I’ve recently had a couple of days in Girona, Catalonia, escaping the ice and snow here and enjoying the feel of early spring warmth on my skin. Girona has been somewhere that’s been on my radar for a while so it was great to finally have a chance to go and I have to say it’s a fantastic city for a few days. For me if you’ve only got a weekend or so in a new city then I like a smaller city that I don’t have to spend time traveling around, trying to figure out the transport system etc, I want a place I can potter and mooch around exploring on foot and seeing what I can find and Girona fitting the bill perfectly for this.
The city is packed with history as it’s on the Via Augusta way that linked Spain through to ancient Rome and as well as the Romans has been ruled by the Visigoths, Moors and French, has had 25 sieges of the city and been captured 9 times. I think that this is mostly due to it’s fantastic strategic location raised up as it is with views across the plains and bordered on one side by the Pyrenean mountains and the other by the sea so whoever controlled the city controlled vital trade routes in Southern Europe. This history has of course left it’s mark on the city, churches, chapels and a massive cathedral dominate the old town which contains one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in Europe and is fantastic to walk around. The area has the feel of a film set with narrow alleys and staircases vanishing off in a maze like structure willing you to explore. Flanking the back of the old town are the town walls which you can walk along, they gave super vantage points across the city but also down into the old town and it’s maze of alleys and houses and you could pick out some fantastic walled gardens and hidden balconies that you would never have seen from street level. The walls form a rough semi circle with the remainder of the border of the old town being the River Onya which is criss crossed with numerous pedestrian bridges. At street level you cannot see the river and would not know it was there as the houses are jutted right up against it but little gaps appear where the bridges are. One of them will look very familiar in construction methodology to anyone who has seen a certain landmark in Paris as it is indeed designed by Gustave Eiffel and completed just before his more famous tower. The bridges take you over to the newer side of the city but there are still some beautiful squares and tapas bars to while away the time.
I love the whole concept of tapas and no matter how much we attempt to imitate it back here we never get it the same. It was great to sit and watch how the Catalans were going about ordering and eating and as much as I loved the tapas (Iberic ham mmmmmmmm) the way of eating I really enjoyed was Pinchos, trays of mouthwatering morsels on sticks in bars. You help yourself and then they tot up your sticks when you are ready to pay. It’s a great way of trying something without worrying about the cost and I like the whole vibe around it.
As well as wandering, history, eating and drinking there was plenty of culture available as well with museums covering art (classical rather than modern), archaeology, history and a fantastic one on the early years of the cinema. There were also a number of the ancient buildings that you can go in (the Cathedral is the big draw) but I also really liked the Arab Baths. I was lucky to be there over Palm Sunday and while not being religious myself it was great to soak up the atmosphere and watch what was happening around the cathedral as family groups met and chatted all with huge palm leaves or laurel plants. The feeling I got from the city and the people throughout the few days was one of warmth and friendship.
Of course you need somewhere to stay when you go to another city and the choice is usually to stick to the tried and trusted hotel chains or try to find something interesting and locally owned and run. I always try and go for the latter and this time came up trumps with one of the nicest places I’ve stayed, a B&B (Montjuic B&B) 10 mins walk from the old town with views over the town out to the mountains. Carmen and Michael were the most perfect hosts who simply could not do enough for you but were never fussy or formal and provided exquisite homemade delicacies for breakfast that made it tricky to actually want to leave and go exploring.
I felt extremely fortunate to have visited Girona and would definitely go back (in fact I think I could live there). It also happens to by a cycling mecca as well and I’d love to go back and do some riding but whether you ride or not it’s a great city.