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DISCOVER SPAIN

Following the Dalí trail around Spain’s Costa Brava

Catalonia-based travel writer Esme Fox embarks on a voyage into the mind of Salvador Dalí, visiting various locations and landmarks that the Spanish surrealist created or made his own around Spain's Costa Brava.

salvador dali trail costa brava
Are you ready for a four-day tour of Dalí's world in Spain's Costa Brava? (Photo by RAYMOND ROIG / AFP)

Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí is perhaps one of Spain’s most famous and loved 20th-century artists. He is known for his quirky images of melting clocks, elephants with long spindly legs and the portraits of his wife, Gala.

Dalí was born in the town of Figueres in 1904, which is located in northern Catalonia, approximately 50km north of the city of Girona. This is the best place to begin your Dalí tour of the region.

Figueres Day 1  

Arriving in Figueres your first stop should be the Salvador Dalí Theatre-Museum, this is where some of the artist’s most important works are held. The museum was in fact created by Dalí himself when he was still alive and was inaugurated in 1974. It’s housed in an old theatre, hence the name. Everything in it was designed by Dalí to offer visitors a real experience and draw them into his world.

It’s eye-catching even from the outside – pink in colour and studded with yellow plaster croissants, and on the walls sit golden statues and his iconic large white eggs – a symbol which you’ll see repeated on your journey.

Salvador Dalí Theatre Museum in Figueres. Photo: Julia Casado / Pixabay

The museum is filled with 1,500 pieces including his sketches, paintings and sculptures. It also houses the remains of Dalí himself, down in the crypt, where you can pay your respects to the artist.

Next door to the museum is a permanent exhibition dedicated to the exquisite jewellery Dalí designed, which shouldn’t be missed. 

Afterward, you can go and see the house where Dalí was born at number 6 on Carrer Monturiol. It’s not currently an attraction, however there are renovation works underway to turn it into a new museum about the artist’s childhood. It was due to open in 2020, but there were significant delays because of the pandemic and it is still nowhere near finished.

Spend the night at the Hotel Duran, where Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala in fact lived while they were renovating the theatre. The hotel restaurant even has a special Dalí room, filled with images of Dalí and all his friends, as well as objects belonging to the artist.

Cadaqués Days 2 and 3

After a winding and hairpin turn journey west, you’ll find yourself at one of the eastern-most points in Spain – the town of Cadaqués. One of the most attractive towns on the Costa Brava, its white-washed buildings gleam against the cerulean blue bay and pink bougainvillea decorates its tiny interior cobbled streets.

In summer in particular, this place gets very busy, so make sure you’ve booked well in advance for your accommodation.

Dalí loved this area in summer too and built his summer house in the tiny neighbouring village of Portlligat. The house is now a museum, but as it’s quite small, booking tickets several weeks or even months ahead of time is essential.

Dalí’s house in Portlligat. Photo: Esme Fox

Dalí designed the house himself, which was created from several fisherman’s cottages joined together and is topped with his iconic white eggs.

Inside, you’ll see the artist’s studio, where many of his most famous works were created, including two unfinished pieces which still sit on the easels. You can also see Dalí and Gala’s bedroom where they kept canaries to wake them up in the morning and crickets to send them off to sleep at night. There’s also an angled mirror ready to catch the sun, ensuring that Dalí was one of the first people in the whole of Spain to see the sunrise each morning.

The highlight of the visit however is the vast garden, which even features a replica of the lion fountain in Granada’s Alhambra palace as well as his famous sofa in the shape of a pair of pink lips. The views from the top part of his garden above the olive grove are so stunning that it’s no wonder Dalí was inspired by the landscapes here.

There’s a replica of Alhambra’s lion fountain in Dalí’s garden. Photo: Esme Fox

On your second day in Cadaqués, head north to Paratge de Tudela located in the Cap de Creus Natural Park. You’ll need a car or taxi to get here. Here, you can hike among the very same landscape that Dalí painted in some of his most celebrated works. Look carefully or take a tour to see the same rock formations featured in his paintings.

For dinner, book a table at El Barroco, a traditional Lebanese restaurant and one of Dalí’s favourites when he lived there. He ate there at least twice a week in summer and it’s said that whenever he had famous guests he would meet them there instead of inviting them into his home. Dalí’s face adorns the door and inside it’s just as surreal with colourful plants, quirky statues and mirrors hanging in the courtyard. And inside it’s like a museum itself, filled with glass cases of bizarre objects and old musical instruments. There are even some photos of Dalí and Gala.

Book a table at El Barroco in Cadaqués. Photo: Esme Fox

Day 4

Make your way 60km south of Cadaques to the tiny charming villages of inland Costa Brava and specifically the village of Púbol. It’s here that Dalí bought an old castle in 1969 and renovated it from 1982 to 1984 for his wife Gala to live in.

Although the castle dates back to the 12th century, Dalí modernised it and added his creative and whimsical touches. It was a kind of love letter to his wife.

Dalí said of the castle: “Everything celebrates the cult of Gala, even the round room, with its perfect echo that crowns the building as a whole and which is like a dome of this Galactic cathedral… I needed to offer Gala a case more solemnly worthy of our love. That is why I gave her a mansion built on the remains of a 12th-century castle: the old castle of Púbol in La Bisbal, where she would reign like an absolute sovereign, right up to the point that I could visit her only by hand-written invitation from her. I limited myself to the pleasure of decorating her ceilings so that when she raised her eyes, she would always find me in her sky”.

Visit Gala’s castle in Púbol. Photo: Enric / WikiCommons

When Gala died in 1982, the castle became her mausoleum and she is still buried there today.

The castle is now a museum where you can tour each of the grand rooms, serene gardens, as well as spot Dalí’s whacky touches. Gala for example asked Dalí to cover up the radiators because she didn’t like to look at them, so as a joke, Dalí covered them with paintings of yet more radiators. 

Day four completes your Dalí trail around the Costa Brava. Go ahead and immerse yourself in the whimsical world of Dalí. 

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CHRISTMAS

The cities in Spain with the best Christmas lights

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Spain as many places have already switched on their festive lights. Some Spanish cities go all out, covering their streets with lots of sparkle and magic. Here are some of the best displays to see.

The cities in Spain with the best Christmas lights

Spain puts on a great show during the festive time of year and many of its cities look especially Christmassy covered in twinkly lights and pops of colour. Here are some of the cities to visit if you want to see the best displays. 

Due to the current energy and climate crisis, many cities in Spain have said that they would shorten the number of hours their Christmas lights are switched on for this year, while others have swapped over to LEDs instead. Some of the best cities for Christmas lights, such as Madrid and Vigo have insisted that they will not cut back on decorations, however, and will still look as magical as ever. 

Málaga

The Andalusian city of Málaga is one of the best when it comes to festive atmosphere in Spain, giving a spectacular display of light and colour. The city’s main shopping street – Calle Larios has for the last few years become one of the most famous Christmassy streets in Spain with an incredible show of light and music and decorative elements forming arches over the top of the road.

Over 500 streets around the city are decked in lights and there are also themed video mapping displays shown on the cathedral.

Calle Larios in Málaga is one of the most Christmassy streets in Spain. Photo: Thomas COEX / AFP

Madrid

Being the capital of Spain, it’s not surprising that Madrid is one of the best places to see the Christmas lights. The city uses no less than 7 million LED lights to light up the streets in the centre, as well as some of its most iconic buildings.

Some of the best places to see the lights include Puerta de San Vicente, Puerta De Alcalá and Puerta de Toledo. More than 40,000 12-meter Christmas lights are also strung up every year between Gran Vía and Calle Alcalá. Madrid’s plazas are decked out in Christmas joy too, with not only lights but lots of sparkly trees. The Plaza Mayor is particularly one of the most festive because of its Christmas market. 

Don’t miss one of the city’s most unique Christmas scenes at the Naturaleza Encendida show in the Royal Botanical Gardens. 

Visit the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid for its magical Christmas displays. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

Barcelona

Christmas lights in the Catalan capital extend 100km throughout the centre, but you’ll find twinkly displays in all of its neighbourhoods too. One of the most impressive areas is the grand Passeig de Gràcia which is typically covered in sparkling spirals as well as reflective metallic-coloured butterflies, which make them twinkle in the daytime too. Emblematic buildings such as Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and the Hotel Majestic also create fantastic displays with candles. 

Plaza de Catalunya is another spot where lights abound, particularly around El Corte Inglés and down onto La Rambla. Don’t forget to check out the Christmas video mapping on the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, the city’s UNESCO Modernist old hospital.

Barcelona’s La Rambla transforms into a winter wonderland. Photo: JOSEP LAGO / AFP

Vigo

Vigo may be one of the smallest cities on our list, but it’s definitely big when it comes to Christmas. It’s said that the mayor of the city Abel Caballero loves this time of year and goes all out when it comes to decorations. Vigo dedicates one of the biggest budgets to its Christmas décor and has installed a system for more than 11 million LED lights for this purpose. Think coloured garlands, luminous figures, bright angels and curtains of glitter.

One of the best places to see them is the city’s Porta do Sol, which also hosts Vigo’s huge Christmas tree. In the past, there has been a 10-metre-high Christmas bauble, a giant present between Gran Vía and Urzáiz, a huge snowman and the bright star of Bethlehem in García Borbón and a magical luminous castle on Calle Policarpo Sanz. 

The mayor of Vigo is a big fan of Christmas. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Zaragoza

For the past couple of years, Zaragoza has dedicated a budget of some €700,000 to decorate its streets for Christmas to give more colour and Christmas twinkle to its streets. Alfonso I is one of the best streets, where over 100,000 LED lights make a multi-coloured ceiling across the top of the road. There’s also a 22-metre-high tree located on La Plaza de Basilio, decorated with even more glowing lights.

Zaragoza’s Christmas displays don’t disappoint. Photo: Iramonf / Wikimedia Commons

Bilbao

The Basque industrial city of art and design is no exception when it comes to holiday lighting. The city streets are illuminated by around 500,000 LED lights ranging from around 8 metres to 18 metres high. It’s particularly attractive around the Casco Viejo and its Siete Calles.

Look out for statues of Olentzero, the Basque version of Santa Claus, who is a charcoal maker and comes to bring gifts to the children on Christmas eve.

Bilbao’s Christmas lights form a display of pictures. Photo: RAFA RIVAS / AFP

Santa Cruz de Tenerife

The largest city in Tenerife is known for its vibrant nightlife, so it’s not surprising that it puts on a good show at Christmas too. Around 140 of its streets and squares are lit in preparation for the season with around 3 million LED lights. 

Typically its decor is made up of 176 arches, 26,334 meters of colourful garlands and 686 Christmas symbols arranged on its lamp posts. One year the city even had a 90-metre-long tunnel made up of cascading coloured lights. 

Kids love looking at the Christmas lights in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Photo: DESIREE MARTIN / AFP

Seville

Like the capital of Andalusia itself, Seville’s lights are both classy and romantic and it’s a special place to enjoy this time of year. It may not have as many lights as nearby Malaga, but what it does do, it does well.

Some of the best places to see them include Plaza de San Francisco, Avenida de la Constitución, Sierpes e Imagen, Tetúan, Laraña, Campana, Plaza del Salvador, Asunción and Alfonso XII. 

Head to Seville to see its elegant Christmas lights. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

Valencia

Valencia is another great city to spend the holidays in Spain and puts on a great show with its Christmas lights. One of the most iconic parts of Valencia’s holiday season is the video mapping projected onto its town hall. 

Plaza de la Reina will have three-meter structures that are made to look like almond trees and there will be other festive elements like ice skating rinks and Christmas concerts. 

Head to Valencia this year to see its impressive displays. Photo: Valencia Igor Ferreira / Unsplash
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