Salvador Dalí is probably the best-known Spanish artist after Picasso outside of Spain. With his melting clocks, molecular portraits and elephants on stilted legs, the mustachioed master left an undeniable mark on modern art and still had enough creative energy left over to create two surrealist living spaces and design his own museum, a work he christened “The World’s Largest Surrealist Object.” His House-Museum at Port Lligat, Castle-Museum at Púbol, and Theatre-Museum at Figueres form Catalonia’s Dalí triangle.
Even if you’re not Dalí’s biggest fan, the scenery, food, and sheer wackiness of the museums are well worth renting a car and leaving Barcelona behind for a few days.
Day 1: Figueres and Roses
Dalí’s Theatre-Museum, painted a glaring shade a of red, looks outlandish and out of place in this fairly staunch, traditional Catalan town—exactly how Dalí himself would’ve looked among the Amish. Its ancient tower, incorporated from the old city walls, is topped with massive eggs, and decorated with a tri-corner shaped traditional local bread. Then there’s the shiny glass geodesic dome that tops the original theater building.
If you’re interested in wearable art, make sure to check out the jewels collection at the museum. You can even buy replicas of his most popular surrealist designs in precious stones and metals in the gift shop.
While you’re in Figueres, drop by the 18th century Sant Ferran Castle, and the Gothic parish church, Sant Pere. Take a break and have a coffee or a beer and tapas with a view of the city’s old medieval walls at Tony’s Bar or Bar Mut in l’Plaça de les Patates.
Sleep at Hotel Mas Lazuli, a comfortable boutique hotel housed in a renovated 11th century monastery or Mas Palou Roses, a 16th century Catalan country house. If you have time and energy to spare, hop back in the car and catch the sunset at the idyllic Castell de la Trinitat, the ruin of a 16th century military fortress just off the coast near Roses.
Day 2: Cadaqués, Portlligat, and Cap de Creus
If you can truly only visit one of the Dalí museums, it must be the House-Museum at Portlligat. A coastal compound of linked fisherman’s cabins, this was the artist’s home for most of his adult life, a sanctuary he and his wife built together over time. Exploring his maze-like home is a little like taking a trip into the artist’s cluttered mind with seven other strangers (tours are limited to groups of eight).
The space is crammed with distracting objects—taxidermied animals, lip-shaped couches, decoupaged dressing room doors and original art by Dalí and other artists he admired.
Then there’s Gala’s round room, a curving refuge lined by couches Dalí designed for his wife, who liked to use it to receive guests and to read. Outside, there’s a phallic pool, Dalí’s massive Christ sculpture made from shipwreck debris, eggs everywhere, and a view of the coast that pops up in more than a few Dalí paintings, notably The Madonna of Port Lligat.
After your time in Portlligat, take a short stroll to Cadaqués, the picturesque fishing village where Dalí spent summers with his family growing up and have a look around before you get back in the car and drive to Cap de Creus for lunch and an afternoon hike.
Feast on the catch of the day at the Cap de Creus Restaurant, prepared a la llauna with tomato, garlic and roasted red pepper or seafood paella and then walk off your lunch around the cape, stopping to snap pictures of the striking views.
Relax for the evening and explore the grounds at Empordà, the castle Dalí tried to barter from the original owners with paintings. Or book a room at Can Bassa and borrow a bike to ride around the medieval village of Madremanya.
Day 3: Púbol
Later in their life together, Gala, who was ten years older than Dalí, needed more time away from her manic, if prolific and profitable, husband. Fortunately for her, Dalí was agreeable, and while he wasn’t able to score the castle at Emporda, he eventually secured the purchase of a ramshackle refuge at Púbol. He renovated and decorated the property for the woman he claimed kept him him sane with great care. He even agreed never to visit her at the castle without written permission.
Unlike the other Dalí museums, from the outside, the castle looks like just another ruin, a former fortress, common enough in most of Europe. However, the inside is packed with the off-the-wall art and furnishings you would expect after visiting Dalí’s other spaces. That said, the castle is decidedly more understated than either of the other museums. Perhaps this was because it was meant to be an escape for Gala, or perhaps because it was the space that the Dalís spent the least time in. One of the best parts of the space, by far, is the leafy courtyard populated by Dalí’s elephants on stilted legs, although it’s hard not to covet the painted throne the artist made for his wife. After visiting the castle, take a turn around the historic villages at Púbol and La Pera before heading back to Barcelona.
- Reserve your Dalí Triangle tickets ahead of time, especially for the House-Museum at Portlligat which only allows a very limited number of visitors in. Don’t be late for your admission time—the museums will cancel your ticket and you won’t get a refund.
- Skip generic hotels in favor of accommodations in historic farmhouses, convents and castles.
- Rent a small car. You’ll save on gas, and it’ll be easier to park and navigate narrow roads.
- If you only have an afternoon to spare and don’t want to drive, the theatre-museum at Figueres is your best bet—you can reach it in under an hour on a high-speed train from Barcelona.