Figueres - A Travel Guide to the City of Salvador Dali and His Museum
Figueres is a traditional market town set on the plains of the Alt Empordà in north east Catalonia in Spain and is famous for being the birthplace of the great surrealist artist, Salvador Dali. The town itself dates back to the 13th Century and has been through many incarnations, most recently in the 1950s after it was heavily bombed by the Rebel forces during the Spanish Civil War. Today it is a quiet city of narrow back streets and tree lined squares and attracts tourists from around the world.
Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dali
The biggest draw of people to Figueres is to visit the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dali, or Dali Museum, which not only houses many fine paintings, sculptures and mechanical devices by the local artist, it is also the final resting place of the artist himself, who is buried in a crypt in the basement. The building, which was originally the town theatre and housed one of Dali’s earliest exhibitions, was also born out of Dali’s imagination and is dominated by the Torre Galatea, a pink tower crowned with eggs and globes and tiled with sculptures of a local bread. If you do plan on visiting the museum just be sure to not to come on a Monday, it’s closed.
Dali may be the most famous, but he is not the only reason for visiting Figueres. It is a charming place to wander the narrow back streets or while away the afternoon drinking coffee in one of the many street cafes. Central to Figueres is the Rambla, a tree lined square where competition with the locals for a relaxing spot on a park bench can be fierce. The Rambla also often hosts local festivals such as the main stage of Acustica, an outdoor music festival which takes place throughout the city’s plazas, or the local wine festival, both held in September. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays there is a food market on in Plaça Catalunya, another square in the centre, which is so good it draws people from neighbouring France to buy the local produce. Although most of the products are fruit and vegetables, it is also worth waiting for some of the local honey, cheese or chorizo, keeping those elbows firmly out so as not to lose you place in the queue.
For a town of its size, Figueres also boasts some pretty decent shopping, due mainly to a lower tax rate than in France, bringing many people over the border to pick up slightly cheaper clothing, electrical goods, or tobacco. This doesn’t make it feel like some tacky duty-free border town, but rather has cultivated a culture of both big brand shops and boutiques side by side.
If you fancy the climb up the hill (it’s really not that steep) from the Dali museum you can visit the Castell de Sant Ferran, built in 1753 to hold back any possible invasion from France. It is open to visitors and the views from the ramparts are stunning as you look over the Bay of Roses to the south-east and the snowy heights of Pyrenees Mountains to the north.
Catalans love to eat and drink and there are plenty of places to both. One of the more popular bars in town is the Soul Cafe which hosts regular live music and makes a mean Bloody Mary. Like the rest of Spain, arriving at a bar at 9.00pm you will find you are the first to arrive and as you are planning to leave, the bar will soon start to fill up. If you want atmosphere in a bar, have an afternoon nap, and be prepared to stay out late.
Around Figueres there is also plenty to do and see. If you feel like getting out to the mountains why not try a walk in the Serra de L’Albera, a natural park that forms the border with France and has some great hiking. In winter it is possible to ski in Vallter2000, a small resort that can be reached from Figueres in about an hour and a half by car.
Around Figueres - The Alt Emporda and the Costa Brava
There are also the medieval villages of the Alt Emporda, such as Peralada and Garriguella, both of which are not only picturesque but also have wineries that can be visited (click the links above) and more importantly tasted. The area, which is dotted with vineyards, produces many wines and is famed for its Cava. There are, however some excellent negres (reds) to be drunk that, although are distinct in their own way, are much more like their French neighbours than the more famous Spanish reds of Rioja or Ribero del Duero.
Figueres is also close to the sandy coves of the Costa Brava and Cap de Creus, another natural park that marks the end of the Pyrenees. Both of which can be easily visited on the public transport.
Getting to Figueres
Getting to Figueres couldn’t be easier. It is served by the high speed TGV from France and the Renfe network in Spain from Girona and Barcelona Sants Station. Building is under way for the Spanish high speed train, AVE, to link with its French counterpart, and work is due to be completed by the end of 2013. You can also fly direct to the area to Girona Airport, about 45 minutes away by car, or 10 minutes away from Girona train station.
Whether it is Dali, the shopping or the local wine, a visit to Figueres is well worth it.