One of my favourite Christmases was the Christmas I spent in Girona in 2011. Granted, I left for the trip on the 26th, so I had spent Christmas in Madrid, but it’s the spirit of things. Everything was still decorated for Christmas, and Sant Esteve (Saint Stephen) is an important day in Catalunya. For those who haven’t heard of this amahzing (I’ve been watching Happy Endings, so read that in a “Penny voice”) place, it’s the province between Barcelona and France on the Catalán coast, la Costa Brava. Girona is probably most known for its beaches, but it also has some incredible sites in the Pyrenees too that I’m dying to explore.
My first time in Girona (Gerona in Spanish, but officially it’s the Catalán spelling and pronunciation Girona) was actually in 2008 for a connecting flight to Italia. I was still getting a grasp of Spanish geography at that time and thought flying from Girona to Italia would be a good idea when I was living in Andalucía. I still can’t believe I was ever so naïve. I came to the conclusion that it had to be a popular place for tourist in the summer based on this brief time at the airport.
In 2011, I had the chance to return and explore both the capital city and the province. I wanted to ring in the new year in Barcelona in hopes that by being in the city at the stroke of midnight, it would make fate transfer me to Barcelona. No such luck. I digress. This is Girona’s time to shine. I spent a few days in the capital city and making day trips to explore the beautiful province. I arrived via the night train from Madrid going on little sleep. Excitement and café amb llet (café con leche in Catalán) kept me going as I found the hostal in the city centre and began to explore the beautiful city.
The capital city of Girona has some amazing views. It’s located at the heart of four rivers with a ton of bridges (with a lot of locks on the bridges from young couples wanting to demonstrate their forever love, it’s a thing) and you can see the mountains in the distance. I remember walking along the walls and watching the sunset from high upon the old town near the cathedral.
The next day I did the typical trip to Cadaques and Figueres. The Dalí museums were a bit expensive for my budget, but that doesn’t change the fact these places are incredibly beautiful. No wonder they attract so many tourists year round. I walked along the coast for a while before having lunch and catching a bus to Figueres. I’ll be honest, for Dalí’s home town, there is not much else beside his museum. It is well worth checking out, especially for fans of him. (He is the only artist I can truly say I admire. I’m a book, music and film guy, and art goes over my head. However, Dalí seems to have experienced the same weird nightmares I do, so I can at least appreciate him.)
The last day of my Girona experience, I went to see one of the most beautiful bridges in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. I am a great aficionado of bridges, perhaps because I love being around water so much. The bridge in Besalú is one of the coolest bridges, and the city has a medieval flare.
I have yet to return to Girona, but I am dying for an opportunity. The capital has a distinct northern European vibe going for it, and the sheer beauty of the area makes it a popular vacation destination. With so many interesting places, it’s easy to get off the beaten path. There are a lot more than just seven meravelles, but these are the ones that are sticking with me this morning.
Girona, the capital city of the province with nearly 100,000 habitants, is one of the coolest (as in American English for superchulo and not cold) cities in Spain. Located 99 km or 62 miles from Barcelona, Girona is well worth a visit. There are several churches, including a Gothic cathedral and old Roman walls. The city wall walkway is one of my fave things about the city. Any word of Catalán is more than well-appreciate here, as it is probably the most Catalán of the four provinces of Catalunya.
Cadaqués has a population of about 2000 people, but in the summers, the population can be up to 10 more than that. Its location on the Costa Brava and proximity to Barcelona make it a popular tourist destination, and it’s no stranger to tourists. Salvador Dalí visited often as a child, and Pablo Picasso also spent time there. You can visit the Salvador Dalí House and Museum today and walk along the coast. Fun trivia fact: the Catalán spoken here is more similar to the variant found in the Balearic Islands than the rest of Catalunya.
Figueres, home of 45,000 folks, is also the home and birthplace of Salvador Dalí. 40 km or 25 miles from Girona capital, the small city is popular with fans of the surrealist artist. In addition to the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí, the city houses a castle and a Gothic church. It is also home to Spanish and Catalán gay icon Mónica Naranjo.
Besalú may only have 2000 habitants, but it is an awesome place to visit. It’s located 31 km (18 miles) from Girona capital, and its main attraction is the bridge. It is a beautiful medieval pueblo and a step back in time. It could easily be on my own top ten list of beautiful pueblos (villages) in the peninsula.
Puigcerda (to be discovered)
Puigcerdà has been at the top of my bucket lists of villages to visit for quite some time. It’s a three-hour train ride from Barcelona, so I keep saying “próxima vez, próxima vez, propera vegada” (next time, next time, Catalán next time). It’s a village of around 10,000 people located at the very north of Girona, high in the Pyrenees, almost in France. I saw the turn off on my whirlwind trip to Andorra and vowed once again to visit there. It’s supposed to have some of the most beautiful views of the Pyranees. It’s 144 KM (86 miles) from Girona capital.
Olot (to be discovered)
Olot, home of 34,000 people, is one of the rainiest places in Catalunya, so much that there is a saying in Catalán: Si no plou a Olot, no plou enlloc. (If it’s not raining in Olot, it’s not raining anywhere). Perhaps the reason for this is because it’s located in the middle of not one but four volcanos. The last eruption was about 11,000 years ago, so chances are, it’s not going to erupt any time soon. We think.
The Wild Coast is one of the most popular tourist places in the Peninsula due to its good weather and natural beauty. Although the North Coast is probably more beautiful, it also rains 379 days a year here. Not an opportune time to swim or sunbathe, eh? Blanes, Tossa del Mar and Llobregat del Mar are just some of the many villages and cities along the spectacular Mediterranean coast.