Thursday, 9 October 2014

Visiting Salvador Dalí's house in Cadaqués, Catalonia

You may not be able to name any of Salvador Dalí’s works, but you’d certainly recognize his moustache. The late Salvador Dalí (1904–1989) was an acclaimed Spanish artist, a key player in the surrealist movement and famous bon viveur. Although Dalí also resided in Madrid and Paris, he’s most commonly associated with Catalonia’s Costa Brava, where he lived for most of his life.

Born in the inland town of Figueres, Dalí spent most of his life in northern Catalonia, notably 50 years in the hamlet of Portlligat close to the beautiful seaside town of Cadaqués. Today Portlligat is a tiny cluster of whitewashed buildings and beach bars huddled around a bay, but the focal point isn’t the pebble beach or the captivating vistas: it’s Dalí’s former home. At first glance, the complex of buildings is nothing remarkable: surprising when you consider Dalí was renowned for his eccentric, flamboyant style. On closer inspection, however, the exterior reveals a few characteristic touches, such as a turret topped with an egg and garnished with pitch-forks poking out at jaunty angles.

Open to the public, the Casa-Museu Salvador Dalí requires prior booking (tickets cost €11 and are available via the Dalí Foundation’s website). Entry is in reduced groups at an allocated time, which means that a wander around the artist’s home is a relaxed, crowd-free experience. Accompanied by a guide who gave a brief overview of each section of the house and answered any questions, we were largely free to explore the intimate space were Dalí and his wife Gala lived from 1930 until Gala’s death in 1982. A slightly rambling complex, the rooms were small and private, a blend of classic Spanish villa and Dalí’s quirky charm. Where else but in Salvador Dalí’s abode would you be greeted by a bear serving as an umbrella stand and a lip-shaped floral sofa in the entrance hall?

Dali's library

When Dalí arrived in Portlligat, he took up residence in a fisherman’s hut, gradually constructing a more permanent home over the years. The subsequent structure has been well-maintained since Dalí’s death, and retains many of Salvador and Gala’s belongings. The visit takes in the ground floor reception rooms, including a library and dining room, before moving up to Dalí’s studio, where we learned that he painted while seated, and moved his canvases up and down by means of a pulley system. This laid-back attitude continued in the bedroom, where Dalí had strategically positioned a mirror so that he could take in the views of Portlligat’s bay without needing to stir from his canopied bed.

Dali's bedroom

For someone so flamboyant, Dalí’s personal space was surprisingly understated: strip away the many unusual ornaments and you’d be left with a more run-of-the-mill residence, albeit one with captivating sea views. The careful curation of the house makes it possible to imagine Dalí’s life in this simple-yet-cluttered space, pottering from studio to library to lounge, often accompanied by the collection of famous guests who visited his home at Portlligat. A small room is papered with newspaper cuttings depicting the Dalí and Gala surrounded by friends such as Picasso, Dalí’s moustachioed face and wide-eyed expression dominating the space. Adjacent to this showcase of the couple’s public life was a much more personal space: a windowless, oval-shaped  room with low seating running around its circumference, built for Gala by Dalí as a place to relax.

Poolside sofa

The outside areas of the house (which visitors are free to wander at their leisure post-tour) continue the blend of playful and personal established inside. Sunny, plant-filled courtyards give way to the swimming pool. This being Dalí’s pad, it couldn’t be a standard 10-metre rectangular affair, oh no: this water feature was designed in the shape of male genitalia. Another lip-shaped sofa takes the place of a sun-lounger, this one fashioned from hot-pink plastic. The eccentric touches continue with a telephone box and a Michelin man statue: nobody could ever accuse Dalí of having conventional taste.
That swimming pool

More of Dalí’s work may be exhibited at the grand Teatre-Museu Dalí in his birthplace at Figueres, but the warren-like, intimate space he called his home is far more revealing of the artist’s private side. The house is rather like you imagine Dalí’s mind to have been: full of unexpected twists and turns, an ordinary base topped with layers of quirk and character.

You can read my post about visiting and dining in the town of Cadaqués here.


  1. Definitely seems like an interesting place to visit! I wonder if they pimped it up a little or if it is really how he left it.

    1. It looked like they'd done some cleaning! Ha. The guide explained that they had tried to keep it as similar to when he lived there as possible. There were so many quirky bits & pieces lying around, you felt that they just had to be his. We even got a peek into the bathroom!

  2. I would love to visit this place! I studied Surrealist art in Paris several summers ago, so Dalí has always fascinated me. I haven't seen much of Catalunya yet, but I'm thinking that needs to change soon!

    1. Oh even more reason to go then! Aside from the art connection, this part of the coast is stunning and quite wild in parts. I loved Cadaques, it's so beautiful even on a busy day. Girona is next on my Catalunya hitlist for the food scene!


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