A Change of Scenery
By Ronnie Smith
I had always thought that once I finally got to France I would be so content that I would not want to go anywhere else, for pleasure, ever again. I was wrong.
My wife and I recently took a weekend trip across the border to Spain, to celebrate the seventh anniversary of our meeting, and we found that the simple fact of a different landscape and language contributed massively to our enjoyment. Of course there were many other contributing factors, our being in an even better mood than usual being one of them.
Our primary objective was Figueres in Catalunya, an hour and a half by car from Pezenas. Figueres is the birthplace of Salvador Dali and my wife decided, correctly, that it was high time we paid him a visit. Now, I’ve never been a fan of Dali or any of the other surrealists, I’ve been stuck on Monet and his more simply beautiful friends for a long time, and I’ve also remained happily ignorant of Figueres until now. Thankfully things change if your ways remain unset.
It turns out that Figueres is a really nice town even though it’s not right on the shores of the Costa Brava. We stayed one night in the four star Hotel Pirineos, one of a number of more than adequate hotels perfectly situated at the edge of the old town, and we found it to be very comfortable with excellent staff. The old town itself is packed with seriously high level shops offering bargains at prices significantly below what we find in South West France. We wandered around on Saturday afternoon, casually treating ourselves to little rewards.
Perhaps most importantly and surprisingly, Figueres has some very good restaurants, including the New Continental situated at the head of the Ramblas. It’s one of those special places that you spot, out of the corner of your eye, early in the afternoon and which then calls out to you insistently until you take your table in the evening. The menu is excellent, the food wonderful, the local wine very pleasant, the service warmly professional and the whole experience provided a healthily beating heart to our historic weekend.
We went to the Theatre Musee Salvador Dali on Sunday morning. It’s best to book an e-ticket from the website in advance as there seems always to be longish queues at the front door.
Next to the museum sits the church of St Peter which had been destroyed by the Republic during the civil war and then rebuilt, on Franco’s orders, by Republican prisoners following their brutal defeat. It is where Dali was baptized and seems to have held lifelong significance for him. It is beautiful in the quietly awesome way that churches should be and worth visiting in its own right. An appropriate reminder that Spain still quietly simmers under the surface.
The museum is extraordinary in every way and, funnily, one of its greatest pleasures is looking at the bemused faces of the people who wander through it’s many rooms having their world view turned upside. As far as I can tell, Dali spent a lot of his time asking the human race to take a long, hard look at itself by using absurdity, exaggeration and obvious symbolism to continually challenge everything damaging complex that we regard as normal.
There is, however, one room containing what might be called classic fine art including beautiful portraits of his wife, Gala. There is also the small and extraordinary painting 'Phantom Carriage’ whose detail and craftsmanship simply entranced me. I’d never seen it before and could hardly believe it possible. Prudently, my wife refused to stuff it in her capacious bag.
We left Figueres behind and drove down the rather breathtaking and sometimes tricky mountain road to Cadaques where the sea, rushing into the cove, conspired to create a natural opera with the sun and the sky. We had a fabulous lunch at the Maratim, on the seafront and enjoyed the whoosing, breezy spectacle before us. Then we walked along the promenade checking houses and hotels nestled in the barely tamed landscape, working out when we could return to this wonderful place.
We didn’t visit Dali’s house museum in Cadaques as we’d had just enough of him for one trip.
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