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Cap de Creus - an excerpt from Barcelona & Catalonia

On the map it protrudes from the coast like a nipple on a frosty day, and up close Cap de Creus is just as fascinating. Its fabric is 450 million year old rock, shattered and upended when the Iberian peninsula collided with Europe to form the Pyrenees, then scoured and eroded into strange shapes by the tramuntana that blows so fiercely- Joan Maragell famously called Empordà the ‘palace of winds’. Terraces laboriously carved over the ages are now abandoned: the phylloxera epidemic in the 1880s killed the vines, a devastating frost in 1956 killed the olives and wildfires over the past couple of decades have left the rock prey to the elements. Dalí spent much of his life amid this ‘grandiose geological delirium’; its brilliant light, coves and weirdly-shaped rocks appear repeatedly in his paintings. In spite of all the disasters, the Cap de Creus is a nature reserve, boasting the largest stretch of undeveloped coast in Spain, a priveleged home to rare flora and fauna on land and in the surrounding seas.

Cadaquès

...Her fishermen sleep dreamless on the sand.
On the high sea a rose is their compass.
The horizon, virgin of wounded handkerchiefs,
links the great crystals of fish and moon...

Federico Garcia Lorca - Ode to Salvador Dalí

They call it the ‘Saint-Tropez of Spain’, and in many ways this jewel of the Costa Brava fits the bill. Cadaquès is just as hard to reach, at the end of long torturous roads over the Cap de Creus (it was isolated for so long that it has its own dialect, cadaquesenc), and although it lacks St-Trop’s big sandy beaches it boasts similar arty-celebrity credentials: not only Dalí and Llorca, but Picasso, Matisse, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Mick Jagger, and a gaggle of film stars and millionaires have spent time here.

And it’s easy to see why: with its whitewashed houses and cobbled streets clustered around a giant white mother ship of a church and a bijou fishing port, illuminated by a sharp dry light whipped out of any humidity by the tramuntana, Cadaquès is the most beautiful town on the coast. There’s no room for high rise buildings- or cars (if you have one, it’s easiest to leave it in the pay car park by the bus station). But although the young, the wealthy and the hip converge here, it’s not posey like St-Tropez; it’s laid back, more like a Greek island.

The village’s illustrious arty history gets a nod at the Museu de Cadaquès (C/Narcis Montuiol 15, t 972 25 88 77, www.cadaques.org, open 10-1.30 and 4-8, closed Fri, adm), with rotating exhibits that often relate in some way to the surrealist maestro. For older art, visit the outsize Església de Santa María, built after the original version was burned to the ground by Barbarossa in 1543- it has a showstopping Baroque altarpiece sculpted and painted by Jacint Moretó and Pere Costa, but also a chapel by Dalí. Cadaquès loves music as much as art. In August it hosts one of Spain’s oldest and most prestigious music festivals. It has a legendary jazz club, L’Hostal, on the seafront where Dalí spent many an evening. His statue stands nearby.

As a child, Salvador Dalí spent holidays with his grandparents in Cadaquès, and in the 1920s he brought along his university friends, Llorca (who had a crush on him) and Luis Buñuel. Dalí was one of the first painters to take a keen interest in film, and he collaborated with Buñuel on his two Surrealist classics, Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Âge d’Or (1930). Llorca, an Andalucían, took umbrage at Un Chien Andalou (rightly or wrongly believing it was the title was an insult directed at him) and broke off his friendship with the pair. L’Âge d’Or (originally titled The icy water of egotistical calculation) opens with scenes filmed on Cap de Creus with a cast of locals, and it too caused umbrage – and a riot – when it opened in Paris. Yet Buñuel, like most of Dalí’s friends, soon fell out with the artist, who flamboyantly did everything with an unfailing sense of political incorrectness.

The House Museum Salvador Dalí

Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí

Dalí

Guided tours for up to eight people at a time by advance reservation only, at www.salvador-dali.org or t 972 25 10 15; open 15 Mar–14 June and 16 Sept–6 Jan Tues–Sun 10.30am–6pm; 15 June–15 Sept 9.30am–9pm; adm exp. Free parking nearby; pick up tickets 30 minutes before your reservation time. Unlike most guided tours, the guiding is minimal; you’re free to look about on your own and ask the guides questions.

In 1929, the surrealist French poet Paul Éluard and his Russian wife Gala came to visit Dalí in Cadaquès. Gala was 11 years older than Dalí, but he was smitten, much to the disapproval of his father. To make things worse, Dalí scandalized Barcelona by writing over a painting: ‘Sometimes, I spit for fun on my mother's portrait’ (it was Surrealiest bravura: the truth was his mother’s early death had left him traumatized). Dalí senior booted him out of the house; Dalí junior defiantly bought a fisherman’s cottage in Port Lligat just down the coast. It was the first of four shacks the artist purchased and strung together; it was his only fixed abode until Gala’s death in 1982.

Although always exhibitionists in public, Dalí and Gala were intensely private at home. Once past the clutch of eggs on the roof and jewellery-encrusted stuffed polar bear at the entrance, his home turns out to be surprisingly restrained, a cosy labyrinth, filled with dried bouquets of immortelles gathered by Gala, who shared Dalí’s obsession with immortality. A mirror was placed so that Dalí could be the very first person in Spain to see the sun rise each morning, without getting out of bed- He always painted while sitting down, so he invented a giant easel on pulleys that slid into the floor below, allowing him to work on large canvases from his armchair.

For Gala he built an acoustically wonderful egg-shaped boudoir, which she filled with objects from Russia; the doors of her dressing room are covered with newspaper clippings about the couple. There are no guest rooms, but visitors were admitted to the charming patio, where olive trees grow in giant tea cups, and where Dalí the voyeur could observe them through peep holes. Somewhat surprisingly, only the newest additon to the compound, the long phallic swimming pool watched over by the Michelin Man- got the Surrealist, or in this case proto-pop treatment.

The one major exception to Dalí’s no-guest rule was the beautiful multilingual model, singer and disco queen Amanda Lear, whom the artist met in a Paris club in 1965. Lear became Dalí’s last muse, and according to many, his greatest creation. He introduced her to art; she introduced him to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Most biographers claim that Dalí in his last years fell into the hands of corrupt advisors who forced to sign countless forgeries and as many as 35,000 blank sheets of paper for future lithographs (others say he just wanted to make money, and signed them on his own). When his manager, the late ‘Captain’ John Moore, was arrested in 1999 for altering Dalí’s Double Image of Gala (1969), police found 10,000 fake Dali lithographs in his house in Cadaquès.

In 1970, Kirk Douglas visited Dalí during the shooting of The Light at the Edge of the World, a thriller filmed on the Cap de Creus. Dalí, according to Douglas, talked of erect penises and tried to snare him in a threesome before Douglas managed to escape. The lighthouse built for the film – and the real one – are a 10km drive from Cadaquès, the road passing many sandy coves. The wild, rocky tip of the cape is the easternmost point of Spain, the throne room of the ‘palace of winds’. The views are superb, and this being Catalonia, there’s a good restaurant, too.

© Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls