This week’s travel dream: The true face of Catalonia

The quaint, riverside city of Girona “preserves the authentic feel” of Catalonia better than the region's capital city, Barcelona. 

The city of Girona, in northeast Spain, would be a “top destination in its own right, if only it didn’t have such a famous neighbor,” said Jane Black in The Washington Post. While Barcelona—an hour to the south—may be the cosmopolitan capital of Catalonia, the ancient city of Girona better “preserves the authentic feel” of the region. Tradition lives on in this quaint, riverside city, thanks to a “historian-turned-mayor” who, in the 1980s, polished its historic boulevards, reconstructed its medieval ramparts, and revitalized its former Jewish quarter.

To fully appreciate Girona, you need to move as slowly as the city itself does. Sit back and enjoy a cortado—an espresso with a touch of milk—at an outdoor cafe, then get lost wandering the winding cobblestone streets. Take a ramble up to the Catedral de Santa María, which sits atop a hill overlooking the Gothic spires and Romanesque towers of the city below. A “grand 18th-century stairway” leads up to the church’s Romanesque facade, while the nave inside is “equally imposing”—at 72 feet long, it’s second only to St. Peter’s in Rome. Leaving the church, I descended the hill through a “maze of streets and walled gardens,” until I came upon the Jewish quarter, or Call. Established in the ninth century, the quarter was home to one of Europe’s most important schools of Kabbalah until the Jewish population was expelled from Spain in 1492.

After a day of sightseeing, I had worked up an appetite and was anxious to taste the local cuisine, which itself is an important part of Catalonian culture. I headed to El Restaurant Can Roca in the old city, where the chefs behind Girona’s Michelin-starred El Celler de Can Roca often eat—mainly because their mother is the cook. What El Restaurant Can Roca lacked in décor, it made up for in flavor. My thick lentil soup with chunks of pork would have “made a meal in itself,” but I went on to devour “delicate grilled squid topped with baby beet greens,” and then an airy slice of flan. The meal was as “authentic an experience” as I could’ve hoped for, a taste of the true Catalonia.

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