The hidden gem of Girona

August 22nd, 2018

Locked out of the apartment!

River Onyar, Girona

River Onyar, Girona

River Onyar, Girona

River Onyar, Girona

We arrive at our studio apartment in the Old Town of Girona within a stone’s throw of the cathedral. The apartment is up a series of steep steps and entered from the street through a very narrow door using an access code. We find keys for the inside door underneath the door mat. There are two keys and we assume they are identical as the outside door is opened by using the access code. A fatal mistake! We go outside to explore the city and find something to eat. On our return we discover the key does not fit the inside door and we are locked out.

To further complicate our predicament we do not have a telephone number for the owner only an email address. With the help of the Tourist Information Office we finally track down the owner who unfortunately is in Barcelona. Several hours later a new key is delivered. Our waiting is not so bad as we find a cafe just a few steps away from our new home and we drink delicious mint tea. The cafe is a beautiful setting decorated with Spanish tiles and overlooking the River Onyar.

 

Narcissus patron saint of flies!

Girona Cathedral

Girona Cathedral

For many travelers arriving at Girona airport it is just a stopping off point for Barcelona. What a silly mistake! Girona is a beautiful and stylish city and can easily fully occupy you for a week if not longer. Barcelona may have the architecture of Antoni Gaudi and the atmospheric street of The Ramblers but Girona is a hidden gem. The patron saint of Girona is Narcissus but he is also patron saint of flies. In September 1286 the King of France Philip II besieged Girona in his quarrel with King Peter II of Aragon. The city was surrendered without a fight but ultimately the invaders were defeated by a swarm of flies. The troops tried to desecrate the tomb of Saint Narcissus. It broke open and a cloud of stinging flies emerged and chased the soldiers away. This was deemed a miracle and Narcissus heralded the patron saint of flies.

The same rescue of the city by flies was said to have been repeated in 1653.

Most valuable carpet in the world

Girona Cathedral

Girona Cathedral

The Cathedral of Girona is well worth a visit and until the middle of the 19th century had a doormat at the rear entrance. This was until it was discovered how valuable it was.

Girona Cathedral

Girona Cathedral

Tapestry of Creation Girona Cathedral

Tapestry of Creation Girona Cathedral

The carpet is now known as the Tapestry of Creation and is a Romanesque panel of needlework from the 11th century. It is housed in the museum of the Cathedral depicting the seven days of creation. What I particularly liked is the central upper square showing an old man representing the ‘Wheel of Time’. As you look at the tapestry you have a real sense of the days, weeks, years and seasons that make up time. As you view this masterpiece you have a real sense of your own life and how it fits into centuries that went before you and the time to follow.

Steve Redgrave did not recognize me

Banyoles Lake

Banyoles Lake

A lovely day out from Girona is to visit the lake at the village of Banyoles which is less than an hour’s bus journey from Girona. One of the benefits of the UK being in the EU is that you still get concessions on the buses which makes this a very good value day out and a lot cheaper than hiring a car. This was also the venue for the water sports events for the Barcelona Olympics. This may explain why I bumped into Steve Redgrave in the cafe. He was accompanied by a Chinese gentleman at least as tall and well built as Sir Steven Redgrave. Apparently he is here to train the Chinese Olympic rowing team. Where do they find these very tall Chinese men to row in their Olympic team? It will be interesting to see how they perform at the next Olympics. Strangely Steve did not recognize me perhaps it was because he was involved in a very intense and slightly agitated conversation with his Chinese colleague.

This is a beautiful place for a walk or cycle ride. The main town is also worth a visit and this is where we found ourselves having a cup of coffee and in conversation with Peter and Diane. They had just sold their second home in southern France in the Pyrenees region. They also knew a lot of English folk who had done the same, the uncertainty of Brexit being the main reason for this decision. They loved this part of Spain and found it the perfect escape from busy London and very demanding jobs.

River Fluvia, Beaalu

River Fluvia,, Besalu

The historic village of Besalu

Cafe at Besalu

Cafe at Besalu

Just a few miles further along the road away from Girona is the historic village of Besalu. The main feature is the Romanesque bridge over the River Fluvia. It is a stunning construction and dates back to the Middle Ages. We find ourselves drinking cold mint green tea in a cafe overlooking the river. It is a peaceful spot and a delightful way to pass the time on a hot summer afternoon. An American couple are sitting at the cafe table next to us reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of tourists in the area including a number of Japanese and Chinese visitors.

Romanesque bridge, Besalu

Romanesque bridge, Besalu

Girona city cycle race

Catalan flag

Catalan flag

Girona cycling race

Girona cycling race

One of the delights of Girona is its clear sense of pride in its heritage. This is displayed in many ways not least in a clear sense of community. On a balmy summers evening we watch from a cafe at the side of the road the Girona cycling race. The cyclists endure a gruelling city circuit up some very steep hills from 8pm to midnight. It is also great fun as it includes tandem racers and a female riders who outperform a number of their male competitors. There are also visiting participants from the UK. You genuinely feel the taking part is as important as who actually wins.  Cycling is the true national sport in France.

Catalan Independence

The circuit is also festooned with numerous Catalan flags. Whatever your views on Catalan independence you have to admire the sense of pride in the heritage of the region. The populist world we live in today struggles with the concept of multiple identities. Why can’t we be equally proud of being from Catalan, Spain and Europe? A similar echo can be found in Scotland or say Burma (Myanmar). As the recent turmoil in Myanmar has shown it becomes even more challenging when you also put religion into the mix. Part of the reason why feelings are so deep in this region is the fact the Catalan flag was banned during the time when Franco ruled Spain.

Girona city wall

Girona city wall

A walk around the wall

Girona city wall

Girona city wall

Two of the must do activities when visiting Girona are a visit to the Jewish museum and a walk around the city walls. The history of how the Jewish community has been persecuted down the centuries is imaginatively displayed in the museum. There is still a Jewish quarter in the city where in previous centuries Jewish trades and businesses had prospered. It is a delightful labyrinth of cobbled streets and an ideal place to eat out in the evening. The walk around the city walls is also an excellent way of discovering the history of the city. There are some stunning views of the landscape and some delightful public gardens to enjoy. The walk around the city walls will easily occupy you for half the day.

 

 

Girona market

Girona market

A visit to the market

The market in Girona is open every Saturday and the locals gather not only to buy fresh food but also to gossip with their friends. There is a real sense of community and all generations are represented. The cafe in the market is a great place to find a cheap cup of coffee and a cake. The food is good value and there are a number of organic stalls reflecting the trend in most western countries for a desire for more healthy eating. We buy some locally produced food including some delicious fresh fish soup and later eat it as a picnic in the local park. The park is interesting as there are very few tourists there but a number of folk from the immigrant community. Perhaps they are attracted not only by the plants and the trees but also as a place you can sit in peace and not have to spend money.

Gustave Eiffel

Girona bridge over River Onyar

Girona bridge over River Onyar

There are eleven bridges in Girona, the most famous being the one constructed by Gustave Eiffel. He, in fact, built this bridge before he embarked on building the Eiffel Tower. One of the delights on a summer evening in Girona is crossing the River Onyar via the variety of designed bridges. There are a number of cafes and restaurants overlooking the river and a few offer a menu which is reasonably priced. We particularly like trying out the local paella and fish dishes. The best priced restaurants can be found on the side streets away from the river where you can have two courses and wine for two people for no more than 25 to 30 Euros. It is certainly a lot cheaper than the Catalan region of southern France which we were to visit the following week. The wine is particularly good value.

L’Escala – a good place to buy sandals

The beach at L'Escala

The beach at L’Escala

Another day trip you can easily do from Girona by public transport is a visit to L’Escala. It takes just over an hour on the local bus. It is quite an expensive place to eat but there is a pleasant beach where you can go for a paddle. It is also a good place to buy sandals. I have never seen so many sandal shops in such a small area. This is fortunate for me as my own sandals are completely worn out and seriously dangerous when walking down hill on a steep slope as there is no tread on the sole of the sandal. There are a few steep roads to negotiate in the town which I can now do without risking life and limb as I have purchased a new pair of sandals. Why do men become attached to shoes and clothes well past their sell buy date? Perhaps they are just mean.

 

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About Me

coffee shop in Mostar

Paul Hacking previously Head of the Career Development Centre at Nottingham Trent University & chairman of the Fedora Careers & Employment Group (European HE guidance body).