonderful, playful and often bizarre visions that have challenged, inspired, revulsed and delighted in equal measure for the best part of a century.
A trip to Dali's beloved birthplace of the Costa Brava is an opportunity to explore the works and inspirations of this singular artist, while discovering the intimate world he inhabited with his adored wife Gala. Together, the couple spent the majority of their lives in the northern Spanish region, creating their own surreal world on the coast of Cadaqués into which they invited their friends and acquaintances to come and revel.
Three sites in particular draw visitors eager to learn more about this most fascinating of artists, together known as 'the Dalí Triangle': the Salvador Dalí House-Museum in Portlligat, where he and Gala lived for much of their lives, the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, his hometown and resting place, and the Gala Dalí Castle House-Museum in Púbo, the almost 1000-year old chateau that Dalí gifted his wife and in which she is buried.
Each of these fascinating and fanciful places both offer a glimpse into the personal life and inner workings of this icon of the twentieth century and invite us to discover the natural beauty of northern Catalonia, a land whose beautiful, semi-secluded beaches, luxuriant vegetation, idyllic medieval towns and impressive rolling hills are at times as jaw-dropping as anything created by Dalí himself.
Let's take a closer look.
Nestled in a small picturesque bay in the gorgeous peninsula of Cadaqués, we find the house that Dali co-designed, leaving an indelible imprint, and in which Dalí and Gala summered during their happiest years.
Originally purchased in 1930, Dali combined a string of fisherman's huts to form this labyrinthine house and garden, embellishing it with quirks and outright oddities (there are a lot of eggs...), as well as his studio, cosy corners and social spaces perfect for receiving and entertaining guests and enjoying their famously lively social lives.
Today, it is a museum, open to the public, who can venture in and out of its portal-like doorways and into its curiously shaped rooms and admire a number of Dalí's works as well as countless pictures of the events held at the house. Some of the highlights include the huge stuffed polar bear that greets you at the entrance (acting as an umbrella/walking cane stand, lamp-bearer - no pun intended - and general talking point), the kitsch Pirelli logo-adorned outdoor seating area (complete with shiny lips-shaped sofa), and the oval-domed room where Gala would receive and gather guests around the hearth and whose unique acoustic qualities create something of an echo chamber. Outside, alongside the scattering of large sculptures of eggs and other structures, you can find a suitably surreal dovecote, and the sculpture of "El Cristo de los Escombros" a depiction of Jesus made using debris washed up and left after a storm.
What's most interesting about the house is that although there are unusual, eye-catching elements, what really strikes you as you tread these fabled floors and sculpted staircases is a true sense of what it must have been like to live there. The intimate library and reading space, the more austere decor of the studio and the simple beauty of the view of the bay suggest a happy, creative homelife beyond the more showy elements.
For anyone with an interest in art or a taste for the surreal, it is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Costa Brava. We advise booking tickets in advance, especially in summer, as this is a popular destination.
When the mayor of Figueres, a gorgeous Catalan town in the province of Girona and the birthplace of Dalí, approached the great artist and asked him to donate a work to the town's museum, Dalí saw it as an opportunity to go a little further...
The result is a suitably bonkers theatre-museum, dedicated to the surrealist's life and works. Opened in 1974 on the site of the old theatre where he had held his first exhibition, the unmistakeable whimsy and humour of Dalí is central to the design and content of the theatre-museum, from the egg-adorned tower and ramparts that make up its colourful exterior to the boat teetering on a tall column of tyres and an exhibition inside a Black Cadillac that occupies the central courtyard. At every turn. 3-D collages, paintings, jewellery and photos of and by Dalí jump out at you, creating a visual cacophony of surrealism and wonder that has to be seen in person to be believed.
Alongside Dali´s works you can find those of some of his favourite artists, including Marcel Duchamp and El Greco, while a whole floor has been dedicated to the works of his friend and fellow surrealist, Antoni Pitxot i Soler.
Perhaps the biggest highlights, however, are the Mae West Room and the huge transparent dome that has become the museum's most iconic feature, despite some heavy competition! The former, a physical recreation in the form of a room of his famous portrait of the actress into which visitors can step and walk around, exploring the lip-shaped sofa and other facial-features-cum-furniture, is a splendidly Dalinian treat. The latter, designed by the architect Emilio Perez, sits atop the roof of the building and can be seen for miles around.
Dalí actually lived out the final years of his life in the 'torre Galatea' of the theatre museum and was buried in the crypt under the stage, as per his wishes. Visitors can visit his tomb and pay their respects.
Figueres can be reached as a day trip from Barcelona or Girona, while an exploration of the surrounding countryside will present you with the green heart of this beautiful region.
The final stop on the Dali Triangle is perhaps the least essential for the curious fan but absolutely worth visiting for those with a passionate interest in the artist and his life. The Gala Dalí Castle House-Museum is the 14th century castle (more of a chateau, really) that the artist presented to his beloved wife, Gala, and where they shared their lives for much of the 70s and 80s.
After the wild eccentricities of the Theatre Museum and their former home in Portlligat, the Gala Dalí House Museum may seem almost austere by comparison. While this is not an adjective one would associate with Dalí, it is also not accurate when compared to other chateaus or museums, elsewhere,
During the 80s, the chateau housed Salvador Dali´s atelier, although, amusingly, he had to submit written permission to Gala in order to enter the grounds. The house does feature some interesting details, including a beautifully painted ceiling, interesting furniture and a number of statues to discover in the garden, including a small group of the famous long-limbed elephants. Other notable features include the floor dedicated to Gala's clothes and personal objects, and the dark crypt where Gala is laid to rest.
This is the woman who Dalí once described as "the good fairy of my equilibrium, who banished the salamanders of my doubts and strengthened the lions of certainties".
Not as immediately engaging as the other two sites, the Castle House Museum benefits hugely from the accompaniment of a guide to explain the stories behind many elements present, through which the building truly comes alive. Day tours are straightforward enough from Barcelona or Girona.
Since the couple lived so much of their lives in the Costa Brava (there was a period of exile in the United States during the Spanish Civil War and the first years of Franco), there are other less famous traces of the couple dotted around the celebrated region. From the stunning Cap de Creus and other areas close to Cadaqués and the Spanish Pyrenees, which inspired the scenery of many of his paintings, to the Peralada castle and winery, a favourite of Dalí's, as well as other eccentricities, such as the slant-doored Barraca d'en Dalí, a hut built by his friend Alberto Puig Palau intended to be employed as a studio, which can be found a short 10-minute walk from the unspoiled sands of the Platja de Castell, near Palamos.
These little reminders are dotted throughout the impressive Costa Brava and lush rural interior of Catalonia, and offer regular reminders (as if they were needed) of a man, and indeed a couple, whose visionary ideas and creations were both inspired by and inspirational to this celebrated region.