The Costa Brava and Salvador Dali are in obvious sense inseparable. Its sunlight, winds and the peculiar character of its broad plains and rocky coast, are inescapably part of the fibre of its paintings.
Will Goodridge from I Spy Camping guides us through the region and the artist who made his home here.
Dali was born in Figueres, the city that lies in the north eastern corner of Catalonia, itself in the north east of Spain. Dali grew up imbued with the landscape of a great plain of Emporda with its atmospheric cliffs. His wife Gala fell in love with the medieval castle of Pubol, which she made her home in the 1970’s.
Today the very notion of the Costa Brava may seem inextricably bound up with beach holidays and water sports, since the tourist explosion that began in the 1960s opened it up to the outside world after the grim post war rigours of Francoism. Dali would have found nothing wrong with the idea of enjoying beaches and the sea. He loved both. The former fishing village of Cadaques, now a prosperous resort, was just as popular as a holiday getaway when he was a boy in the early years of the last century.
But for Dali, Cadaques, its tiny neighbouring village of Portlligat and its hinterland were to become the defining symbols of his life. Their brooding scenery became the backdrop on which he was able to project his own inner, mental landscape and within it equivalents of its attention, of which he liked to be the centre.
Costa Brava, it must be remembered, means the ‘wild coast’. The shores round Cap de Creus just up the coast from Cadaques, have little in common with those farther south where the jet ski and the beach bar hold sway in July and August.
When in winter, the local wind, the tramuntana, howls down relentlessly off the snow-clad summits of the Pyrenees the placid Mediterranean can be whipped up into a raging ocean. At such times it is exhilarating to stand as Dali did on the summit of the Cap de Creus or on the rocks of one of the coves beneath it and share in the spirit with him he swells crashing against them, and the flocks of sea-birds – gannets, gulls and pretels, soaring and diving in the sheer exhilaration on the buffets of the gale.
Cadaques and Portlligat have always been a pilgrimage of a resolute trickle of enthusiast determined to seek out this corner of Catalonia and share in the spirit of one its most determinedly eccentric sons. Today that trickle has become a stream, and yet Cadaques remains, mercifully, resolutely off the tourist route. That is not to say that it is remote. A few hours by car will box the four main points of the Dali compass. Cadaques, Portlligat, Pubol and Figueres quite satisfactorily.
Yet, some effort has undeniably to be made to reach Cadaques, whether you approach by car from France or from the south from the airports of Barcelona or Gerona. The effort is worth it. And the road that spirals breathtakingly up from the plain of Emporda towards the barren summits of the Alberes mountains, is not these days quite the white-knuckle ride it used to be only a few years ago.
A passing place here, a chicane ironed out there and the experience with the imcomparable panorama it affords of plain, sea and distant mountains, can be enjoyed without the undeniable sensation of apprehension that used to accompany it.
Dali was born in Figueres in 1904 and died in 1989 in his birthplace. The artist was a prolific artist, producing more than 1,500 paintings in his lifetime. He was expelled from the San Fernando school of fine arts in 1926, after claiming that nobody at the school was competent enough to examine him.
If you are interested in exploring the Costa Brava, I recommend staying at the year-round resort of Vilanova Park, just 30 minutes from many of the towns and resorts mentioned and the beautiful city of Barcelona.