20 Sep A visit to Cadaqués on the Costa Brava
Salvador Dalí believed that he was a reincarnation of the rugged Cap de Creus – the headland just north of Cadaqués, on the Costa Brava, and near the border with France. Maybe he was, given that we – and everything else in the world – are all made of atoms.
The world’s most famous surrealist lived in the tiny fishing village of Port Lligat on the Cap de Creus peninsula from 1930 till the death of this wife Gala in 1982. I went to visit his home as a day trip from my base in Girona, just over an hour away.
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 him. 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 everyone has a ‘dark’ side and, as 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.
A day visit to the Costa Brava
I took my time 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 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.
A better idea would have been to do the journey in reverse, so to start with sunrise at the Cap de Creus lighthouse – so, like Dalí, be the first person in Spain to see the sun rise. Instead I was there for the sunset.
Cap de Creus lighthouse
The headland of the Cap de Creus lighthouse is for lovers of wind, sky, sea, and secluded spots, That is as long as you don’t go up to the lighthouse itself, which that day was flocked with day trippers. 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. The sun was not out when I was there. The sky was a blue haze. Gibson calls the coastline a “vast natural theatre of optical illusions”. No wonder Dalí chose it as his home.
The Dalí house at Port Lligat
Port Lligat is in a more sheltered part of the Cap de Creus peninsula. Down by the cove, the village has no more than a car park, a couple of xiringuitos (shacks by the beach), and where I stopped for coffee and to listen to the music, as well as 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 little boats and protected from the sea winds by Portlligat island.
Booking to visit the house 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 – a study in itself of colour, light, shape, form, texture, nature, philosophy and psychology … and take note of the penis-shaped water fountains.
I have randomly chosen a few photos. I could have included ten times more.
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. There is so much good seafood in this part of the world – if you choose your restaurant carefully.
Restaurants in Cadaques
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. Other restaurants I would like to check out in Cadaques (updated April 2022) are: Can Rafa (the same family business as Celler Martin Faixó, see below) and ODA Cuina Creativa. as well as the guesthouse Casa Nereta.
All three chefs at Compartir 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!
My other posts on the province of Girona
Girona, and the medieval right bank, where I met lots of cyclists.
A visit to Cadaques on the Costa Brava, including Dali’s house at Port Lligat and Cap de Creus.