Visitors to the Costa Brava often overlook Girona, heading instead to the regional capital Barcelona. But Girona has some of the most complete city walls in Spain, medieval streets that seem hardly to have changed over centuries, and lots of traditional Catalan restaurants. What more reason could you want for spending a day (or two) exploring one of Catalonia’s major cities?
The City Walls of Girona
Girona’s walls exist for a good reason. Historically this was a wealthy city, causing it to be attacked and besieged on a number of occasions. The first walls were built by the Romans, but they were rebuilt and extended during the Middle Ages. Fortunately there is no risk of siege today and the walls now serve a rather different purpose, aiming to attract people to the city rather than keep them out. To this end much of the wall has been reinforced so that tourists can walk around the historical defences, only stopping at the point where the river forms a natural barrier.
We joined the wall close to the Cathedral, walking through old cemeteries and parks and past houses built into the fabric of the wall itself until we reached the recently strengthened section where you can walk along the top. Unlike some other city walls I’ve walked around these ones dip up and down, reflecting the undulating landscape. If you have a head for heights you can climb one of the lookout towers for spectacular views over the surrounding hills (even if you don’t climb to the top the views from the wall are still pretty good). And you can peer down into the town for rooftop views of the Cathedral, churches and houses.
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The Town Inside the Walls
When we got to the end of the wall it was time to explore the old town. You could spend hours just in the Cathedral with its massive interior (apparently the second widest nave in the world), vivid stained glass and so many treasures, including a 12th century wooden Madonna, that many of them are housed in a separate museum area. For me the highlight was the cloisters, a large light area whose stone pedestals were carved with fantastical figures and biblical scenes.
There was lots more we could have seen, including more churches and the Arab Baths. But we didn’t want to miss the pleasure of just walking around the city with its narrow cobbled streets and tall buildings that give welcome shade from the sun. Many of the roads and passages are too narrow for traffic, giving the feel of a long vanished era.
Later, we sat in one of the numerous small restaurants to enjoy fresh fish and local wine. There was just one thing left to do. Legend has it that, if you kiss the bottom of the lioness beside the church of St Felix, you will be sure to return to Girona.
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