Barcelona undoubtedly is a fabulous fast-paced city, but if you need a little "time out", Girona is easily reached, full of quiet corners and arcades, and nestled within city walls with amazing views.
My day out in Girona took rather a strange turn when I entered the Tourist Information office on Rambla de la Llibertat. I was in search of a map, but came out wearing a “necklace” which would record my footfall in Girona. Apparently the University students were undertaking a study of tourism in the city. “Would I be so good as to participate?” Well, of course I would! I already had the sense that this two thousand year old city was one that I would love.
The River Onyar meanders through it, beneath a succession of bridges and beside rainbow-hued buildings. I stood beside Pont de Pedra (the Stone Bridge), unaware that a cattle market had once taken place right there on the riverbed. Map in hand, my plan was to follow the narrow streets up to the mighty Cathedral, and from there onto the encircling city walls.
It was hot for early November, and I could see how the many arcades and intriguing passageways would provide welcome shade in full summer. An invitation to loiter seemed to beckon from every street corner, but I continued determinedly upwards. At the foot of the Cathedral steps, I paused to draw breath and admire. It towered over me, demanding respect. The 23 metre-wide 15th century Gothic nave is the widest rib-vaulted space in the world. The cloister dates back to the 11th century and the intricately carved arches are exquisite. The 7 euro price seemed a little steep, but it did include admission to the nearby Basilica de Sant Feliu. (ask for a Jubilat and save 2 euros if you are a retired person)
Walled cities always add interest, but the joy of this one is the wide-ranging views to the mountain backdrop of the Costa Brava. I had not been prepared for their beauty. In the 1st century BC, the Romans built a powerful fortress enclosed within a triangular perimeter. This Forca Velha was well protected by a sandstone wall, parts of which still exist today. A fine renovation job has been done on the city walls and it is a delight to look down from them. Time for a glass of wine Bar La Rambla Onze provided one, and a very pleasant spot from which to watch the locals going about their business. It was, after all, the quiet season. My husband’s bacon and cheese baguette wafted a delicious aroma toward me. “Merci”, the Catalan for “thank you”, and it was time to get moving again. But not before I had observed that the “Ladies” provided a very pretty view of the river. I can’t speak for the “Gents”. The Basilica de Sant Feliu seemed quite austere compared to the Cathedral, but the atmosphere created by the background music and spot-lit windows was beautiful. Up until the 10th century, it was the cathedral of Girona. The distinctive bell tower is from the 16th century.
The Arab Baths are close by, their vaulted entrance full of mystery and promise. Time to cross a few bridges Pont de les Peixateries Velles is the most striking of these. The latticed fisherman’s bridge was built by the Eiffel company in 1827, and is the best place for a double helping of the colourful houses, reflected in the river. Pont de Sant Agusti leads directly into lovely Placa de la Independencia, with its graceful mellow-toned arcades and numerous restaurants. Crossing back over slender, lightweight Gomez bridge will bring you to the steps leading up to Sant Feliu. For me it was time to return to the TI, to hand in my "necklace".
My face must have been a picture when I was then presented with an iPad to complete a detailed questionnaire. I had never used one before and my train left in 30 minutes! Oh, how I wished I was staying the night. But sadly, I wasn't, so my hotel recommendations can only be wishful thinking.
Hotel Llegendes de Girona seems to me to be the perfect choice. A stylish boutique hotel, skilfully combining character with modernity, the location is key. Within the Jewish Quarter, surrounded by arcades and narrow streets, the chief drawback are the bells of the Cathedral. Some might find them a little too close for comfort, but I'm an early riser and probably wouldn't mind.
AC Palau de Bellavista has the advantage of being close to the Old Town yet distant enough from the bells to ensure a good night's sleep. A superbly modern hotel, at a good price, situated at the top of a hill, the views are said to be superb.
Getting there Couldn't be simpler. I caught a train from Sants Estacio in Barcelona. The service is never less than hourly, but it depends how much you want to pay. The faster trains are more expensive. My cheap and cheerful option took I hour 17 minutes, but I was happy to watch the pretty countryside glide by.
Girona airport is just 30 minutes away. I barely had time to delve into the Jewish Quarter, but there are plenty of incentives to return.
In May the Flower Festival lights up the streets with colour.
St. George's Day (23rd April) is a special day in Catalonia, while throughout the Summer, concerts and events take place.
Perhaps the October festival of St. Narcissus will be the one. A parade of "giants", street fairs and fireworks, in cooler temperatures, sound to me almost ideal.