Located just an hour-and-a-bit up the coast from Barcelona, Salvador Dalí’s beloved hometown of Figueres makes for a surreal and sublime day-trip.
My head was fuzzy from the night before, but I tried my best not to let it show when Ana picked me up to drive me from Girona to the Dalí museum in Figueres.
In a small hotel, we spent a few moments in the lobby looking at black and white photos of Dalí posing with his friends and wife, Gala. It’s the hotel where he stayed every time he came to Figueres later in life, especially when he was working on his museum.
Hidden away off the main the dining area was a secluded dining room where Dalí would sit and eat with his friends. And as I stood there absorbing the rough, white-washed walls and breathing in the musky smell of the old wine barrels, Ana told me of Dali’s love for Gala…
“She was the love of his life, she was everything to him. His parents weren’t happy about the relationship because she was ten years older than him. And she was quite modern, she’d already had other lovers. His family stopped talking to him, hoping it would make him leave her, but he never did.”
The Madman. The Myth. The Master.
“That’s the cafe where he would go to drink coffee,” Ana showed me. “The people of Figueres always thought he was crazy. One sunny day, it was really hot, no? He took a piece of tortilla, Spanish omelette, and put it in his jacket pocket as if it were a handkerchief, like a floral decoration. Other times he’d put honey in his moustache so that flies and wasps would be attracted to it. And he’d just sit there, watching them buzzing around for hours.”
Of course, the locals all thought that he was crazy, and you can hardly blame them, but Dalí was desperate to earn their respect and putting the museum in Figueres was in many ways Dalí’s way of winning them over.
“It was the first time Dalí went against Gala’s wishes,” Ana explained. “She wanted him to open the museum somewhere more important, in Madrid or Paris for example, but he was convinced that it had to be in Figueres, in his home town. And there was nothing that could change his mind.”
Dazed and Confused at the Dalí Museum
Inside, Ana explained how Dalí himself had designed the museum.
“This is not like many other art museums, eh? This was not created after Dalí died. He played a big part in its design. He even lived here at one point because he was so particular about how he wanted it. And his body is buried here too.”
We walked through to the centre of the building, where red velvet and a stage hinted at the building’s previous incarnation as a theatre. A huge black Cadillac sat in the middle of the space and Ana showed me how it rained inside.
“He was very proud to own a Cadillac and when he lived in America this was his actual car. He brought it back to Spain and wanted to turn it into a work of art. Once, when he was in America, he got into a taxi and he was so wet from the rain that he said it felt like it was raining inside the taxi. So this is meant to represent that time in his life.”
Looking upward around the inner space of the old amphitheatre walls, I noticed golden statues like giant Oscar awards.
“He worked in the movie business as well,” Ana told said, noting my confusion, “ and although he never won an Oscar, he always felt he deserved one. So this was his gift to himself.”
Salvador’s Surreal World
Many of the paintings inside are from his early days, “from the period when he was an art student and didn’t have his own style yet,” Ana revealed.
“You can see that many of the paintings are signed with a “G” by his signature. This was a gift to Gala, his muse. And, more importantly, she was always working to create the best environment for him to work in, so he added her name to his work to say thank you.”
Many of Dalí’s most iconic paintings are elsewhere now, in private collections, but there are some really important paintings on display. One of the smaller pieces was the painting Dalí decided to take to Paris with him to show Picasso what he could do.
He felt it was the best representation of where his style was going. But what I really loved about the museum was that it was experiential – it is not so much a “collection of works”, rather one complete piece. As Ana said, you have to look at Dalí’s museum as a whole, to experience every little nook and cranny, to see it as he intended you to see it. Some paintings are actually hidden away, because he wanted to reward the people who look deeper into their surroundings.
And there’s no shortage of mind-melting surrealism to delve into. In the “Mae West Room”, you can walk around the pieces of furniture that, when looked at from the viewing point, come together to create the face of the famous actress, Mae West.
“One day he was looking at her face and he thought how it would make a nice living room. So he made this,” Ana said calmly.
There was one more stop to make, to see a collection of jewellery that Dalí had designed. We walked through the dark rooms, bending over to study the intricate detailing of each piece.
“He wanted to be an artist like Leonardo, to create many different forms of art, not just paintings.”
I craned my neck down for one last glimpse into Dalí’s world and Ana whispered softy…
“This one is my favourite. It’s a brooch, a mouth. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Lips like rubies. Teeth like pearls.”
Take a Day-trip to Figueres Yourself and Visit the Dalí Museum
My recommendation: If you want to make the most of your time, I suggest booking the bus tour day-trip from Barcelona to the medieval city of Girona and Figueres, and, of course, a visit to the Dalí Museum.
Tip: Tickets cost around €70-80 per person and can be bought securely here. Highly recommended.
Note: If you are planning to make your own way to Figueres and don’t need the bus transfer, you can also just book a guided tour of the town and museum.
With public transport: The Dali Museum is located in Figueres, a town just outside of Girona, around 14o km from Barcelona. If travelling from Barcelona, take the train to Figueres Vilafant station and then catch a bus to Figueres city centre (the stop is around 200m from the museum) and it’s very well signposted. Bus tickets cost around €1.25 and departures are quite frequent, with pick-ups every 25-30 minutes.
Where to Stay in Figueres
If you do want to spend a night or two in the area whilst exploring Girona and “Dalí’s Figueres”, I’d definitely recommend staying in Girona, which is very close by and has lot more choice in terms of accommodation, dining, shopping and sightseeing.
I stayed at the very charming and comfortable Hotel Ciutat de Girona, which was perfectly situated for exploring Girona’s historic sites on foot.
Or choose from Girona’s best hotels, apartments and hostels via the search box below and benefit from Booking.com’s “Best price guarantee” and “Free cancelations policy”!
BUT, if you do want to stay in Figueres…
Definitely consider staying at the Duran Hotel, which is the hotel that Dali called home when he stayed in Figueres (his room number of choice was, but of course, room 101, and the hotel kept it reserved especially for him). It’s also just a short stroll away from the best of Figueres and the Dali Museum.