Figueres is the capital of l’Alt Empordà, and its central position will serve as a point of reference for this section of my guide. It is a pleasant little city, or large-ish town, with some fine Modernista buildings and an attractive Rambla. Although it is descended from the two Roman towns of Juncària and Figàries, and was made a Royal Vila in 1267, the only historical buildings of note are the rather boring restored medieval church, which has a nice belltower and an arcaded plaça (where a group of friends staged Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in 1990, starring me; embarrassing in retrospect), and the pentagonal Castillo Sant Ferran, built between 1753 and 1766, on the outskirts of the town. This is Europe’s largest castle, but is not open to the public; you can walk around its 380-metre perimeter, but it is seen at its most forbidding from the motorway going south past the town. At the end of the Spanish Civil War, this was the last Republican bastion in Catalunya after the fall of Barcelona, and Figueres was effectively the capital of Republican Spain for a day. (Even after the last Republicans had fled northwards to France, Figueres rather fruitlessly declared itself the capital of the independent Republic of l’Alt Empordà). The town was very badly bombed by Franco’s airforce. Antonio Tejero, the Guardia Civil officer who led the assault on the Spanish Parliament in the failed coup d’etat of 23rd February 1981, was imprisoned in the castle for many years. He regarded Figueres as el quinto coño, which is Spanish slang for Hicksville, or the back of beyond.
San Pere Church
Figueres is best known as the birthplace of Salvador Dalí and site of the Teatre-Museu Dalí where he is buried. After the Prado in Madrid, this is the second most visited museum in Spain, and in the summer months, stays open until 1 am You are unlikely to miss the Torre Galatea, a terra-cotta structure topped by giant eggs and studded with loaves of bread, where Dalí lived his final pathetic years. The entrance to the museum itself is next door, and is topped with golden figures like Oscars standing on pedestals separating more eggs, and a spectacular geodesic dome. This 19th-century theatre was converted into a museum by Dalí himself and houses a huge and varied collection of his strange creations, with an odd assortment of architecture, sculpture, jewelry, etchings, and drawings, but don’t expect to see his most famous works here. On the main Rambla, the Museu dels Joguets is private collection of over 3,500 toys. Also on the Rambla is the worthy but boring Museu de L’Emporda, featuring a bland collection of archeological artifacts and a lot of not very good Catalan paintings. On the outskirts of Figueres is the private Museum of Naïve Art.
There are several good restaurants, and some pleasant pavement cafés. The most famous places to eat in Figueres are the 135 year-old Hotel Durán on the Rambla and the 1960s Motel Ampurdán, now recristened as a Hotel, on the northern outskirts of the town. Both are extremely expensive. Nightlife has really taken off in the last few years, and there are several good bars and nightclubs. On May 3rd, Figueres celebrates the Fires i Festes de la Santa Creu, and there’s a popular revetlla, or dance party, on June 28th and 29th.
The main road from Figueres to Llança and the northeast coast is straight but pleasant, passing through serious wine country, with several interesting sights and detours on both sides. Another road from Figueres leads to the 11th century Augustinian monastery of Vilabertran, notable mainly for its Romanesque church, a lovely cloister, an impressive Gothic palace for the abbot and a magnificent gold processional cross. Vilabertran itself is rather dull but does have one modernista palace worth seeing. The village hosts an important late summer music festival, the Schubertiada, which brings some of the world’s most prestigious lieder performers to the parish church.
This article was written by Francis Barrett. See also Francis' excellent guide to Ireland irelandbyways.com
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