Over the Border
With Linda Razzell
Get out your walking boots and prepare to discover the hidden delights of Figueres. Come on a market day (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) and bring a stout basket. Forget Dalì for today, but plan to come again midweek in midwinter and spend a day taking in all five museums.
Arrive from France by the N11/AP7 and turn right into Avinguda Vilallonga. Cross the railway tracks, turn left, and leave the car in the (old) station car park: pick up a street map from the tourist office in the station and you’re off.
From here it is a five minute stroll to the old market in the Plaça del Gra, where it is hard to resist the appeal of fresh, vibrant, local produce. Great quality, low prices.
Just up the road in the Plaça Catalunya is the new market with its huge solar roof; you can find honey, olives, bacalao, goat cheese, sausage, and traditional utensils.
If you get carried away, you can always nip back to the car to stow your purchases.
Time for a break? Nico’s, in the Plaça Catalunya, has the best churros and hot chocolate in town.
If coffee is your poison, go one block farther and walk through König’s restaurant to its terrace, where you can sit and watch the parakeets noisily staking their claims in the palm trees.
Go past the play area and you will find yourself in the Plaça Josep Pla in front of the Teatre Municipal El Jardi, a playful, Dali-inspired building, complete with decorative eggs. It has a lively programme of drama and music all year round, some of it outside in the summer.
Turn right to walk through the leafy Rambla, (currently disrupted by works repairing the collapse where the underground river burst out in November), noting the Museum de L’Emporda, dedicated to local history, and the Toy Museum for future reference.
Carry on up through the Old Town, passing the town hall, cathedral and the Teatre Museu Dalì, and cross the main road to the Parc Bosc, where you can play on the adult exercise apparatus if you feel like it.
From the top of the park it is a short but steep climb up through the pines to the fort of San Ferran.
It takes about forty minutes to walk the narrow rocky path circling the perimeter wall (look out for runners) or you can take the tour inside.
The last battle of the Civil War was fought here – and lost. Then it was used as a prison for Republicans.
An impressive aqueduct, which fed the moat, leads across the motorway before disappearing into the hillside. The looming bulk of San Ferran is a trifle menacing but the views of the Bay of Roses and the snow- capped Pyrénnées are worth the climb. You can see the shape of Figueres from here, its two stations, and its eclectic mix of buildings.
Walk back down the wooded slope to your left, and cross the main road. Turn into the first small street you come to and you will find an unexpected open space ahead, with seats, wooden paths, and metal structures.
Parc de les Aigües is a memorial to the day when Franco, aided by Mussolini, bombed Figueres in broad daylight, destroying a large part of the town and killing many. ‘Silensis’ was an exhibition staged last year in the Museum de L’Emporda, a moving photographic, oral and written record by people who witnessed it.
From here, walk back round the circumference of the town until you find yourself passing the indoor market (excellent fish), and the small but fascinating Museu de la Tecnica, then head back towards the centre.
Turn left down Vilallonga by the Asil, which looks more like a boutique hotel than an old people’s home, and carry on down, crossing the tracks.
Lunchtime doesn’t get going until 13.30 or later, and opposite LIDL you will find Transit, looking like a fast food joint – but the only fast thing here is the service. The food is reliably good and lunch a bargain at eleven euros for three courses, including wine, and always comes with little ‘extras’. The atmosphere is friendly, and you can be sure of a warm reception from the proprietors. If you’d prefer something a little more spicy, head back to the station to the cheap curry house El Panjab.
On the way back to the car park, look through the streets on your left to catch a glimpse of the bullring, a magnificent old structure awaiting a new purpose.
It is worth a slight detour to get a closer look, and that will take you to the final point of interest, the cemetery. Worth coming back in Autumn as the day to visit here is November 1, when everyone else does! It’s a large and respectful party; the town band plays soulful music under the trees while families get together to picnic and renew the flowers. The dead are housed in large, glass- walled mausoleums, and in metre square, six-high, apartment block-style nichos around the walls.
Before you leave, there is a beautiful example of nineteenth century architecture on the corner by the railway tracks, ruinous now and for sale: take a look at a similar, renovated building opposite to get an idea of how elegant this street once was. By the way, the penny-farthing on the wall opposite is not merely an artwork, but once indicated a bicycle shop.
I hope you have enjoyed this fascinating glimpse into a dynamic little town.