Throughout its history Girona has been an important town. First settled by the Iberians then fought over by Visigoths and Moors, the city became an important centre for Jewish people in the Middle Ages until the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. The Jewish Quarter is one of the best preserved in Europe and a trip to Girona always makes you imagine life in medieval times due to the beautiful buildings still standing today. Recently the town has made a name for itself in gastronomic circles with Michelin starred restaurants such as Massana and Celler de Can Roca taking inspiration from local produce.
What to see and do
The Barri Vell (Old Town) of Girona is well preserved and forms the heart of the city. The town has an extremely long history evident in the types of building we can see in the Barri Vell. Part of the Roman Força Vella, built in the 1st century BC can still be seen today as well as the walls of the town which has been partially reconstructed. The Barri Vell also boasts the smallest square in Europe; the Plaça de Raïm, and the Cathedral of Girona, an impressive Gothic Cathedral built between the 11th and 18th century and with the widest Gothic nave in the world.
Jewish Quarter and Museum of Jewish History
The Call Jueu (Jewish Quarter) is one of the best preserved in Europe. The name Call derives from the Hebrew word kahal, a word used to describe Jewish neighbourhoods. In 888 25 Jewish families are reported to be living in the Call of Girona and by the Middle ages there was a community of 800 people. The Call had one of the most important centres of Kabbalah studies, the first in Spain and many distinguished Jewish philosophers and Rabbis in Spain and Catalonia had their roots in Girona. After the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, Christian families moved in and made modifications to the buildings, but in the 20th Century steps were taken to preserve this area and now there is also a Museum of Jewish History for visitors to learn more about what life what like for Jewish families living in Girona in the Middle Ages.
Don’t be fooled by the name, these Arab baths were actually built after the Moors were driven out of Girona in the 12th century and are actually inspired by Roman public baths. The baths contain changing rooms and rooms of various heat all power by an enormous oven. The impressive architecture includes an octagonal pool with a cupola supported by eight stone columns.
A famous view of Girona is from one of its many bridges looking to the brightly coloured houses that appear to cling to the bank of the river. One of these houses (the only one open to the public) is the Casa Masó, birthplace and family home of renowned Catalan architect Rafael Masó and an important architectural work in itself. The house was originally four different houses acquired over time by the Masó family and it remains almost exactly as it was in 1919 when Rafael Masó last redesigned it. For lovers of early twentieth century design Casa Masó is a must visit.
Where to eat and drink
Celler de Can Roca Can Sunyer, 48
The best restaurant in the world in 2013, Celler de Can Roca, has truly established itself as the restaurant to visit in Catalonia, if you book well in advance that is, the waiting list is over a year long. The Roca brothers form the perfect team with eldest brother Joan as head chef, Jordi as head pastry chef and Josep as head sommelier, the combination has propelled them to the highest echelons of world cuisine. The restaurant dates back to 1986 when the eldest Roca brothers opened their own restaurants next to their parent's bar just after they graduated from the famous Girona Catering School and the brothers spent years learning from the best chefs in the world, for example spending seasons at El Bullí under Ferran Adrià and Georges Blanc in Vonnas where they learnt about vacuum cooking and new techniques which would see their food rated as the best in the world in 2013. the constant innovation both in and out of the kitchen makes El Celler de Can Roca a once in a lifetime dining experience. Quite simply the best there is.
Massana, C/Bonastruc de Porta, 10
For 25 years Pere Massana and his wife have brought creative cuisine to their clients and in 2007 were awarded with their first Michelin star. Massana was born into a family of chefs and his passion for the profession and for fresh, seasonal produce shows in the innovative yet traditional menu. The simple décor offers a relaxed atmosphere and front of house aims to deliver attentive but not overbearing service, to make their clients as comfortable as possible and give them a fantastic experience at Massana.
Vol Espai Gastronomic C/ Santa Clara cantonada Pont de Pedra
Expanding on Girona’s meteoric rise as a gastronomic mecca comes Vol Espai Gastronomic that has barely opened and already has a long waiting list. The concept is simple; the best chefs in Girona show-cook an incredible tasting menu for only 18 select guests. The setting is incredible; a glass dining room jutting out over the river offering not only world class cuisine but also some of the best views in the region. Best book early though; apparently since reservations opened they have already taken over 800 requests.
Nykteri's Cocktail Bar C/ Santa Llúcia, 4
The name of the bar derives from a Greek word Nykta meaning to work all night or until the sun comes up and that is exactly what they do at Nykteri's Cocktail bar. Their cocktail menu contains a mixture of the usual subjects and cocktails created by the Nykteri team, who always take pride in their cocktail making skills. For the non night owls among us the bar also offers various 'afterwork' events usually basing a tasting on one particular drink, for example vermouth tasting with cured cheeses or sweet wine tasting with pastries. A prefect way to end a day in Girona.
Le Bistrot Pujada de Sant Domènec, 4
With a perfect location near Girona Cathedral in the heart of the Barri Vell, this warm, welcoming restaurant with turn of the century décor and a small terrace on the steps up towards the Cathedral when the weather gets warmer. A simple menu serves traditional food with some creative elements such as the ‘pizzas’ on rustic bread. A lunchtime set menu is the perfect way to refuel, ready for an afternoon of more sightseeing