I had the pleasure of visiting Girona, located in the Costa Brava region of Spain just north of Barcelona, when it acted as host city for this year’s European travel blogger conference.
This region of Spain is not as popular as Costa del Sol or islands like Ibiza, which is good and bad. Good because there aren’t that many tourists here and it’s relatively quiet. Bad because this region is beautiful, picturesque, and filled with gorgeous coastlines that I wish they did advertise more so I would have visited sooner. I can’t believe I’ve been coming to Spain for six years and never made it here! Costa Brava has become one of my favorite spots in Spain and Girona one of my favorite cities.
The city of Girona has been inhabited since before the Romans. After the Roman Empire collapsed, the city was ruled by an endless stream of kings and princes over the centuries. Girona has undergone 25 sieges and been captured seven times in its history.
One of the most famous of these sieges began in May 1809 when the city was besieged by 35,000 French Napoleonic troops until disease and famine compelled it to surrender that December. I actually got to see a reenactment of one of the battles from this siege while I was there. It was a quite a spectacle seeing everyone dressed up, and unlike reenactments in the United States, you got “on the battlefield” with everyone else. Tons of people intermingled with the reenactors and took photos on the field. It also meant that the cannons and guns got scarily close to me.
Modern-day Girona is filled with abundant food, cheap bars, and winding cobblestone streets that I could spend hours getting lost in. During my amazing stay here, I found a number of activities to enjoy:
Ice cream at Rocambolesc — The three Roca brothers are considered some of the top chefs in the world and run the second-best restaurant in the world (see further down this list). In Girona, Jordi Roca, the youngest brother, runs this ice cream shop with a sort of Willy Wonka decor. You can enjoy interesting flavors, various sherbets that can be topped with berries, cotton candy, popping candy, fruits, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, fudge, and so much more. I went there two days in a row, and I regret not going more.
Monastery Sant Pere de Rodes — One of the oldest in Europe, this grand monastery is outside the city but easy to get to by bus or car. The church is a great example of Romanesque architecture.
The Girona Cathedral — A spectacular cathedral, the interior includes the widest Gothic nave in the world and the second widest overall after St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Construction was first started in the 11th century and wasn’t completed until the 18th century. It’s right in the center of town. While it’s not as amazing as the Sant Pere, if you can’t make it there, visit this cathedral.
Walk the wall — Girona used to be surrounded by a vast medieval wall meant to keep out unfriendly armies. That wall was destroyed centuries ago, but you can walk around a reconstructed version that surrounds the historic center of the city and see all the main points of interest.
The City History Museum — Are you a history buff? Good, me too! I try to visit every history museum I come across. After all, you can’t know where people are if you don’t know where they have been. Girona’s history museum does a good job of explaining the city’s complex and often turbulent history.
Day trip to Figueres to see Dalí — A short trip from Girona (around an hour by train) is the Dalí museum in Figueres. Dalí is an important figure in this region, having been born in Figueres, though he lived in the coastal town of Cadaques most of his life (you can visit that house too). Some of Dalí’s most famous surrealist art and statues can be found in the Figueres museum. Be prepared for the crowds; at times, you are moving at a snail’s pace to see some of the more famous works — it’s always rush hour here.
The Jewish Quarter — The 12th century saw the birth of a flourishing Jewish community that was ended in 1492 when the Jews were expelled from Spain. Today, the Jewish Quarter is one of the best preserved historic sites in Europe, with centuries-old houses and façades still in wonderful condition. There is also a museum to visit, though I didn’t make it there. However, this writer did and had some interesting comments.
El Celler de Can Roca — Owned by the famous Roca brothers and considered the second best in the world, a meal here will cost mucho dinero (a lot of money), but if you have the money to spend, why not eat at one of the top restaurants in the world? The brothers catered our blogger conference (crazy, huh?) and the food was heavenly. I am sure the restaurant is just as mouth watering.
Gorge on the food — OK, this activity isn’t limited to this city. Eating is one of the greatest activities in all of Spain, but in Girona, eating is truly an art form. I went overboard on the tapas, cured ham, and ice cream. For tapas, check out Txalaka.
Girona offers a place to experience the Catalonian region without the hordes in nearby Barcelona. It also makes for a good gateway city into the regions of Costa Brava, with its villages, famous coastline, and access to the Pyrenees.