A Great Day Trip in Catalonia
By R. Daniel Foster
I had difficulty leaving Barcelona — urbane and sophisticated, yet culturally warm and accessible. I had found amor vertader, my one true love among European
But friends kept mentioning Barcelona’s backyard to the northeast, Catalonia: rugged yet refined — with a medieval past steeped in the Crown of Aragon.
(Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia.) Everyone in Barcelona, however, seemed to be heading to Sitges for the weekend, an easy 20-minute trip southwest of the city. Always a nonconformist, I decided to trek in the opposite direction, northeast.
There on the Iberian Peninsula, I found what I now call Europe’s overlooked playground. Catalonia stretches from the spartan Pyrenees to lush Costa Brava beach resorts dotting the Mediterranean.
The best of Costa Brava and Catalonia (Catalunya in Catalan; Cataluña, Spanish) is a mere day trip away from Barcelona and all that rebel Gaudi architecture. My recommendation: why hurry back? Spend a few nights.
Distance, drive time: 88 miles, 1.35 hours
Via Spain’s high-speed AVE train : 53 minutes
Get your surrealist fix in Figueres
The castle-like building (the color of Pepto-Bismol) is topped by a dozen eggs. Perched on the edifice’s edge, the colossal ovoids appear ready to topple. I never walked along the building’s sidewalk edge –– such is the power of Salvador Dali’s nearly mystical surrealism.
“I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be a totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.”
— Salvador Dali
The museum harbors the world’s most comprehensive collection of Dali’s works: sculptures, paintings, 3-D works, mechanical devices, jewelry and more. As a youth, Dali had shown his art in the original theater that the museum is now built around.
The government of Figueres and Dali joined forces in 1960 to build a museum around the old building, and the new structure opened in 1974, with subsequent expansions.
Even in death, Dali was dramatic
Dali is buried beneath a geodesic glass dome cupola above the stage floor, so for many Dali devotees, a trek to the museum is not just a journey — it’s a pilgrimage.
A courtyard installation includes an automobile, boat, umbrella and commanding statue. Put a coin into the box near the auto’s front wheels and see what happens.
The installation is inspired by Dali’s 1938, Rainy Taxi (famously called “Mannequin Rotting in a Taxi-Cab”), a 3D work that included a chauffeur with a shark’s head and snails (live) that crawled across the female passenger’s body.
For dedicated Dali fans, the area’s “Dali Triangle” also includes Dali’s home workshop, the Dali House Museum in Portlligat (on the coast, 22 miles from Figueres), and the Gala Dalí Castle House , 25 miles south of Figueres.
Figueres’ architecture: reminiscent of Barcelona’s
Figueres’ main avenue La Rambla dates to 1828 and is strewn with eclectic architecture: modernist, baroque, art nouveau, and neoclassical ––bathed in a range of hues.
Some standouts: Casa Salleras (a bold center window constructed in relief), Casa Puig-Soler (heavily stylized with a circular porch and tower), Casa Cusí (nearly storybook in design), Casa Polideseia, and Casa del Cafè Progrés.
La Rambla is lined with outdoor cafes and nightspots. Wander from one to the other, taking in the avenue’s superb architecture. It makes for a memorable half-day of visual delight.
Fortify yourself for other sites
Another European standout lies less than a mile from Figueres’ city center: Sant Ferran Castle , an 18th-century fortress with an expansive pentagonal perimeter that stretches for 3.5 miles. Set on a hill (naturally), the structure is among the largest of European fortresses.
The castle’s complexity intrigued me: double walls of defense studded with varied battlements. You can circumvent those walls on foot; it makes for a great exercise enhanced by views of Figueres and the countryside.
The commanding military outpost was constructed during the reign of Ferdinand VI of Spain.
After extensive renovations, the castle opened to the public in 1996 as a Cultural Asset of National Interest. email@example.com. +34 972 50 60 94. Use a contact form on the castle’s website to arrange a visit.
Behold Salvador Dali’s Teddy Bear
The Toy Museum (Museu del Joguet de Catalunya) has exhibits featuring 4.500 toys, and some are ancient. Perhaps the museum’s most prized artifact: the teddy bear owned and treasured by Salvador Dali.
The bear is appropriately called Don Osito Marquina (Marquina Teddy Bear Esquire). There are also photos from Dali’s childhood on display.
The tourist-central Toy Museum is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. during July, August and September (“without exception”). Check the website for October-June hours. Tickets cost 8 euros. firstname.lastname@example.org. +34 972 504 585
Dine at Dali’s personal table
Check out Hotel Duran , if only for its restaurant, Celler de ca la Teta , where Salvador Dali often dined with friends at a circular table in a sequestered back room (you can dine in the same room, just speak with the front desk for reservations).
Carrer Lasauca, 5. email@example.com. +34 972 501 250
Visit Spain’s main tourism site for travel assistance and itineraries throughout the country.
Visit the Costa Brava tourism site to explore journeys in the region, including the Pyrenees.
R. Daniel Foster is an award-winning filmmaker, documentarian and writer whose articles and photographs are regularly published in the Los Angeles Times. He specializes in world culture and image. www.rdanielfoster.com