I have now been in Girona for the the last 4 days and nights, and I can honestly say with all my heart that I do not want to leave. I was trying to think earlier whilst sipping champagne in the Independence Square what expectations I had for this trip. To be honest I didn’t have any. I knew nothing about Costa Brava or Catalonia, except a brief trip to Barcelona years ago, where in fact I had my first ‘snog’ as a 14 year old – when we still used to call it that!
So when we rolled into the Girones Region the first thing I noticed was the greenery. Green everywhere. Its so lush and thick with forests and parks that it doesn’t even feel like a city. Also surrounded by the foothills of the Pyrenees it seems so strange to have the ocean a short drive away on one side and the mountains on the other. I was quick to notice that the River Onyar separates the old town from the modern city and it didn’t take me long to see what I preferred. Both have their advantages, the modern side have pretty boutique shops and some great food but the old town has the charm and culture from being around for so many years.
One my first day we headed straight for Sant Julia De Ramis and by way of segway headed up Sant Julia Mountain to explore the old castle ruins and archaeological dig that is currently underway. For me the segway expedition was a first and I must admit I was actually pretty scared of it. Its definitely worth getting your balance before heading straight out and thanks to the team from LiveTour we were well looked after. Once we had disembarked the two wheeled beast we were greeted by Eugeni Domingo from the Girones Guide’s Association, he kindly lead the trek up the rest of the mountain and was able to explain everything from what was and wasn’t edible in the forest to the ruins that lay before us when we reached the top. A personal favourite of mine was the picnic awaiting us at the top of the mountain, thanks to the two lovely ladies from Local Market, a Girona food shop and catering company. For more information on the food watch out for my Girona Food blog coming soon!
The afternoon was swiftly followed by and incredible visit to the Girona Observatory ‘Gavarres Astronomic Observatory’, found right in the middle of the Gavarres mountains it has an idyllic location to seek out the brightest stars with very little light pollution. There is also a chapel at the top of the mountain attached to the observatory, a place that people come to visit and then stay for a few days. Also known as a Starlight Rural Retreat it has a number of bedrooms and a restaurant with great local food, all of which will be mentioned on the food blog soon. Its a perfect place for a family day out and locals will often venture up the mountain to go asparagus picking with their children, and take a picnic for the day – when you see the views you will understand why!
The following morning, we were introduced to Aquatic Trekking. Hiking along and through a river that fluctuates in depth and terrain. When I was finally all suited and booted in my super thick wet suit, in the beautiful Llemena Valley, I felt like I could of jumped into the Arctic Sea I was so warm! We set off on an Aquatic Trek and it was around ankle deep when we entered the river. The part I found most unexpected was how the river went from a few centimeters deep to not being able to stand at all in as little as a few seconds, with us all having to swim on to the next section. Our guide Carlos from Aventura Girona was extremely patient with us and was able to cater equally for those that were a little scared, and those that wanted to jump from 15 metres! It’s a great activity to see some of the stunning Girones forests and endless fields of red poppies, but its also a great group or family outing to get away from the city.
Later that evening we had the pleasure of joining the Marrecs for a human tower workshop. The Marrecs, founded in 1995, are now the oldest and most known local human tower group in Girona. They very kindly invited us to one of their practise sessions where we were able to join in and practise some of their loved tradition along with them. The strength they have to endure the sheer weight of 4/5 people above them, and all of it with thousands of onlookers during celebrations such as the recent Temp De Flors (Flower Festival) – check out their performance here!
The perfect way to finish my time in Girona consisted of a photo walk around the old town, thanks to our guide from Girona Tourism. Wondering around the old part of Girona city is just truly magical with endless cobbled streets and beautiful black iron street lamps dimly lighting the pathway. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and took us through the history as well as explaining the Temp De Flors, a festival in which the city was in full preparation mode for. To end the perfect day we stopped by Rocambolesc, the ultimate Ice Cream parlour in Girona and owned by Jordi Roca, the youngest of the three famous Roca brothers. I can honestly say, ‘hand on heart’, that it was the best ice cream I have ever tasted, and not forgetting their unique ice cream sandwich – cold baked-apple ice cream inside hot sweet bread. You have to try it to believe it.
Personally if you are heading to Barcelona, I would suggest spending maybe 2 to 3 days there before heading straight to Girona. I felt like I was really in the heart of Catalonia here. Strangely (and quite pleasantly) I didn’t see or hear another English person whilst I was there and you could see that it wasn’t just a place for tourists like a lot of cities. It was a place for locals. The food, the atmosphere and the culture came alive in Girona, it was buzzing with such a positive attitude that you don’t always see in a large city. Considering it is an inexpensive 38 minute train ride north of Barcelona, you really have no excuse!
***Check back soon for the ultimate gastronomy guide to Girona***W