I make it no secret that Spain is my favourite place to travel to in the whole world. I've visited three times so far, with another trip planned for 2018. My husband and I even had one of our wedding ceremonies there, although we officially tied the knot about six weeks later in Toronto. So far most of my travels have been in Catalunya, with brief trips to Valencia and Ibiza as well. We have stayed to the east because that is where our friends live. So I feel I have my bearings pretty well when it comes to this area, especially Barcelona. However, because we often spend time with friends there, we probably go out to eat a little less than we normally would when travelling, because they've so often been kind enough to cook for us (bonus). Regardless, I've amassed a fair bit of knowledge on the odd place to stay, eat, or sight to see. Here's some suggestions for Girona based on my most recent trip.
This is the heart of Catalunya, and you will know that the moment you hear people speak in and around Girona. In Barcelona (especially the city centre) you can get away without hearing or speaking much in the way of Catalan if you really want to. However, this language is spoken in abundance in this quiet city just 99 km away. I am always fascinated by it - at once feeling completely unique and yet coloured by touches of other latin-based languages. If you want to work on your conversational Catalan more than your Spanish, Girona is the perfect place to give it a go.
Girona's roots go....deep. Founded in 79 BC around the convergence of the rivers Onyar, Ter, Galligants and Güell, the city has endured the rise and fall of several civilizations and governments (Iberians, Visigoths, Moors, Charlemagne et al.) and not to mention twenty-five sieges and has been captured multiple times. Given that, the architecture is a wonderful mishmash of impressive structures from varying vintages that make a wander over to the old city more than worthwhile.
(Note: I was in Girona for two days to attend a wedding at the very beautiful Mas Murtra just outside the city and had a good amount of time to explore, so I have some suggestions to make. However - because our evenings were taken up by wedding festivities, we didn't go out for dinner at all. Oh - and also because of the whole the El Celler de Can Roca thing, which I will explain below. Sob.)
Getting there: The best route to Girona is by train, in as fast as 40 minutes from Barcelona Sants if you catch the express. Click here for bookings and schedule, with the caveat that the Spanish rail system can be a wee bit confusing at times. Though this one is a pretty easy trip. Just be sure you are in on the track for an express train if you have booked an express train, because they arrive/depart in a different area of the station, and it's not fun if you miss one.
Stay: Hotel Nord 1901 is a beautiful little boutique hotel in the commercial and historical centre of the city just a five minute walk from the cathedral. It's perfectly situated if you want to explore Girona on foot, which I highly suggest you do.
Eat: For breakfast (cortado and pastry, obviously), lunch, or a snack, there are six locations of Casa Moner in Girona, and one is right around the corner from Hotel Nord 1901 on Carrer de Santa Clara. It serves up house made, buttery flaky goodness from 8 am until 9 pm all week long. If like me, you weren't able to eat at El Celler De Can Roca (we were sadly in town during their annual holiday - ugh) console yourself with a sweet treat from Rocambolsec. This tiny little gelateria, also on Carrer de Santa Clara, is a fun little project from the genius of Jordi Roca himself. Really delicious gelato and innovative ice pop creations (check out their insta account for a temptation) are just the thing in Girona's subtropical climate. My husband's favourite was the Helado Oscuro made from blueberries and vanilla sorbet that curiously looks like Darth Vader's helmet, and of course I was all over the chocolate ice cream with all of the most chocolatey toppings
Do: Definitely don't miss out on Girona's stunning buildings in the old historic centre. Whether you are religious or not, the Cathedral, the old fort, and the early Romanesque style Benedictine Church of Sant Pere de Galligants are all worth a wander. Even better, take a run (or walk) along the beautiful Riu Onyar lined with bright apartment buildings and shops, and then hit the eighty-six steps up to the Cathedral to really work up a sweat, and an appetite. Because you did get those Celler de Can Roca dinner resos, didn't you? Lucky you.
If you're looking for a cool, shady place to lounge or walk with a "we're not in Kansas anymore" kind of vibe (trust me), Parc de la Devesa is a perfect spot. For a city as small as Girona, it's an impressive 40 hectares and home to over 2500 plane trees planted in the 1850s. It is also home to French-style gardens, an auditorium, sports area, and gets particularly lively on Tuesdays and Saturdays for market days, when the park is lined with local vendor stalls selling fresh produce, meats, snacks, preserves, clothing, tchotchkes and more.