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Figueres

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Figueres [1] is a small city in Catalonia, Spain with a population of 40,000. It is the seat of the Alt Empordà county in the Girona Province and has a wealth of history spanning many centuries that has been preserved and shown in several museums in the area as well as in the compact Old Town. Being the last major town before the Spanish/French border, it serves as a fantastic base to explore the upper Empordá region that is awash in great food, wines, and beaches that represent the Catalan culture.

Understand

The city's main attraction is the world famous museum of native son, Salvador Dalí . After the Prado in Madrid, it is the most visited museum in all of Spain. It is often seen as part of a day-trip from Barcelona or the packaged hotels of Costa Brava.

But beyond the museum, Figueres can be a pleasant place to spend a night or two. The town, much like Girona, is a relaxed alternative to Barcelona with relaxing cafés on side streets, and a compact Old Town core. The Empordà region in general will appeal to those interested in the history and/or burgeoning viticulture and gastronomy of Northern Catalonia. Figueres works well as a base for day trips to these destinations. It is also happens to be the case that Figueres is 15 minutes by car or 25 minutes by train from the beaches of the Costa Brava.

The name of the town means 'fig trees' as historically they grew with great abundance around the area. Local youth often colloquially refer to the town as 'Figui' for short.

History

Figueres descended from two Roman towns, Juncària and Figàries, but the actual establishment of the town really started to happen in the 10th century as stated in records from the Sant Pere Monastery that existed in the space where the Sant Pere church is today. As it was not an outpost border town in the Marca Hispanica (such as neighboring Besalú or Peralada), it was of little significance until first made a Royal Town in 1267 and then much later, when the Sant Ferran castle was built from 1753 to 1766.

Once the castle came in to existence, fortunes changed a great deal for Figueres as it became the supply base for the castle. The population grew and it started its course towards being the major town of the region, despite occupation by Napoleon's forces from 1808-1814. Between 1831 and 1840, the Rambla was created by covering a dry riverbed, and thus became a center for the town. The shade trees that stand on the Rambla were originally planted in 1864. In 1877, the railway station was opened. In 1904, the town's most famous resident, one Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech was born.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was quite hard on the town. The castle became the last outpost for Republican Spain and Franco's forces bombed the town with great ferocity. As was the case with a lot of the surrounding area, many structures were lost in the war, including the main theater, which stood in ruin for several decades.

Upon attaining critical and financial success around the world, Dalí bought the old theater in his home town and converted it in to the museum that we see today, and which is a major draw of tourism to the town.

Talk

As Figueres is in Catalonia and Catalonia is an independent, yet integral part of Spain, everybody in Figueres can speak Spanish, albeit to varying degrees. Despite the fact that Catalan was banned from being spoken under the Franco regime and Spanish was the only language, the older generation above 60, when speaking Spanish, will often speak a form of "Spatalan", which is mostly Spanish but with a lot of Catalan tossed in which can be difficult to understand at times for foreigners. And keep in mind that Catalan is as separate a language from Spanish as French and Italian are. It is not a Spanish dialect.

For those wishing to make the effort to speak some Catalan, keep in mind that they speak Northern Catalan, which has a strong influence of French through the interchange with French and Catalan speakers across the border in France. Such dishes as 'pa amb tomaquet' (bread with tomato) become 'pa amb tomate' with a soft 'uh' sound at the end. There are many more examples and one of the most difficult is when they say words that end with 'o' and say it with a long 'u' sound. If you make the effort to say neighboring town names in Catalan, make sure you understand the pronunciation and if you say Barcelona with the Castillian 'th' dipthong for the 'c', people will assume that you are speaking Spanish.

The generation under 35 will generally speak some if not a good deal of English as well as French. Some people here and there may speak a little Italian and oddly enough, there is a large Russian community in Figueres who naturally can speak Russian. But these are all the language regularly spoken. Those who speak only Germanic languages will have a difficult time communicating.

Get in

By rail

From Barcelona, take a train from Barcelona Sants, Passeig de Gracia, or El Clot-Aragó. A round trip ticket on the express or, Media Distancia (formerly Catalunya Express prior to the separation of Renfe [2] in to two entities) line costs about 22€ and takes 1:40 hours +/- depending on delays for construction of the high speed rail to Perpignan, which currently can be anywhere from 5-45 minutes--plan accordingly through 2010. The local or, Regional costs 18€ and takes around 2 hours. The train station is located 10 minutes on foot from the museum with clear signs pointing the direction. If you get lost, everyone in town knows exactly where it is if you ask for 'Dalí'.

All trains from Barcelona also stop at Girona on their way to Figueres. From Girona, it is only a difference of about 5-10 minutes in travel time between the different lines, so both the Media Distancia and Regional are nearly the same in travel time.

At some point in 2010-11, the high speed rail system will be completed to Perpignan which will in theory allow direct service to Paris on the TGV [3] in approximately 5.5 hours. Currently, for travelers heading north by train, there is only the Talgo line which stops in Narbonne and requires a transfer to a Paris-bound train. At an unknown date in the somewhat near future, the AVE [4] section of the line to Barcelona (with a stop in Girona) will be completed that will allow high speed rail to all areas of Spain. Unfortunately, as it is currently planned, the "Figueres" station for the high speed lines will be in the neighboring small town of Vilafant which is approximately 5km from the center of Figueres making it rather inconvenient for future travelers wishing to get to the sites in town.

The Renfe website link to above was historically unusable, but as of the time of this writing, been completely overhauled to now be a very solid reference in multiple languages. That said, due to the aforementioned construction work, it is often advised to verify with the ticket agents at the station if your timing is crucial.

By plane

One can fly to the Girona/Costa Brava Airport on any number of budget airlines (it is the Southern hub of Ryanair) and take a bus directly up to Figueres from the airport on Barcelona Bus (operated by Sagales.) The schedule for this bus is not ideal outside of summer months and so it is more advisable to take the bus to the Girona train station and take the train up to Figueres. There is also a bus by the same company to and from the airport and Barcelona that is quite frequent, if one is trying to schedule in Figueres with a Barcelona trip.

By bus

The bus station in Figueres is directly across Plaça de l'Estació from the train station with regular connections to Barcelona (stopping at Estació del Nord) and other destinations in Catalonia as well as up to Southern France.

Get around

All the sites for the vast majority of tourists going to Figueres are easily reached on foot, and there are plenty of benches and public spaces for a rest in the shade if one gets tired while walking around.

For those looking to travel outside of Figueres to smaller, historic towns, castles, restaurants, or wineries, there are several car rental offices (Europcar, Enterprise, Avis) right next to the train station, although it is highly advisable to book ahead online to get better rates than just showing up.

See

Museums

<br /> The central building was the old town theater, long vacant after being bombed during the Spanish Civil War. Even art fans who are otherwise lukewarm to Dalí's general artistry can find visiting here a rewarding experience, and may come out with new appreciation for the eccentric genius. The museum also contains displays of other Catalan artists, and Dalí's personal collection of work, ranging from old masters to Marcel Duchamp. Note that Dalí's most famous work, 'The Persistence of Memory ', is not in this museum, but in [[New York City]]'s Museum of Modern Art. Many other major works were removed by Spanish authorities shortly after his death and displayed in the Prado, in Madrid. <br /> '''Usage tips:''' Reservation is ''not'' essential, but it will likely save you from spending half an hour in a queue. There's lot of coin-operated gadgets all around the museum--therefore, take as much change as you have when you leave your belongings to a cloakroom; ask personnel to change banknotes if you don't have enough. Most famous example is ''Rain Taxi'' in the center of the courtyard for 1€. Plus you can have audioguide for 1€ per room--although Dalí's original concept was to not allow ''any'' guides explaining anything to visitors: they should understand as much as they're able to without help. <br /> Also note that visitors to the museum are extremely heavy during the summer months. Weekends are best avoided as the experience will not be pleasant. Also to be avoided are cloudy days in the summer as those on a beach holiday will inevitably make a trip to the museum to be their day event as the beach is less than ideal.

Landmarks

There is an informal but large vintage and classic car museum on the road from Figueres to Empuriabrava-beautiful cars some fully restored and some for sale going back a hundred years.

City Festivals

Every town in Spain, no matter what the size has a day of celebration for their patron saint known as the 'fiesta mayor' in Castellano or 'festa major' in Catalan. They are a celebration of the town with events that are free to the public such as concerts, art shows, and theater performances. While they make the centers very crowded, they are one of the most lively times to visit a town in Spain. Figueres happens to have two of these as well as 'parties of the street':

Other Events

Buy

Dalí souvenirs

For anyone who is in the market for Dalí knickknacks, Figueres is the place to find them.

General Shopping

It is quite common for the people living in the south of France to visit Figueres for shopping purposes as the taxes are lower than in France. Because of this and the large tourism pull due to the museums and beaches, a great number of large brands have shops in Figueres including: Zara, Benetton, La Coste, Pull & Bear, and Women's Secret among others. While not the level of shopping one finds in Barcelona, the selection is quite decent overall and for those who require larger sizes in clothing and shoes, it is often the case that they can be found easier in Figueres than in Barcelona.

Local Shopping

Figueres also has a number of older, locally owned stores that haven't been swept away by the tide of massive chain stores.

Chocolates/pastries

Jewelry

Regional items

Wines

Eat

Local Catalan specialties include: oxtail soup, butifarra, fuet, seafood, paella, and of course gaspatxo. If 'patatas de Olot' are on a menu, make sure to give them a try as they are a slice of potato wrapped around ground meat and fried. While not terribly healthy, they are incredibly delicious. There is also an onion from the Figueres area called the 'ceba de Figueres' which is sought after due to its being a great deal sweeter than a regular white onion and can even be eaten raw in a number of dishes.

Avoid all the restaurants along Carrer de Jonquera from Perelada to Muralla. While edible, the restaurants on this stretch of street make subpar food for beach tourists who don't want to walk far from the Dalí Museum. They are not a good representation of the food from the region.

Restaurants

Bars

Plaça del Sol is the main "scene" of Figueres at night. There are a number of bars along this square which is really just a parking lot with the town library on it as well. Some of the bars allow smoking and some not. Overall, the offer is much the same with one bar usually being the "hot bar" of that particular month. True to the name, it's a much more popular place in the summer. The other option is, Plaça de les Patates, which is a great deal more laid back.

Wines

There has been an extensive history of wine cultivation in the area around Figueres dating back 2,600 years. Currently, the region is seeing a resurgence of viticulture and is creating some of the most noteworthy wines in all of Catalonia, especially for the price.

As Figueres is the seat of Alt Empordà, it also houses the offices for the local DO Empordà [6] region which can be found at Avinguda Marignane, 2. The office can provide more information, although the website is extremely helpful in locating wineries.

For those wishing to make a tour of the wineries, you will definitely need a car as they are in far-flung villages around the area. Closest to Figueres are the wineries of La Vinyeta [7] and Perelada [8]. The former is a very new, modern winery started by a young winemaker who is making some of the most exciting wines in the region neat the village of Mollets. The later is a much more established winery that sits next to the castle of Perelada, which is a small town about five minutes by car from Figueres. Their wines are rather pricey, but they have grown to carry a high pedigree whether deserved or not. Perelada also charges for tastings, which is rather uncommon.

Outside of these two regions, a drive up to the village Cantallops is recommended as in addition to being a delightful town, it houses the wineries of Vinyes dels Aspres [9] and Masia Serra. Both of these wineries are making splendid wines, especially the sweet Garnatxas (Grenache) and Moscatells. You will need to call Masia Serra before visiting though as it is rarely open to the public.

Another village worth visiting for wine is Capmany which has Arché Pagès [10] and about 10 other wineries.

Heading in the other direction, one can go to Vilajuïga which has Empordàlia [11] that makes the Sinols brand. Additionally, they also have wine 'a granel' or in bulk that is of high quality and can be bought for less than 1.50€ a liter.

For those who can't make it to these wineries, thankfully the local wine shops in Figueres sell all these brands for those wishing to take back something from Figueres that isn't related to Dalí.

Sleep

Figueres provides a variety of hotels, with rates much cheaper than in Barcelona, but generally comparable to Girona. In addition to actual hotel and hostel establishments there are a great many 'masias' in the area which are farm houses that were converted over to rural guest houses. The prices can be quite good and the accommodations very nice, although the proprietors rarely speak English and thus they can be tricky to find at times.

Budget

Midrange

Splurge

Stay safe

Figueres is overall, a very safe town. Violent crime is extremely rare and most issues resolve around petty theft when they happen. As is the case in many places, beware of crowded areas and events as pickpockets can frequent these venues.

In the summer, it can get quite hot as is typical with coastal Catalonia. Make sure to drink plenty of water and cover your head if sensitive to heavy direct sunlight.

In the winter, it can be quite cold at times. While snow is exceptionally rare in Figueres proper, driving on the E-15 or the AP-7 north to France could very well require chains or snow tires near La Jonquera at certain times due to the pass often receiving a decent amount of snow. Likewise, driving west from Figueres, the mountain roads climb in elevation quite rapidly and snow is common, so plan car trips accordingly.

Get out

Related Information




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A list of contributors is available at the original article on Wikitravel. Additional modifications may have been made by users at TRAVEL.COM [12].

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