As the birthplace of the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali and home to the Dali museum, one of the most-visited museums in the world, Figueres, Spain is always going to be a huge draw for tourists.
Kate Ginn sends us a postcard from the town.
But that’s not the reason I fell in love with this small city in Catalonia, which has a population of just 40,000. I arrived in Figueres during a very turbulent time in my life and it was like a balm to soothe the soul. Having come from a two-night stopover in Barcelona en route, I was immediately won over by the charm of the place. Even the name – which means “fig trees”, an abundance of which are in the area – was enchanting.
I spent hours wandering around the compact Old Town and finding peace in the small square, reading a book or attempting to speak broken Catalan with the very friendly locals.
As it’s close to Barcelona – just an hour and a half by train – Figueres is often visited as part of a day-trip but that, in my view, doesn’t by any means do it justice. Whether it’s a mix of architecture, from medieval walls and fortresses to modernist buildings and Dali’s eccentric touches, or food ranging from fine dining to rustic Catalan fare, it’s a city of contrasts and a delight to explore.
It’s stuffed full of culture and boasts a calendar full of festivals and events throughout the year. I went at the end of August, nudging into September, when the temperature was a balmy 25 degrees Celsius (although it can get hotter) and every meal was taken al fresco.
My favourite place– Of course, the sense of Dali is omnipresent in Figueres, as you would expect. Evidence of the man and his life (he died in 1989 at the age of 84) can be found and seen everywhere. Most spectacular of all is the Theatre Museu Gala Salvador Dali, a large museum devoted to the work of the master, who spent many years in later life designing and living in it. The building captures all of Dali’s idiosyncratic talent, from the series of giant eggs on top of the outside façade to a full-size Cadillac installation in an open courtyard inside. It’s a wonderful trip through the wacky world of this most unique of artists. Even if you’re not a Dali fan, you can’t help but be blown away by the mind that produced pieces of work like Galatea of the Spheres. The museum houses the single largest collection of his work. Entry is €14 (RO6) and children can go in free. It’s closed on Mondays.
Top tip: go early in the morning or just before it closes, and preferably not at a weekend as it gets extremely busy during the peak summer months when you can queue for up to three hours to get in.
Highlights– Aside from the Dali museum, there are other places of cultural interest. Museu del Joguet, a museum dedicated to toys, is well worth a visit and accommodates no fewer than 4,500, including some from Dali. Its section on robots is also worth a look. A 10-minute walk from the Dali museum is Castell de Sant Ferran, built in the 18th century and billed as the largest castle in Europe. Take a walk around the perimeter (about 3km) and enjoy terrific views over the Emporda Plain out to sea, then head to The Old Town for some leisurely shopping (what I really like about Figueres is that most of the attractions can be reached on foot). La Rambla is the main avenue and shopping area of the city. At night, all the action happens at Placa del Sol but I prefer the less crowded Placa de les Patates (Square of the Potatoes). Plan your trip to coincide with a festival – there are two in May, one in June and a free acoustic music festival at the end of August – and enjoy a host of outdoor events. Also, a must is the local Catalan culinary specialties of oxtail soup, paella and Gaspatxo Gazpacho, a cold Spanish soup.
Lowlights– It can get crowded in the peak tourist months when it seems like everyone and their dog is descending on Figueres to visit the Salvador Dali museum. It can also get a little hot and sticky in the summer but it’s nothing like the Omani summers, so there shouldn’t be a problem.
Souvenirs– You can’t leave Figueres without buying a Dali memento of some kind. However, as his paintings can fetch up to US$22 million (RO8.4m), it’s likely to be a poster rather than an original. There are all sorts of Dali knick-knacks to buy in the town or the museum shop. Other than that, try olive oil containers and steel paella pans.
Where to stay– Whatever your budget, you’ll find a place to rest your head, from hotels to bed and breakfasts. It’s a small city, so don’t expect five-star super luxury. I stayed at the four-star Hotel President, a must for Dali fans with its eclectic furnishings, which was clean, comfortable and a short walk from everywhere. Hotel Europa is another favourite with visitors.