If you like Salvador Dalí’s art—even if you’re not such a fan of his work—the Gala Dali Castle in Púbol, Spain, is something you should not miss.
This is not a Dalí museum. Dalí bought the building, a medieval castle, as a gift for his wife and muse, Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, who was called simply Gala.
I am extremely grateful to the Costa Brava Tourist Board and the Consell Comarcal Baix Emporda for including me in a “Discover the Medieval Coast” tour, which included the Gala Dalí Castle. While I received admission and the tour for free, all opinions are my own.
What makes it special, though, is that he didn’t just buy it and hand it over to her. Instead, he had it renovated to his instructions and decorated it himself: an entire Daliesque house! It’s meant to be a museum about Gala and her life and death. In reality, though, it’s a museum about Gala and Dalí’s relationship.
Some random facts I learned about their relationship:
- Gala was first married to Paul Éluard, also a surrealist artist, and they had a daughter, whom she disliked and neglected.
- Gala and Dalí met when she was visiting Dalí with Éluard. When their visit was over, Éluard left and she stayed.
- Dalí was 10 years younger than Gala.
- He bought her a castle to live in. In other words, despite their marriage, they didn’t live together. In fact, she required him to write to her to receive permission to visit.
- She lived in the castle in the 1970’s. Apparently, she entertained a series of young lovers there as well, including her ex-husband.
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The Gala Dalí Castle Interior
As medieval castles go, this is a pretty modest one. Stone walls, a very small courtyard, but not the kind you’d picture as a fortification. It’s more of a stately home than a castle. What’s special about it is Dalí’s interior design.
For example, the throne room. I suppose in Dalí’s mind, any good castle needs a throne. According to our excellent tour guide, Nik Duserm (whom I recommend unreservedly as a truly gifted storyteller), it was only ever used once—by Dalí, not Gala—for a photo shoot.
The ceiling was also his creation, echoing historical styles but with a surrealistic touch.
Notice that he didn’t just assemble items from other makers for the throne or any of the interior décor. Besides the painting and sculpture he did for the castle, he designed much of the furniture himself too. For example, the living room, next to the throne room, has a glass-topped coffee table. It seems ordinary at first, until you look down: a hole in the floor reveals a horse … an entire stuffed horse, which, apparently, Dali received as a gift.
And the lamp next to the sofa isn’t just an ordinary lamp.
Many rooms include references to medieval themes, in keeping with the history of the castle, but always with a surrealistic twist. He created several coats of arms that are all plays on the coat of arms of the original family who lived in the castle.
The bathroom I found rather attractive, and less disturbing than some of the other rooms. It was converted from an old kitchen.
The Gala Dalí Castle Garden
Not one for half measures, Dalí didn’t stop with the interior of the castle. He added his special touch to the garden as well. The most alarming items are the monsters: huge statues that seem to be elephants, more or less, but have the legs of insects. Very creepy when you round a corner of the shrubbery and come upon one.
The fountain that forms the centerpiece of the garden seems classical at first glance, but when you look closer, you notice the heads on either side down near the ground. They’re Wagner: all of them.
This museum makes up one point of a “Dalí triangle” that Dalí admirers visit. The Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres was designed by Dalí himself and is filled with his works. It also hosts a gallery of Dalí-designed jewelry. The third point in the triangle is the Dalí house in Portlligat, where he lived and worked and which he designed and decorated himself. Both the Castle and the Theatre-Museum were excellent. I assume that the Dalí house is just as worthwhile.
Don’t try to see all three in one day, however. I don’t know about the house, but the castle will take a couple of hours to see properly and the museum in Figueres will take at least three—and that’s not including the time it takes waiting in line for a ticket to the museum if you don’t book ahead! Plan at least two days: three if you don’t want to rush or overdose on surrealism!
Information for visiting Gala Dali Castle
How to get there: The Castle is on Gala Dali Square in Púbol-la Pera. The village is about a half hour by car from Girona, two hours from Barcelona and an hour and a half from Perpignan, France. You can take bus #11 from the central bus station in Girona, get off in La Pera, Gasolinera, and walk about 1.5 km from there.
- November 2 – January 7: 10-17:00
- January 8-March 14: Closed
- March 15-June 14 and September 16-November 1: 10-18:00
- June 15-September 15: 10-20:00
- They also have open nights from 20-22:00 between July 28 and September 1, but only with a guided tour.
Prices: Without a guide, adult tickets cost €8. If you want an English-speaking guide (or French, Spanish or Catalan), make sure to book in advance, and it will cost €10.
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