Girona, the Heart of Catalonia

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Girona is the first place I’ve visited that I felt I could make my home, whether for a summer or for a longer term.  I was there in August 2016.  It’s been a little over 6 months since my stay in Girona and I’ve only managed to write about it just yet.  The experience felt so intense and my connection to the place so pure and personal that writing about it kind of felt like a disloyalty. That somehow by writing about it I would be putting an end to the experience. Today I feel like sharing Girona.

Like most of my travels, I came across the city of Girona while looking up the surrounding areas of Ryanair Airport locations on Google maps when I should have been studying for my finals.  The historic city of Girona is the capital of the Province of Girona.  The city of Girona is a straight-forward, tourist friendly drive (20 mins, 30 if you miss the exit) from the Girona Barcelona airport.  It’s also only around a 45 minute drive from Barcelona, which means that many  just see  Girona as a cheap gateway to Barcelona, little do they know that the heart of Catalonia is a mere 20 minute drive away from the Girona airport.

I’m not really a city-person, I always prefer to stay in suburbs or more remote areas, with a day trip to the city centre. But Girona is not your typical city, it’s nothing like Barcelona (although, Barcelona did have a particular charm before night fall).  There’s something about Girona that’s particularly heartening and welcoming, especially for someone who loves culture and community. The Catalan spirit is infectious. Their passion, pride, and laid-back lifestyle are things I could easily get used to. Girona’s got a little bit of culture, history, a strong sense of community, great eateries and everything you could need all around you. Coming from a small Mediterranean island myself, yet also having been accustomed to a somewhat urban lifestyle, I felt right at home in the old historic centre.  It’s also a good base to explore the area – there are lakes and mountain areas for day-trips, it’s also not far from the Costa Brava.

So, firstly Girona has two sides to it: an old historic centre, and a more urban centre with plenty of shopping possibilities. The old town is an experience in itself. It’s located in the Forca Vella, a mighty fortress built by the Romans in the 1st century BC, and it’s one of the best preserved Jewish Quarters in the world.  Strolling through the narrow cobbled streets and stairways, walled with lofty aged buildings and olden archways with the calm bustle of the town and birds chirping in the background is an entrancing experience. You can’t help but feel at peace in Girona.  At the highest point of the fortress, there’s a little forest area where you can walk around, or have a picnic while looking over the stunning views of the city.  After a day or two, you’ll catch on to the laid-back aura of the town and start setting your alarm clock to 10.  If you’re an early birdie, keep calm – upon setting off at 10:30, it’ll still feel like a 6am start in Girona.  The rest of little town is still asleep as well. Shops, bakeries, and the like only start setting up at around 10am.  A donde fueres, haz lo que vieres. (Wherever you go, do as they do).

You can find many apartments in the old town on Airbnb, mostly at quite a reasonable price. I stayed in a remodelled, old studio apartment, that could be described as “charming” – not as elevated way to mean tiny and old, but cause it really was tiny and cute.  My favourite part was the balcony; sipping wine on the balcony, overlooking the lively and yet relaxed quintessentially Spanish street underneath while listening to the buskers was a dream-like experience.

Just outside the old town, there’s a busier part of the city, where most of Girona’s shops and leisure centers are concentrated.  It runs from Carrer de la Barca in the historic center, right over to Carrere MILI Grahit in the more modern part of the city.  There’s a range of popular commercial shops from the likes of Bershka and Pull and Bear to designer brands.

Now, food.  You’re spoilt for choice, in both parts of the city.  What I did was eliminate all places that didn’t have an English menu, which sort of narrows it down (the English translations can be amusing at times).  If you’re looking for a quick breakfast or brunch on the go, there’s Casamoner – a bakery full of a drool-worthy selection of fresh breads and pastries; they also have some sandwiches with the typical hams and cheeses of the area.  Then there’s La Terra, a bright and colourful, casual brunch place with a selection of veil burgers and toasties to die for.  They’ve also got great coffee, and a selection of cakes. Ice-cream is great at every parlor, but you should try Rocambolesc at least once.  It’s a chain of hipster ice-cream parlors around Spain, going in there kind of makes you feel like a kid again (I scream for ice-cream!)  The best restaurant I found was right across from our apartment on Forca Vella.  It offered a 3 course set menu for around 15 euros, and the food was consistently delicious.  They also offer crème de Catalan, a must try!

I never thought I could fall in love with a place until I experienced Girona.  I’m not sure if it was the place or my state of mind, or maybe a little bit of both; a little piece of me stayed in Girona, and parts of Girona will always be with me.

If you have any questions, or need helping planning your trip to Girona, just comment below, and check out my upcoming posts on Girona.

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