View from Salvador Dali house across Port Lligat

A visit to Cadaqués on the Costa Brava

Salvador Dalí believed that he was a reincarnation of the rugged Cap de Creus headland,  near Cadaqués, just south of the border with France and on the Costa Brava.  Maybe he was, given that we are all made out of atoms.

The world’s most famous surrealist artist lived in the tiny fishing village of Port Lligat from 1930 till the death of this wife Gala in 1982, and I went to visit his home, as a day trip from my base in Girona.

Dalí – the dark side of genius

As an artist, Dalí was a genius. As a person, he was too full of shame for me to admire. I discovered this from reading Ian Gibson’s The Shameful Life of Dalí, which offers a perspective that not all Dalí fans agree with.

I believe that everyone has a ‘dark’ side and, like German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, the “night is also a sun“. Dalí had a very deep dark side. He was haunted by the failings of a particular part of his anatomy and by the death of his mother when he was a teenager.

In his work The Unspeakable Confessions, he lamented that he would never be able to “make a woman creak like a watermelon” because his penis was “small, pitiful and soft”. Dalí’s mother died when he was 16, in what was the “greatest blow he had ever experienced”. The loss made him “determined to achieve fame at whatever cost”, writes Gibson.

Day visit to Costa Brava

I took me an hour and a bit of slow driving to reach Cadaqués from Girona.  After Roses, I zig-zagged up and over Mount Pení, navigating over 100 hairpin bends cutting through the garriga, with its low-growing aromatic shrubs, olive groves and vineyards.

My first stop was at Celler Martin Faixó, one of three wine producers in the Cap de Creus Natural Park; then on to Cadaqués for lunch; a visit to Dalí’s house at Port Lligat; and finally to the Cap de Creus lighthouse, before returning to Girona and supper at Restaurant Maran.

For me, it makes more sense to do the journey in reverse, and to start with sunrise at the Cap de Creus lighthouse, rather than sunset.

Cap de Creus lighthouse

The headland of the Cap de Creus lighthouse is for lovers of wind, sky, sea, and secluded spots – as long as you don’t go up to the lighthouse itself. It was here that they filmed the 1971 version of The Light at the Edge of the World, starring Kirk Douglas and Yul Brynner.

The rocks have a slate-like texture, juxtaposed with seams of pure quartz, said to glisten in the sun. Gibson calls the coastline a “vast natural theatre of optical illusions”. No wonder Dalí chose it as his home.

View from Cap de Creus, Costa Brava, Catalonia

The rugged landscape en route to the Cap de Creus lighthouse.

The Dalí house at Port Lligat

Port Lligat is in a more sheltered part of the Cap de Creus Natural Park. Down by the cove, the village has no more than a car park, a couple of xiringuitos (shacks by the beach), where I stopped for a coffee, a hotel that dates from Dalí’s time and Dali’s house

The house is a labyrinth of little rooms, filled with curios, design and art. Set among olive and pine trees, the house overlooks the Port Lligat cove (see featured image), dotted with small boats and protected by the sea winds by the Portlligat island.

Booking is a must. Yes, the place is packed.  I don’t like packed places, but the house did not disappoint. It’s a shrine for anyone interested in art or design – it’s a study in itself of colour, light, shape, form, texture, nature, philosophy and psychology… take note of the penis-like water fountains.

I have randomly chosen a few photos. I could have included ten times more.

Mirror in Dali's bedroom at his house in Port Lligat

Dali  positioned a mirror in his bedroom so as to be the first person in Spain to see the sunrise, from his bed.

View through wall from garden of Dali's house in Port Lligat

The view from one of the terraces across the harbour of Port Lligat.

Row of immortelle on top of curtain, Dali's house, Port Lligat

The plant immortelle, loved by Dalí, as well as by many other Catalan artists. It is still used to decorate the house.

Pink and yellow light, Dali's house Port Lligat

Dali’s use of light, shapes, lines, colours, textures was inspirational.

Close-up of local espardenyes, Catalonia

I was also very impressed by our guide’s espardenyes, the typical Catalan shoe.

Sculptures of two heads, Dali garden, Port Lligat

A Dalí sculpture in the garden, surrounded by olive trees.

Cadaques

I last went to Cadaques 25 years ago. There were a few hippies and a few Italians. This time, in early September, it was as if all of France had poured over the border for the day out. The village still has a charm. It reminds me of Positano, on the Amalfi Coasts, with the same bright sun, cobbled streets and bougainvillea. The difference is that houses have white-washed rather than coloured walls.

The Costa Brava Tourism Board  had booked me in for lunch to Es Baluard, a family-run restaurant on the first floor of a building overlooking the harbour.

Rooftop view with sea and boats, Cadaques, Catalonia

View from the church of Sant Maria. Well worth the climb.

Sign, Cadaques, Catalonia

Cadaqués is renowned for being the home of artists.

View up narrow street, Cadaques, Catalonia

The hilly streets are paved with stones pulled from the sea and then hand carved into paving.

A new project: El Bulli 1846

With more time, I would have liked to have also eaten at Compartir, run by Mateu Casañas, Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch. In 2014, they opened Disfrutar Barcelona, in the Catalan capital, which now has two Michelin stars.

All three chefs had met while working at El Bulli, near Roses. Five times El Bulli ranked as the world’s No 1 restaurant before closing in 2011.

Now, Ferran Adrià, El Bulli’s head chef, will be opening El Bulli 1846 at the same premises near Roses. It won’t be a restaurant, but a creative taller, a workshop. The focus will be on innovation, with around 40 chefs, scientists and artists working together, or so I read in the local newspapers.

Celler Martin Faixó

Ten minutes’ drive from Cadaqués, at 300 metres’ altitude, is  Celler Martin Faixó, one of three wine producers in the Cap de Creus Natural Park.

Vines like to suffer, and they sure do here. Salty winds come in from the Mediterranean on all three sides, while the dry Tramuntana wind sweeps down from the Pyrenees.

This gives the grapes a lot of skin and an individual taste, while the salt and the dryness keep them healthy. Weeds are kept down in winter by letting local Ripollès sheep, from the nearby Mas Mercè cheesemakers, roam through the vineyards.

The Costa Brava Tourism Board arranged for me to meet Ester Martin Faixó. Ester together with her husband, and a few other family members opened the winery at Sa Perafita, a 14th century farmhouse, in 2004.

Her grandparents were farmers, with their own vineyards, as well as owning a couple of restaurants in Cadaqués, where they welcomed the likes of Dalí and French artist Marcel Duchamp.

Grapes grown include: Garnatxa Negra, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Picapolla (in Cadques they put an ‘a’ at the end), Garnatxa Dulce and Moscat d’Alexandria. The sweet Garnatxa goes perfectly with carquinyolis, a dry Catalan almond biscuits. The winery also makes vermut and  olive oil from local varieties Verdal and Llei Cadaqués. You can even stay at the winery.

I chose to drove back to Girona, where a quick dip in the pool at my hotel, the Hotel Nord 1911, welcomed me, followed by a glass of wine and a few tapas at Restaurant Maran. That was quite a lot for the day!

Owner of Celler Martin Faixo, Cap de Creus Natural Park

Ester Martin Faixó showed me around her family winery.

View towards mountain from Celler Martin Faixo, Cap de Creus Natural Park

Wine in glass bottles on the roof.

You may also be interested in my blog posts on…

Girona, and the left bank of the River Onyar, including patatas bravas and natural wine at Restaurant Maran, Hotel Nord 1901, Girona Food Tours and Rocambolesc ice cream. 

Girona, and the medieval right bank, where I met lots of cyclists.

Les Cols Restaurant and its kitchen garden, a 45-minute drive from Girona, towards the Pyrenees.

A visit to Cadaques on the Costa Brava, including Dali’s house at Port Lligat and Cap de Creus.

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