Dali in France
"It all became clear in a flash: there, right before me was the centre of the universe". So said the eccentric surrealist Salvador Dali, as he passed Perpignan's railway station in a taxi in 1963. This, in case you were wondering, is the reason for the benches in the shape of Mae West's lips in the road leading to the station and for the railway carriage suspended in mid-air in front of it. You will have to go to the Museum Ludwig in Cologne to see his work, The Railway Station at Perpignan, painted in 1965, but if you are a Dali fan, the trip from the Perpignan area to his home town of Figueres in Spain is an easy one. The coastal road (N114, becoming the N260 in Spain) is highly scenic, but not for the faint-hearted - twisting and turning like a corkscrew at times. Perhaps those prone to travel-sickness would be better off opting for the less attractive but straighter and far faster A9 (becoming the E15 IN Spain).
Figueres is a somewhat shabby Catalan town, about 100 km north of Barcelona. It is, however, Dali's birth place and a further claim to fame is the remarkable Teatre-Museu Dali. This is the world's largest collection of his work – over 4000 pieces, of which 1500 are on display, ranging from paintings, drawings, sculpture, engraving, and holograms to some remarkable "installations" such as the Mae West Room and the Rainy Cadillac. Dali himself is buried in the crypt which is also home to a collection of gold jewellery designed by the artist.
Whilst in the area it is possible to incorporate a visit to Portlligat, where Dali lived and worked for over fifty years. The house is very small, however, and entry is by pre-booked timed ticket only. It is only 25 miles from Figueres but the road is twisty and busy and can take over an hour. Tickets must be collected thirty minutes before entry and can be booked at salvador-dali.org.
The only permanent collection of Dali's works in France is at the Espace Dali in Montmartre. Dali came to Montmartre in 1929 and kept a studio there. Although the three hundred works exhibited are not his most famous, the museum is well worth a visit if you are interested in Dali. Amongst the hi-tech light and sound effects is a recording of Dali's voice, supposedly inducing a feeling of surrealism.