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Seven great ways to celebrate 400 years of Cervantes

It's been 400 years since the death of Spain's beloved literary star and Spain has a seemingly unending schedule of celebrations. We take a look at some of the best ways to join in the fun.

Seven great ways to celebrate 400 years of Cervantes
Celebrate Cervantes' masterpiece this year. Photo: Portrait by Juan de Jauregui y Aguilar/Wikimedia

He is one of Spain's most famous writers and rivals William Shakespeare for the influence he has had on literature. So it's no surprise that Spain is now getting into gear to celebrate 400 years since Miguel de Cervantes died on April 23rd 1616.

There are parties, concerts, exhibits and more planned all around the world throughout the year, so we bring you a glimpse of the best ways to get into the literary spirit.

1. Read Don Quixote


Photo: Fiona Govan

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha is regarded as the first modern novel and has had much influence on the literary world beyond Spanish class reading lists.

The two-volume book, about a man who loses his sanity and embarks on a knightly quest to restore chivalry, pioneered techniques such as realism, metatheatre (theatre which draws attention to its unreality, like a play within a play) and intertextuality (the shaping of a text's meaning by another text).

READ: Nine reasons why Cervantes is better than Shakespeare

It even coined a new word, quixotic, which means extremely idealistic, or unrealistically impractical.

Sure, a poll last summer found that most Spaniards had never read the novel all the way through, but what better time to take a stab at the classic work than during all the Cervantes hullabaloo this year?

2. Visit his town 


The statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza outside Cervantes' birthplace in Alcalá de Henares. Photo: AWa/Wikimedia

Cervantes was born in the Castilian city of Alcalá de Henares, located 35km northeast of Madrid. The local university and historical centre is a Unesco World Heritage Site, often praised for its beautiful architecture and being the first city to be designed and built solely around a university, becoming a model for unversity towns worldwide.

With such a rich academic tradition, it's no wonder the town is so stoked to celebrate its native son.

3. Do the Cervantes tour


Follow in the footsteps of the great man himself. Photo: Portrait by Juan de Jauregui y Aguilar/Wikimedia

Alcalá de Henares offers visitors a planned route to find the places the author once frequented, like the house where he was born, the church where he was baptized and other real-life places that helped inspire his fictional works. 

4. Take the Cervantes train


Photo: turismomadrid.es

Another way to discover Cervantes' home is by taking the Cervantes train, on which costumed actors will lead you through the city and provide authentic local pastries.

5. See a play (or ballet)

The comedy Cervantina will be performed on a number of different stages around Spain until May 28th.

The National Dance Company of Spain is also performing a “Ballet Don Quixote” in Valencia until May 15th. After Valencia, the dance troupe will also make stops in Sant Cugat del Vallès outside Barcelona, Bilbao, Murcia, Almagro and Valladolid.

6. Analyze cinema


Photo: 400cervantes.es

The Museo Casa Cervantes in Valladolid has a schedule of “cinema Mondays” dedicated to Cervantes and Shakespeare. The museum will be hosting a series of talks discussing various attempts to adapt Cervantes' work for the silver screen. 

Monty Python's Terry GIllam has famously continued to fail to finish a film based on Don Quixote's characters called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, eventually creating a documentary about his struggle called Lost in La Mancha.

Orson Welles also never finished a feature film on the novel before his death in 1985.

7. Admire some artwork and 'follow Cervantes' footsteps'


Photo: 400cervantes.es

A number of venues around the country are exhibiting artwork inspired by the author, including an exhibit in various cities called Miguel EN Cervantes, featuring illustrated comics based on El Retablo de las Maravillas (The Altarpiece of Wonders) – an interlude Cervantes wrote in 1615 – in Esquivas, Toledo and Valladolid.

Madrid is featuring a gallery of playing cards based on Don Quixote as well as an exhibit of work by a photographer who “followed in Cervantes' footsteps,” visually retracing the writer's steps through places and paths he visited throughout his life.

For all official events celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of Cervantes check out the website www.400cervantes.es

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DISCOVER SPAIN

Following the Dalí trail around Spain’s Costa Brava

Catalonia-based travel writer Esme Fox embarks on a voyage into the mind of Salvador Dalí, visiting various locations and landmarks that the Spanish surrealist created or made his own around Spain's Costa Brava.

Following the Dalí trail around Spain's Costa Brava

Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí is perhaps one of Spain’s most famous and loved 20th-century artists. He is known for his quirky images of melting clocks, elephants with long spindly legs and the portraits of his wife, Gala.

Dalí was born in the town of Figueres in 1904, which is located in northern Catalonia, approximately 50km north of the city of Girona. This is the best place to begin your Dalí tour of the region.

Figueres Day 1  

Arriving in Figueres your first stop should be the Salvador Dalí Theatre-Museum, this is where some of the artist’s most important works are held. The museum was in fact created by Dalí himself when he was still alive and was inaugurated in 1974. It’s housed in an old theatre, hence the name. Everything in it was designed by Dalí to offer visitors a real experience and draw them into his world.

It’s eye-catching even from the outside – pink in colour and studded with yellow plaster croissants, and on the walls sit golden statues and his iconic large white eggs – a symbol which you’ll see repeated on your journey.

Salvador Dalí Theatre Museum in Figueres. Photo: Julia Casado / Pixabay

The museum is filled with 1,500 pieces including his sketches, paintings and sculptures. It also houses the remains of Dalí himself, down in the crypt, where you can pay your respects to the artist.

Next door to the museum is a permanent exhibition dedicated to the exquisite jewellery Dalí designed, which shouldn’t be missed. 

Afterward, you can go and see the house where Dalí was born at number 6 on Carrer Monturiol. It’s not currently an attraction, however there are renovation works underway to turn it into a new museum about the artist’s childhood. It was due to open in 2020, but there were significant delays because of the pandemic and it is still nowhere near finished.

Spend the night at the Hotel Duran, where Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala in fact lived while they were renovating the theatre. The hotel restaurant even has a special Dalí room, filled with images of Dalí and all his friends, as well as objects belonging to the artist.

Cadaqués Days 2 and 3

After a winding and hairpin turn journey west, you’ll find yourself at one of the eastern-most points in Spain – the town of Cadaqués. One of the most attractive towns on the Costa Brava, its white-washed buildings gleam against the cerulean blue bay and pink bougainvillea decorates its tiny interior cobbled streets.

In summer in particular, this place gets very busy, so make sure you’ve booked well in advance for your accommodation.

Dalí loved this area in summer too and built his summer house in the tiny neighbouring village of Portlligat. The house is now a museum, but as it’s quite small, booking tickets several weeks or even months ahead of time is essential.

Dalí’s house in Portlligat. Photo: Esme Fox

Dalí designed the house himself, which was created from several fisherman’s cottages joined together and is topped with his iconic white eggs.

Inside, you’ll see the artist’s studio, where many of his most famous works were created, including two unfinished pieces which still sit on the easels. You can also see Dalí and Gala’s bedroom where they kept canaries to wake them up in the morning and crickets to send them off to sleep at night. There’s also an angled mirror ready to catch the sun, ensuring that Dalí was one of the first people in the whole of Spain to see the sunrise each morning.

The highlight of the visit however is the vast garden, which even features a replica of the lion fountain in Granada’s Alhambra palace as well as his famous sofa in the shape of a pair of pink lips. The views from the top part of his garden above the olive grove are so stunning that it’s no wonder Dalí was inspired by the landscapes here.

There’s a replica of Alhambra’s lion fountain in Dalí’s garden. Photo: Esme Fox

On your second day in Cadaqués, head north to Paratge de Tudela located in the Cap de Creus Natural Park. You’ll need a car or taxi to get here. Here, you can hike among the very same landscape that Dalí painted in some of his most celebrated works. Look carefully or take a tour to see the same rock formations featured in his paintings.

For dinner, book a table at El Barroco, a traditional Lebanese restaurant and one of Dalí’s favourites when he lived there. He ate there at least twice a week in summer and it’s said that whenever he had famous guests he would meet them there instead of inviting them into his home. Dalí’s face adorns the door and inside it’s just as surreal with colourful plants, quirky statues and mirrors hanging in the courtyard. And inside it’s like a museum itself, filled with glass cases of bizarre objects and old musical instruments. There are even some photos of Dalí and Gala.

Book a table at El Barroco in Cadaqués. Photo: Esme Fox

Day 4

Make your way 60km south of Cadaques to the tiny charming villages of inland Costa Brava and specifically the village of Púbol. It’s here that Dalí bought an old castle in 1969 and renovated it from 1982 to 1984 for his wife Gala to live in.

Although the castle dates back to the 12th century, Dalí modernised it and added his creative and whimsical touches. It was a kind of love letter to his wife.

Dalí said of the castle: “Everything celebrates the cult of Gala, even the round room, with its perfect echo that crowns the building as a whole and which is like a dome of this Galactic cathedral… I needed to offer Gala a case more solemnly worthy of our love. That is why I gave her a mansion built on the remains of a 12th-century castle: the old castle of Púbol in La Bisbal, where she would reign like an absolute sovereign, right up to the point that I could visit her only by hand-written invitation from her. I limited myself to the pleasure of decorating her ceilings so that when she raised her eyes, she would always find me in her sky”.

Visit Gala’s castle in Púbol. Photo: Enric / WikiCommons

When Gala died in 1982, the castle became her mausoleum and she is still buried there today.

The castle is now a museum where you can tour each of the grand rooms, serene gardens, as well as spot Dalí’s whacky touches. Gala for example asked Dalí to cover up the radiators because she didn’t like to look at them, so as a joke, Dalí covered them with paintings of yet more radiators. 

Day four completes your Dalí trail around the Costa Brava. Go ahead and immerse yourself in the whimsical world of Dalí. 

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