Having heard of its medieval history and architecture, I travelled to the northern Spanish town of Girona with high expectations.
Girona has clearly been extraordinarily popular with locals and visitors for many years – it has seen 25 sieges and been conquered seven times. But it’s a part of its history that townsfolk memorialise in re-enactments, and while we were in the town we witnessed one such event. Townsfolk recreated one of Girona’s most famous battles – when the locals fended off the invasion of Napoleon’s troops in 1809 in a blur of colourful 19th century costume, ear-shattering explosions and blinding smoke.
Wandering around Girona it’s easy to understand why people fought and died to protect it. It boasts a striking old Jewish Quarter, a statuesque cathedral, Roman walls, Arabic baths and ancient narrow cobbled streets edged by stone buildings.
Girona, a tale of two river banks
Situated along the banks of the River Onyar, that runs through Girona, are its colourful hanging houses, once home to local fishermen. There are many bridges allowing you to cross the river including Pont de les Peixateries Velles built by Gustave Eiffel, of Paris’ Eiffel Tower fame.
Over the river in the modern part of town there is good shopping and a great selection of local bars and eateries. And Plaça de la Independència, an attractive colonnaded 18th century square just across the river is a lovely introduction to this side of the town.
The contrast between the two sides of the River Onyar is marked but welcomed, its thriving 21st century modern shopping centre a perfect complement to the medieval old town – covering off a number of my favourite travel activities. But Girona also benefits from wonderful cuisine – as you’d expect from a town which is home to the world’s second best restaurant and its offshoot eateries.
We enjoyed tapas and pinchos at a few of the town’s restaurants, our favourites being Txalaka, Cerveceria El Doll, where you can pour your own beer from a pump at your table, and Context (part bookshop, part cafe), which serves the most delicious herby fondant cheese.
Our accommodation was provided by Wimdu. Unusually we didn’t research the apartment’s location as fully as we normally would have, and were delighted to discover that it was in a perfect location right on the edge of the medieval old town. Putting Girona’s most historic sites and the gorgeous Park Devasa in very comfortable walking distance.
The apartment enjoyed all the beauty of an old Girona building, with traditional wooden shuttered windows and a balcony. While inside we had all the benefits of a fully-fitted modern three bedroom apartment.
I came to Girona with high expectations and left with them exceeded – the town was far bigger, had more history and charm than I ever have expected.