Girona is a city that looks like something out of a medieval fairytale. As mysterious as it is beautiful, the city’s vibe (which might have something to do with the eclectic mix of people that have inhabited this ancient city over the centuries) is something you feel the moment you set foot there.
The Barri Vell (“the old neighborhood”) is made up of buildings and streets which represent the myriad cultures that have occupied Girona. The city is surrounded by ancient wall, which can be accessed via Passeig de la Muralla or Passeig Arqueológico. The Onyar river crosses the city and along it, the some of Girona’s (and Barri Vell’s) most emblematic architecture. The facades of the houses located along the river are all painted according to a chromatic color chart by Narcís Comadira, a famous Catalan writer and native son of Girona.
Girona was first inhabited by Iberians, but the city later became a Roman settlement and a militarily strategic location. It reached its maximum splendor in the Middle Ages, when three outlying owns were annexed, Sant Pere, Sant Feliu and El Mercadal, increasing the city’s size significantly. Girona was an important trading center during this time, and due to its growth it also saw a growth in architectural monuments. Indeed, Girona boasts the most impressive number of monuments in Catalunya, among them the city’s cathedral (pictured at left) which was built in the Gothic style.
The cathedral houses a museum, the Museo Capitular, which is next to an amazing convent where El Tapís de la Creació, one of the most important Roman textile pieces in all of Spain, has been carefully preserved for centuries.
While at the cathedral, make sure you see the Torre de Carlemany, one of the most stunning bell towers in all of Spain. You can climb up the steps of Passeig Archeologic to reach the tower, which is the oldest part of the cathedral and definitely worth a look.
If you haven’t had your fill of Roman architecture, there are three other sites you have to see: the Sant Pere de Galligants Monastery, the Sant Nicolau Church and the Baños Árabes (“Arabic Baths”), the which were built in 1194 and imitate the Muslim baths which were very much in fashion during the era.
Last but certainly not least, our favorite part of Girona: the old jewish quarter known as El Call (pictured above). From around the 9th Century until the Spanish Inquisition, during which Spain drove Jews out of the country, El Call was the center of a vibrant Jewish community. After its residents fled, the
neighborhood was subsequently built over and lost to the world for nearly 500 years, until it was rediscovered in the 1970s by a restauranteur. It is now home to a wonderful Museum of Jewish History, which showcases artifacts found when El Call was excavated.
Eating in Girona
This part of Northeast Catalunya boasts a rustic cuisine of its own referred to as Mar i Muntanya (“Sea and Mountain”), featuring dishes that combine seafood with meat and vegetables. Luckily for the culinary tourist, this area is also home to top-notch restaurants, and among them perhaps the most illustrious is El celler de Can Roca (pictured at right), overseen by the Roca brothers and considered one of the best restaurants in Spain.
The restaurant’s quality in ingredients, technique and presentation cannot be beat. The wine list holds more than a few surprises and the desserts are unparalleled. The tasting menu consists of 3 snacks, 3 tapas, 5 dishes, 2 desserts, and it’s a festival of textures and flavors. The Rocas shine with their creativity and innovation through dishes like the dessert adaptaion of Calvin Klein’s “Eternity” perfume. The ambiance here is amazing, but it can get a bit noisy.
Most people who visit EatCatalunya already know about El Bulli, considered “The World’s Best Restaurant”. There is little we can say about El Bulli that hasn’t already said about it by culinary authorities, foodies and even Time Magazine. What we can tell you is that if you are visiting Girona, you are already in the province that lays claim to it, the province of Girona. Reservations for El Bulli are made up to a full year in advance, but should you have the luck of getting one, this culinary monument is a mere 45 miles away.
For something a bit more accessible, we recommend Massana, which specializes in a menu based on whatever’s in season at the moment.
A newcomer on the Girona restaurant scene is Mimolet, which offers excellent service and a fabulous tasting menu for just $40 per person — highly recommended. They don’t have a website, but if you are in Girona’s Barri Vell, they are easily found by just wandering to their location at Pou Rodó 12.