Colourful houses painted in pink, orange or magnolia line the river Onyar, while medieval streets sprawl haphazardly through the old town. Arab, Jewish and Moorish influences are reflected in the architecture of this historically multicultural city. And, as befits a university town, Girona has a youthful, relaxed air and a bangin’ nightlife. No wonder the Spanish regularly rate it as their most liveable city.
As with most Spanish towns, the main drag in Girona is the Rambla, a pedestrianised avenue with outdoor cafés. Behind here is the beautifully preserved Barri Vell, or old town, presided over by Girona’s magnificent cathedral. Nearby you can see the remnants of the 14th and 15th century city walls which helped protect Girona from marauding invaders. Not that it made much difference – by the 18th century, the town had been besieged no less than 21 times. A walk along the remaining section of wall takes about an hour.
There are no shortage of places in which to imbibe. Girona has its share of pubs and bars, especially in the old town, and most places are open late. Thursday is the big night out as people head for the coast for the weekends. There is also a good range of restaurants.
Girona has one youth hostel, the Alberg-Residencia Cerveri de Girona (972-218 030; Carrers del Ciutadans 9), conveniently situated in the old town. The town is also well served by cheap pensions and there are camping grounds at Can Toni Manescal (972-476 117).
WORTH A LOOK
The town’s centrepiece is an imposing Gothic structure. Steep baroque stairs lead up to the entrance and, once inside, you’ll see the second widest nave in the world (St Peter’s in Rome tops the list). The cathedral’s own Museu Capitular is home to the famous 12th century Creation Tapestry, which colourfully depicts the elements and seasons.
A misnomer, as the baths are actually the remains of a 12th century medieval construction based on Moorish design (the Arab influence came later) and, although they were given a makeover in 1929, you’ll get an idea of what the original baths were like. In ancient times, the paved caldarium (hot bath) was the scene of much sweaty frolicking.
Museu del Cinema
Built around the private collection of local filmmaker Tomas Mallol, Spain’s first cinema museum traces the history of entertainment on screen and includes much memorabilia, including cameras and projectors dating back to the 1920s and early models of TVs.
Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) fly direct to Girona from Stansted; alternatively, there are regular connecting flights from Madrid.
Additional information supplied by Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com). The first edition of Lonely Planet’s Catalunya & The Costa Brava is out now.