Accessible within an hour from the sea, medieval Girona offers a refreshing change from the sun-and-sand hedonism of the Costa Brava. This elegant, provincial capital features a beautiful walled medieval quarter, Barri Vell, perched on a hill above the city – a delight to explore, with narrow cobbled alleyways, balconied houses and shady little plaças. Clinging to the banks of the Ríu Onyar, as it meanders through the centre of town, is a long row of picturesque pastel-hued houses, the Cases de l’Onyar.
Historically, Girona has seen it all – at least by Spanish standards. The Romans settled here, and called the town Gerunda. Girona then became an Islamic town after the Moors conquered Spain. A vibrant Jewish community also flourished here for more than six centuries, and Girona’s Call, the medieval Jewish quarter, remains one of the best preserved in Spain. Elsewhere, you’ll spy a fetching mix of architectural styles, from Romanesque to modernisme. Girona also features a range of excellent museums, a lovely cathedral and lively arts and music festivals. Rambla de la Llibertat, running along the river, is the city’s grand promenade, where locals take their daily paseo past a bustling strip of shops and restaurants.
Northwest of Girona, in the town of Púbol, rises the Casa-Museu Castell Gala Dalí, a medieval castle-turned-museum about surreal master Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala.
A Jewish community first settled in Girona in the late ninth century; by the tenth century, the Jews had become a prosperous and influential sector of the city’s society, but this all changed in the thirteenth century, when Gironan Jews became the victims of severe and unrelenting persecution. The entire Jewish quarter became a constant target of racist attacks and eventually became an isolated ghetto, in which the residents were virtually imprisoned, confined within neighbourhood limits and banned from the rest of the city. This continued until 1492, when all Jews were expelled from Spain. Life in the Call was bleak and presented an immense daily challenge: out of desperate necessity, residents created an underground community of tiny alleys and courtyards within which to survive.