Two of the most serene destinations in Spain, Cadaqués and Cap de Creus are infused with history, art, sex and movie star.
The town of Cadaquès, on Spain’s northeast coast, has had its share of famous residents, the most notable being Salvador Dal’. It was near this whitewashed fishing town that Dalí painted, met his wife Gala, and lived in his golden-egg-roofed house. The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca visited the town often, as did the painter Joan Miró and the great and ubiquitous Pablo Picasso.
Cadaqués is located in Catalonia, home to some of Spain’s finest seafood and wine, and some of the country’s cleanest beaches. The village is one of Spain’s underrated jewels— hidden in the volcanic Alt Empordá region, where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean on the Costa Brava. It is three hours north of Barcelona, and just a stone’s throw from France.
In summer, the town’s population more than triples as holiday-makers arrive to experience the legacy Dalí left here. Barcelona’s art crowds still come looking for inspiration for their scripts, songs or sculptures. And the resident Dalí forgers and look-alikes with twirled moustaches, who set up camp and draw for tourists, are a constant reminder of the village’s artistic heritage.
The mystique surrounding the life Dalí led in the town, with his equally mysterious wife Gala, is now the stuff of legend. His biographers have hinted at unbridled drug-taking, sex parties and nervous breakdowns. Many make the journey to Dalí’s sumptuous and strange house at Port Lligat, just a bay around from Cadaqués, to catch some of this history. If it was Dalí’s intent in life always to be noticed, always to shock, then he is equally striking in death. From whichever angle you look at Dalí’s large white terrace house, the golden-egg towers are always visible.
Until a few years ago, the interior of the house was closed to visitors, and had been since the painter’s death in 1989 for reasons unknown. A sick and ageing Dalí was controversially burned in a fire at the house in 1984. Years later it’s still unclear whether the artist’s injuries could have been avoided. Allegations that he was mistreated while convalescing there still do the rounds.
Rumours that he signed hundreds of forgeries also circulate. Some say he was a scheming businessman who loved making money; others say his minders deceived him into signing fakes when he was mentally unstable. The truth may never come out but it all makes for intrigue… and tourism.
The irony is that without Dalí, Cadaqués would still be a popular spot simply because of its beauty. It is reminiscent of a village on a Greek island—rustic whitewashed apartments with deep blue-framed windows and doors lining steep, curving, cobblestone streets. Every lane eventually leads down to the village’s serene fishing port, now more of a backdrop for outdoor cafes and restaurants.
There is some seriously good gastronomy in Cadaqués—Italian, French and Catalan and Spanish cuisines dominate. The wonderfully preserved Casa Anita is a revered village institution serving good hearty food and deep jugs of red wine. Anita still cooks there and most of her family helps out. One day in the early 70s, Kirk Douglas arrived in a Mercedes and pulled up a chair at Anita’s. Douglas loved a drink and soon became a regular in town, affectionately regarded as, “one of the boys.” Film producer Ilya Salkind bought the rights to the Jules Verne novel ‘The Lighthouse at the End of the World’ and spent a number of months with the likes of Yul Brynner, Kirk Douglas and Samantha Eggar filming the brutal B-grade film ‘The Light at the Edge of the World.’ A violent pirate B-movie, it was shot in and around the lighthouse at Cap de Creus, Spain’s most easterly point. The synopsis? A bloodthirsty pirate (Yul Brynner) arrives on shore, kills the lighthouse captain, takes over the lighthouse and builds a fake one with the intention of deliberately misguiding ships so that they crash into the cliffs. Then off to kill any surviving crew and feast on the booty. Kirk Douglas, the lighthouse captain’s assistant, initially flees but later returns to fight Brynner and saves the day.
The 10km drive from Cadaqués along the road to the lighthouse was especially built for the film and affords dramatic views as the road drops away into the ocean on both sides, revealing an extraordinary landscape of wild plants, monstrous boulders and sheer cliff drops painted with glistening coves dotted with swimmers and summertime yachts. At the summit is the Cap De Creus lighthouse.
Near the lighthouse is a small hotel with its own restaurant. From there you can still see the remnants of the slate hut which doubled as the fake lighthouse that was built for the film sitting alone on a large rock facing out to sea. Many people mistake it for some volcanic slate hut that perhaps German hippies built when they lived nomadically in and around the surrounding caves.
The landscape is volcanic, sharp, treacherous and beautiful—and where the young Dalí spent much of his time. Many of his pieces incorporate this rugged backdrop.
Cap de Creus is one of the world’s special places. There is a 360º panorama up, down and around the Costa Brava and France. Its flora and fauna are famously rare—so much so that the surrounding area is now an official national heritage land and marine park. The 90-hectare area is the largest uninhabited piece of land on the Spanish Mediterranean. Make time for a lunch of the region’s famous anchovies, grilled local fish and Castillo Perelada wine on the restaurant’s expansive terrace.
The fantastic food and views all the way down the coast to Dalí’s house make this a memorable experience. In summertime it’s a favourite haunt for Catalans, Spaniards and tourists on the search for great scuba diving, clean water and walking hikes. In winter, it is a vastly different place, buffeted at times by some of Europe’s most furious winds.
Getting caught here in the midst of the tramontana is a must—taking refuge inside the sturdy restaurant (a former administrative building) that sits on the peak will convince you that you could indeed be at the end of the world.
Douglas himself in his autobiography talks warmly of his time in Cadaqués and the hospitality of the locals. He seems to reserve judgment on one local though.
Douglas hilariously recalls a meeting with Dalí at his house during his stay there.Dalí talked incessantly about erect penises and then suggested what Douglas took to be an invitation to a threesome with some cute thing Dalí had with him. Douglas laughed it off and made a quick exit in his Mercedes. After all, he had a lighthouse to save.