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Costa Brava beach days- St Antoni de Calonge

Part of the appeal of living in Girona is that we’re not too far away from the Costa Brava beaches. So many fine destinations that we’re spoilt for choice-a nice problem to have. 

That said we tend to stick to those beaches due east, from say, St Feliu de Guixols and up north to St Marti d’Empuries. Within this stretch there’s plenty to choose from, and no real reason why we don’t get to the more northerly places like Roses or Cadaques.

A trip to the beach for us is not just restricted to the summer, we go at all times of the year, understandably less often out of season. It’s a great tonic, beaches during the winter are deserted, often windswept and if we’re lucky enough, find a restaurant for lunch or a snack.

The resort of St Antoni de Calonge is about 40 min. drive from Girona, off the coastal C-31 road. It’s very much a seasonal town, full of second-home owners during the summer months and earthly quiet if you visit in winter. Mainly apartment blocks and thankfully not too high rise and some beachfront hotels.

I like the coarse, light yellow, grainy sand here and even in high season there’s room to move. It definitely exudes a ‘this is for us locals’ mood and you’d be hard pressed to hear any other voices except Catalan or Spanish.

It’s popular with Gironians as every time we visit we’re sure to bump into someone we know from Girona. The long seafront is the real attraction, split into three smaller bays by man-made rocky promontories. There’s a wide footpath that runs along the whole stretch and beyond, which will take you to the much larger next door resort of Palamos.

This path is popular with dog walkers, cyclists, joggers, skateboarders and busy with promenaders on a summer’s evening. The place is well served with seafront cafes and restaurants, Refugi de Pescadors (the fishermen’s refuge) and Restaurant Simon are the two most notable for their seafood. Nearby Palamos is an important fishing port with a daily fish market, so you’re bound to get a decent dish. 

When in season, Palamos prawns (Gambas de Palamos) are coveted and expensive. They have a reddish body, firm texture and more akin to a king prawn in size.

The sandy beach areas have lifeguards and roughly centrally located there’s a first aid station and toilet. Out of season the toilet is removed as I noticed when I visited one November. Where do you go if you’re caught short and no cafes are open? I think the local council needs to rethink this one.

We tend to park at the southern end of town as it’s a stone’s throw from the beach with more spaces. Parking within the blue bays is paid, the only annoying thing is that you get a maximum of 2 hours, so if you’re here for several hours it means popping back to keep feeding the meter.

If you fancy a pleasant long stroll then starting here you can keep on the same flat, asphalt, coastal path I mentioned above for the next 2 kms reaching Palamos eventually. It too has beach areas and a ghastly high-rise apartment block, which dominates and blights the beachfront view-in my opinion anyway.

Don’t expect much in the way of nightlife here, you’d have to head off into nearby Playa d’Aro for that. Driving out of here for 4km you might also want to check out the inland medieval hill village of Calonge.

www.calonge.cat

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Bridges of Girona

The bridges of Girona may sound like a romantic notion but it’s not exactly a comparison of the same structures as somewhere like Paris or London. Of course any bridge can be romantic I suppose, depending on who you’re with.

I understand that bridges serve a practical function and can also be beautiful in their own right. Especially where river spans allow for the creation of something visually noteworthy. Yes, I hear you say, but what about those exquisitely beautiful small bridges in Venice or Cambridge? Sure, but the world’s most famous and best remembered ones tend to be the grandest.

So what does Girona have to offer? The river Onyar has several bridges moderately spread along its meagre old-town-length. It neatly separates the old Girona on one side, and its more modern ‘eixample’ and ‘mercadal’ areas which fan out west and south.

We should start with perhaps the oldest bridge, the Pont de Pedra (stone bridge) near Placa de Catalunya, which itself also straddles the river. It dates from 1856 composed of three low arches that rest on two pillars. Built from a local stone that looks and feels like granite, topped with cobbles and a stone flagged path either side. Largely pedestrian traffic it’s an excellent vantage point for photos and selfies. A good entry point for old town visitors, it has a row of craft stalls on one side every Saturday.

Going downriver using the Rambla or along C/ Sta Clara you’ll get to the long winded Pont de les Peixateries Velles (the Fishmongers’ Bridge, 1877) or commonly known as the Eiffel bridge. Yes, it’s the same Gusatve Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame in Paris, built some 12 years later. Its wooden walkway enclosed by blood red ironwork creates diamond-framed ‘portholes’ or viewpoints. Again, use them to frame some more photos of the up or down river. This bridge is thoughtfully illuminated every Christmas and must surely be available as a Meccano kit by now, 

Next is the plain-looking Pont de Sant Agusti, which connects the old quarter to Placa Independencia, a popular spot for outdoor dining. Light grey hexagonal-slab pavement with jet black vertical iron railings. Something that wouldn’t look out of place in some communist-era capital. Built to a budget more than for its style perhaps.

Next along the list of pedestrianised bridges is the Pont d’en Gomez with its low strung, long single arch. Also known as the Pont de la Princesa it was built around 1915 replacing a former wooden construction. The drab-grey concrete colour theme persists, more fitting on a cold, wet, rainy day under dark clouds. The ever so slightly different black railings design offers some uplift to this narrow crossing.

Continuing down river and keeping to the riverside path affords several more opportune photo moments. Bright, sunny, sky blue days give a reflective effect and change the hues of the pastel coloured backs of the Onyar houses. Nowhere along our route is the water too deep, and you can often catch sight of large black carp basking in the shallows.

A short hop, skip and jump away is the bridge of Saint Felix, Pont de Sant Feliu. 

Offering pedestrians a wider, almost flat, wooden walkway, it too offers visitors easy access into the old town area with the welcoming view of the St Felix church. Built only in 1995, its metal constituent materials have been left to the vagaries of weather to sympathetically rust. Simple and uncomplicated they’ve succeeded in creating a bridge that works well in linking the old and new Girona.

Just next to it is a rail bridge and slightly further away adjoining a large open parking area is the road bridge Pont de Pedret. That’s pretty much it for the descriptive element as the Onyar winds its way along the thin sliver of Pedret neighbourhood.

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Girona day trips-Barcelona

A lot of tourists and visitors do it the other way around. Finding themselves in Barcelona and looking for a day trip away from the city. This one assumes you’re already in Girona. The obvious bit is that the earliest you can get away, the more time you’ll have in the Catalan capital.  While there are many cultural points of interest this informational guide excludes such delights-we’ll cover those in another post.

The quickest and least stressful way is to go on the TGV / Alta velocitat fast train service. Just 38 minutes from Girona without any stops. Buy your ticket and exit the station building (the side facing parc Central) and a short walk over to a stand-alone building (image below). Take the down escalator as the platforms are underground, and give yourself enough time to go through security. This is also the way down to the underground bus station.

If you prefer to drive down the roughly 100 kms distance this is best done using the AP7 motorway toll road (approx. return cost 15€). The free alternative is to use the N-II route but this will probably double your travel time. Once in Barcelona there are plenty of car parks, mostly underground but they aren’t cheap. You can try to find a good deal via a parking app, and the city traffic is busy most of the time.

For me the downside to using the AVE travel option is that you arrive at Barcelona Sants station, which isn’t too bad but I’d prefer to be nearer the centre. Plan B is to take the ‘media distancia’ train from Girona, 1hr.15m  and get off at Passeig de Gracia station-better situated for shopping. That train departs from the platform above ground

Passeig de Gracia is a long wide avenue full of swanky upmarket stores that wealthy tourists flock to. Its famous crowd pulling landmarks include Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, which wouldn’t be out of place in a Shrek movie. Gaze upwards and marvel at the sheer effrontery to normal straight line architecture. Don’t imagine you can just walk straight in, pre booking is highly advisable. 

For the less culturally inclined, exit the station and go towards the large Apple store in Placa Catalunya to restore your capitalist beliefs. Once here you ought to move on to the famous Las Ramblas, a short walk away. A big tourist attraction, this pedestrianised tree lined avenue stretches all the way down to the port area. Be sure to check out the La Boqueria food market, it’s predominantly tourists who funnel through its myriad stalls. Plenty of food and snack options here to tempt you. Locals prefer to shop elsewhere as it has sadly succumbed to the vagaries of mass tourism. I tend to agree.

Aimlessly wandering has its attractions but can lead to a haphazard experience. If you fancy a dip and weather permitting you can make your way by taxi or subway to Barceloneta, the city’s go to place for a beach day. Summertime this long stretch of beach is heaving with visitors. Stretch your legs along the long promenade and chill out in one of the many beach bars.

Feel like you might want to spend the night here then further up along here are two cool 5 star seafront hotels. The Arts Barcelona and the W-Barcelona have the perfect sea views that are hard to beat. This lengthy seafront is a popular evening spot with cool music and cocktails as the big pull.

Feel like you’ve had enough then walk back towards the trendy El Born neighbourhood. It has a laid back hipster approach and youthful vibe. Narrow lanes filled with small boutiques for the curious shopper, and characterful bars to rest your weary legs. 

Keep weaving your way through and you’ll find yourself in the old quarter of Barcelona, Barrio Gotico. The quaintness continues but it’s time for a cautionary word of warning. 

This area, especially at night, requires a degree of alertness as regards petty street crime. Plenty of forums have stories of how tourists have had their bags and backpacks stolen or picked in Barcelona. It even happened to me once. 

I was walking along the street in the old town on my way to a comedy club. Two strangers approached me and my wife, cleverly separating us. They started handing out various business cards for local restaurants. The guy high-fived me and I responded. As I lowered my hand I felt my front pocket and instantly realised my wallet was missing. At the same time the two strangers quickly departed running off into the maze of alleys. I ran after them but to no avail as they disappeared into thin air. 

I started to rustle through nearby trash bins as I’d read that these pickpockets often take the cash and dump the wallet. I flagged down a passing police car who looked unsurprised and told me that I should go to my local police station to report the crime. Alas my comedy club evening was devoid of any laughter.

If you came here by train then I’m sorry but there’s no enjoying any night time fun as the last train back to Girona is at about 9.30pm. Catch it from Sants station or Passeig de Gracia.

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4 Good Girona restaurants

In recent years Girona has come under the international foodie spotlight due to the much publicised El Celler Can Roca becoming the world’s best restaurant in 2013 and again in 2015 according to Restaurant Magazine. 

A well deserved accolade no doubt but there are other Girona restaurants worthy of fine dining that deserve a mention. And, less expensive than having to remortgage your house for a meal at Can Roca. Whilst not boasting their 3 Michelin stars or even 1 star (Massana) they offer delicious tasting menus. A good enough reason to dress up to go in search of dining excellence. Plus, who knows, one day they may even reach those same Michelin stellar heights.

A good few of the kitchens here are also staffed by people that had working links with top restaurants in Girona or Barcelona. Girona’s well-renowned Escola de Hosteleria cranks out in-demand catering staff at home and abroad. This school also receives strong support from the Roca brothers who are former alumni.

Divinum, C/ de I’Albereda, 7

We’ve been here a couple of times, old town setting with a vaulted interior. Upon entering the heavily-wooded panel reception, the imposing front desk (yes-wood again) reminds me of some grandiose country house hotel. Just add a couple of stag or deer antlers to complete the picture. The small number of covers, the just right lighting level makes for a cosy couples spot. We chose its tasting menu (menu de gustacio), 3 to 4 starters followed by the same number of mains and desserts. I managed to name-drop one of my students who was a good friend of the chef, which earned us a freebie dish.

Just sit back and let them keep coming, there’s a thoughtful pause between each one and I couldn’t fault the service. Small portions, each accompanied by a different wine.The poor dishwasher must have been working overtime as each plate came with a fresh set of cutlery. I like this way of eating as usually I’m terribly indecisive when faced with a standard menu card. 

Mimolet, C/ del Pou Rodo, 12

Once again it was time to put on a jacket and tie, not a common occurrence for me, living in a hot climate. Down a narrow alley away from St Feliu church past the hotel Llegendes is the unassuming Mimolet. Being a Saturday night we’d booked, and saw walk-ins getting turned away. Same as above, we chose the tasting menu and the house wine. Tasty morsels started to appear on an irregular basis. The fall back position in such cases is to talk and drink more. Ordinary we don’t mind a long drawn out eating session but this time it dragged on a touch too long. The large group of nearby diners were making a night of it. They overheard our English and proceeded to engage in some one-sided entertainment-theirs not ours.

Nu, C/ d’Abeuradors,4

I’d walked past this place many times on my way out for my usual Friday night escape into Girona’s old town labyrinth of night time liquid offerings. Always busy with an equal mix of locals and tourists who’ve no doubt been aware of its top standing on sites like Tripadvisor. The culinary talent pool has links with nearby 1 Michelin star Massana.

So crossing our radar we booked a late Saturday night table. Not too near the front door mind you, as it was a cold December night. A long narrow layout also includes a parallel counter where clients can eat, and get a birds eye view of chefs at work. No pressure then. The de rigueur choice for us was of course the tasting menu. Well presented, well made dishes, I sometimes think how much more the bill would be if this was in London.

Cull del Mon, Vall de St Daniel

A little less of an impact on your pocket, but not by too much, we’ve visited a good few times over several years. One time we even saw Jordi Roca eating here (the pastry chef at Celler Can Roca). This stone built house stands alone tucked away in the sleepy hollow village of St Daniel. Up behind Girona’s cathedral it’s a nice improve-your-appetite stroll up to here, or squeeze your car into its handful of spaces. The bare-stone theme continues inside, bright, contemporary and uncluttered. On a warm sunny day or balmy evening go for its shaded side terrace.

Charming Moroccan owner/chef Lofti and Catalan wife Montse who’s front of house. The menu reflects this fusion of both cuisines which obviously works as they’ve certainly crept up the list of preferred Girona eateries on big review sites. Starters (primers plats) include two favourites, the Catalan cheese selection and the foi raviolis in a mushroom sauce. Mains (segons plats) includes lamb tagine and locally-sourced steak.

On our last visit in June 2020 the hit was just shy of 200 euros for four. That for me falls into the ‘go there once a year category’. If there’s one last thing to add, it’s that the menu hasn’t changed much, if at all for a very long time. I suppose it’s a case of if it works then why change things. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

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Top tapas bars in Girona

Visitors and locals alike all enjoy a cold beer and a tapas to munch on. Bite-sized, snacky and tasty, tapas are a perfect start to a night out. Girona has many bars that offer them, ranging in price and quality.

At the cheaper end of the scale even a bowl of green olives is accepted as a basic tapa. Nothing unusual there but hardly imaginative. Moving further up the scale or originality and ingredients usually means paying a touch more. The following are a selection of Girona bars and restaurants I’ve found to be constantly good. You can easily make a night of it and visit all of them, appetite withstanding.

Txalaka, C/ Bonastruc de Porta, 4

Basque cuisine, it offers a good range of tapas as well as a more traditional menu (la carta). Walk in to be faced with a long wide counter heaving with a tapas selection to suit all tastes. With most of these types of establishments, grab a plate and help yourself. Sit inside, but we prefer an outdoor table when the weather is good. Order a drink and keep going back for more. Leave the cocktail sticks on your plate so the waiter knows how much to charge you. Don’t ignore the dessert section if you have room. My verdict. Good quality and variety, nice desserts but a bit pricey.

Artusi, Placa de les Castanyes, 6

Another quality tapas bar and regular restaurant where you can also choose from a menu of Catalan dishes. Their tapas range is much smaller than Txalaka and it’s mostly standing room only. It does have a few bar stools and a couple of tables outside. As before, order a drink and choose your tapas. The rear dining area which also includes a small enclosed patio is more for those dining al la carte. My verdict. Better known for its more refined diners, tapas are a nice side hustle. Not a place to hang around for too long, keep moving.

Zanpanzar, C/de la Cort Reial, 10-12

Smack in the middle of the old town it’s not too hard to miss for the random strolling tourist. The short street its on has a few other places to test your tastebuds, Indian Taj, Catalan Llevataps or Mexican Maguey. Same as before, pick up a plate and take your pick. Stand by the bar or sit down. This place is what a tourist imagines a typical Spanish tapas bar looks like. A long counter full of plates of different bread-based tapas, rather let down by an uninteresting, boring interior. However, it does a brisk trade on weekends. Sadly, for me I fell foul of the weasel-looking, bonkers barman one night and haven’t returned since. Shame, as we used to pop in as a one-for-the-road type place. My verdict. Run of the mill tapas, inexpensive, just missing sawdust on its floors.

Vinitu, Placa Bell-Lloc, 4,local 2

An unashamed plug for this tiny Girona old town bar enthusiastically run by a young couple, Danny and Carla. No problem with English here too. Rather than individual tapas which aren’t really what’s on offer, I’d recommend their sharing boards or ‘fustas’ of local cheeses or cured meats and ham. If you fancy a mix of both ask for a 50/50, (not on the printed menu). One of my favourites is the newly introduced item ‘pollo rabiosa’, breaded chicken strips with a spicy sauce that Peruvian Danny developed. My verdict. A nice alternative to a typical tapas smorgasbord, friendly welcome and leave with a smile. Oh…you can also take your dog inside.

Can Vidal, Placa de Miquel de Palol, 1-2

Sometimes you find a back street place, frequented by locals and not on your typical tourist trail. This is such a place, local to me, that serves up a good range of Galician based tapas on Friday nights and Saturday lunchtimes only. It’s quite a hit with the Devesa residents. A small menu with a mix of seafood and meat based tapas like ‘cloises’ small clams, ‘pulpo’ octopus, and their patatas bravas are a must try. Get here for about 1.30 to 2pm as it fills up quickly with local families and groups. Closes about 4pm.

Wait at the bar if you have to and order a small plate of something. Genial and friendly host Vidal will come by your table after you finish eating to offer you a free shot of liquor. Not sure what to choose? go for a ‘poma’ apple liquor shot. No English menu or spoken English here, just point or use your Google translate to decipher the menu card. My verdict. Home-cooked food, served promptly but limited to weekends (Sundays-closed).

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Let’s do lunch

If it’s lunch you’re looking for in Girona you really should go for the ‘menu del dia’ or set lunch menu, available weekdays at a reasonable cost. 

The two-hour break is another entrenched local custom and many local eateries battle it out to attract diners.

That can be between 10 to 20 euros but don’t expect to be too impressed at the quality and quantity at the lower end. You can however expect a limited choice of 3 courses including bread and a drink. Fewer places offer set menus at weekends and do charge more. 

The drink part of the deal can be a bit of a grey, murky, ill defined area. Some offers include a glass of wine, small beer or mineral water. Others we’ve tried have a more liberal interpretation and will place a full bottle of wine on the table. What’s a person to do, well being from the UK restaurant wine is expensive and no one would dream of leaving any.

Yet here, a decent table wine is far cheaper. Time and time again we’ve noticed that locals think nothing of leaving a half-full bottle. I’ve known friends to accidentally lean over and pinch that bottle.

The overall experience varies widely and the good nuggets are out there. It’s just a matter of trying them out to see what you like. For uncomplicated, home-cooked food it ticks a lot of boxes, it might not leave you full but its time well spent. In my time here the dessert choices often disappoint and the majority appear to be shop bought. Sure, it’s a cost issue so maybe I’m aiming too high.

My current favourite is a too small restaurant, Bionbo in C/ del Carme which I’d heard a lot of good things about and put it on my list of places to eat at. It’s become so popular that it requires booking several days ahead. 

Lastly, I should mention a little well-kept secret amongst locals that I’ve tried twice. I doubt you’d even find this mentioned on sites like Tripadvisor or Apps like the Fork.  

I live opposite the Escola d’Hosteleria i Turisme de Girona which teaches kids how to cook and serve food. It was the place where the now famous Roca brothers started their careers. In order to train their student chefs and waiters how restaurants operate, their dining rooms offer a quality tasting lunch menu at a rock bottom price (last time it was 30 euros). 

Each serving has its own wine choice and this entire meal would easily be double the price elsewhere. Their website features upcoming menus, often influenced by famous Catalan chefs, and it all ends in May when the college closes. Book in person if you want via the door person in reception, expect to wait several days. Just remember to clear your diary after you’ve finished this 3 hour long sojourn! www.ehtg.cat

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3 Costa Brava beaches that allow dogs

So you find yourself living here with dogs or visiting and wondering if there are any dog friendly beaches along the Costa Brava, within close proximity to Girona.

Ordinarly dogs aren’t allowed onto the majority of beaches out here. This rule is year round as the no dogs signs are still displayed even out of season. However this is Spain and rules here are looked upon more as a guide. 

We’ve been on many beaches off-season and during winter and a lot of times there’s hardly anyone around, let alone to reprimand you. Plus, if other dog owners are there too that kind of means it’s okay unofficially. That said I can’t always guarantee that a passing policia local person might decide to say something.

The first place I was told about by a dog owning neighbour was Platja de la Gola del Ter, loosely translated as the mouth of the river Ter, which is one of four rivers that runs through Girona.

Driving there is the only option in this case. On the road from Torroella de Montgri to Pals, there’s a small Gola de Ter sign indicating where you turn off. Stay on this country road for several kilometres, through apple orchards and flat rice fields. Signs of civilization eventually start to appear in the shape of the Hotel Picasso, which also serves up a decent set lunch menu. 

Keep going along this so-called road which quickly turns into a bumpy, dusty dirt road reminiscent of an African safari route. The track narrows and it’s time to keep an eye out for a parking space. We try to go as close as we can to the beach. Walk the short distance to the beach across a bumpy boardwalk between dunes to a sandy, narrow stretch full of patches of driftwood. Left and right the beach extends out as far as the eye can see.

On our last visit people had begun constructing small rickety looking shelters using the plentiful driftwood. Sandy beaches stretch out in both directions. Walk off to your left for 10 mins and you’ll reach the river mouth. The steeply curving, deep sanded banks appear to shift their shape from year to year, and the water is knee deep if you want to walk across.

Dogs are free to wander and you really need to be self sufficient as there are no services anywhere. If you fancy a dip the water here becomes quite deep as soon as you enter the sea. Early evening sees the arrival of beach fishermen. 

Platja de les Dunes, St. Marti d’Empuries

Head for L’Escala and take the road signposted St Marti. Go pass the village of St Marti, and take a right when you see a sign for Hotel Riomar. Going down this dusty side road you’ll see parked cars, during summer it can be hard to spot a free space. As you reach the bottom you’ll see the wide expanse of sand, with the Riomar hotel (which also allows dogs) on the right. Parking is a bit tight here so turn right and continue, as the road bends to the right there’s more space along here.

With the hotel behind you, the area where dogs are allowed is across the small iron bridge that straddles a gentle stream.

With dunes at the back this super wide beach runs all the way up to St Pere Pescador. During summer you have to share it with hundreds of kite surfers and it’s also popular with nudists too. But the beach is plenty big if you can’t bear the sight of bare buttocks or the odd birthday suit. Make sure you wear flip-flops or sandals summertime as the sand is unbearably hot.

No lifeguard here but luckily there’s a portaloo, a cool beach bar (summer only) with decent food and a good sundowner spot. If you fancy more eating choices, a gentle 15 minute walk will take you to the quaint small St. Marti, where we often end up for a late supper in its Placa Petita.

Playa L’ Estartit-Playa canina

Just before you reach Estartit, turn right towards the sea and follow this road ‘Caminassa’. It ends right by the beach and surrounded with holiday apartments so parking is easy enough. Walk onto the beach and you should see the space to the right.

During the summer there’s a dedicated roped-off beach area for dog owners which is large enough. Within eyesight you’ll see a beach bar but there’s no toilets or lifeguard here. Off season it becomes one big open beach again (image below). The seaside resort of L’Estartit is off in the distance to your left. We’ve done the long walk into town from here and it’ll take about 25 minutes. Wintertime can seem a bit desolate, often very windy and unremarkable, as so many bars and restaurants are shut. But it’s not as bad as other locations along the Costa Brava.

Let me just finish by mentioning the strangest thing I’ve seen on a beach. Well, that was a 3ft long pet lizard sitting on its owner’s towel on La Fosca beach, near Palamos.

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Best Girona areas to live in

While everyone has their own opinion this is just mine, and I recognize it might differ with other Girona residents.

We live in the La Devesa neighbourhood and have remained here for the last 14 years. We were  lucky to have arrived in this ‘barri’ on our first visit. Little did we know then that it ticked a lot of our boxes. Conveniently situated for access into Girona old town, Girona’s bus and train station, plus four supermarkets. Plenty of cafes, Devesa park a 5 minute walk away and our kids’ school within eyeshot.

La Devesa is a fairly modern creation as elderly locals remember this area as being just fields and sparsely populated. There are pockets of what look like more older properties but the majority is a swave of modern low-rise apartment blocks. While I’d always felt safe here my kids have had a couple of brushes with low-level crimes committed against them. 

Walk a couple of blocks towards the train station and you’ll cross C/ Santa Eugenia. This for me at least, acts as a sort of delineator. It’s where La Devesa ends and the Santa Eugenia area begins, and feels like the wrong side of the tracks. 

It’s certainly more built up with taller apartment blocks and a touch grubbier. Please don’t think I’m running it down, I grew up in London’s East End so no hairs and graces here. 

Every September the Devesa community organises a neighbourhood ‘festa’ or festival. The highlight is a large communal outdoor lunch, held under the shady rows of Plane trees in La Devesa Park. Long tables are set up, people bring their own drinks, cutlery and cups to enjoy fideua and some music. It’s also a chance to catch up with familiar faces and have a convivial chat-though our little English enclave always sits together. Some things will never change.

Don’t get me wrong, we did a lot of things to get involved with local culture, enrolling our kids into the ‘el cau’ or scouts group. We became more prominent as ‘the English family’ as we also ran an English language school, minutes from our home. Unfortunately as far as diversity goes, this stuck-in-a-time-warp area still hasn’t moved away from it’s apparent white, middle-class image.  

Girona Old Town (Barri Vell)

The backs of the houses along the river Onyar look ideal and some lucky owners even have a balcony where you can enjoy a well earned glass of local vino and take in the view.

While it’s a real crowd puller for tourists and day visitors it’s quite a different kettle of fish if you’re thinking of living here. Back in the old days it was a less salubrious place to live and had its ‘barrio chino’ red-light area. People were drawn to move to the more modern parts of Girona, into newer better equipped housing. 

Lots of narrow, shady streets and alleys, tall old buildings means it depends on where you live if you’ll ever catch the sun. Car parking is more of an issue, restricted to residents and limited spaces. If you can accept all that it could be quite the romantic alternative that some like.Your typical American tourist blogging their way around Europe will, I’m sure, find it a delight.

It’s also a popular hangout spot for visiting professional and tourist cyclists, who don’t mind running their bike up five flights of stairs. Many apartment buildings don’t have a modern lift, those medieval builders never foresaw this useful addition. 

This has led to a rise in pricey rental apartments from owners cashing in, but alienating those locals who want to keep it like it was. It’s echoing a similar effect with what’s happening with Airbnb apartments in Barcelona, where runaway tourism impacts local sensitivities.

Life in Girona’s old town is also prone to those negative points of noise from bars, cafes, nightlife goers and tourists. A friend who lives near Girona cathedral can hardly get out of his front door during certain city festivities like the flower festival, or at Easter when many flock to view its processions. For me I’ve got used to enjoying it for a casual stroll through La Rambla, an occasional meal and a weekly pub crawl.

Palau

Mention this area and the euro signs start to flicker as it’s one of the poshest areas of Girona. You need to go uphill so it affords good views and has more houses than apartments. It’s quite a way from the old town and Girona’s shopping areas, and there’s little in the way of shops, cafes and bars. However, if you prefer a spacious home with a pool and ample parking this could be the place.

Montjuic

Loosely translated as the ‘mount of the Jews’ it stands high up above Girona and has a mix of upmarket houses and apartments. Girona’s Jewish Museum has a good collection of Hebrew inscribed tombstones recovered from here, as it had a Jewish burial place.

There’s only one long winding road up and once you reach the top all you have is a petrol station, supermarket, pizza take away, bakery and not much else. Plus points are the views but for me a bit too boring, the walk down to the old town would take about a half an hour.

Quimics

The site of a former glue factory still has its tall brick chimney. A popular residential area with lots of new build apartment blocks, it’s not too far from the commercial hubs of Girona. 

Montilivi

Moving further away from the more downtown areas of Girona and uphill again, this is a largely residential neighbourhood that is home to Girona football club’s stadium, certain University buildings and student digs. 

St. Daniel.

If I had to move this is on my bucket list, but rental properties are as rare as hens teeth.

Tucked away just minutes away up behind Girona’s cathedral this tiny village has a special feel about it. Friends that live here say that it’s split into a sunny and shady part, the latter can make it feel a bit damp in winter. Much of the topography makes it quite hilly and the surrounding forests make it popular with dog walkers and mountain bikers. No real shops here except a bakery.

The big plus is its one and only tip-top restaurant Cull del Mon. No better way to spend a leisurely afternoon dining on its terrace or comfy interior. Because of its proximity to local cycle routes the village has become the go to base location for the pro and tourist cyclists.

I should mention two satellite villages that have a certain appeal if you’re after the quiet life. Fornells de la Selva has St. George’s International school on its outskirts, a railway station and a solitary cafe-which is closed at lunchtime. Isn’t that when people want to eat? 

However, it has its own social centre which serves up a decent set lunch for a modest price. The local old boys sit around playing cards and dominoes, a good place to practice your Catalan. Housing is a mix of old village properties and a lot of new built detached houses and blocks of flats. People with very young families like it but it’s not a place you’d drive through on the way to somewhere else. If you’re into outdoor pursuits the surrounding farmland and verdant countryside make up for the passing tumbleweed!

Villablareix has a quaint historic core and has grown bigger with plenty of low-rise modern apartment blocks. Away from its industrial estate area this village has a bit more life to it, a primary school, bakery, butchers and a pharmacy. There’s a branch of the popular restaurant chain Konigs here too, and one or two more cafes along the main drag. The road through here can take you to the airport via the next village of  Aiguaviva and further on, to Santa Coloma de Farners.

Lastly, Girona areas to avoid. Locals tell me that Vila Roja is where you could easily lose the hubcaps off your car, and maybe the shirt off your back too.

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Christmas time

The latest lockdown restrictions have eased and the locals are out and about in force Christmas shopping. Good job too, and Girona’s city hall has been advocating that Gironians spend their hard-earned in local shops to help the local economy. That doesn’t necessarily mean packed streets full of jostling shoppers, as the whole Xmas season is a more downbeat affair. 

Being from the UK I’m used to a more bustling, shop till you drop, last minute shopping experience. After moving here I used to look forward to returning to the UK for the Xmas break, ostensibly to be with family and see friends. But after enduring the stress of what that entailed I quickly returned to the idea of spending it being here in quiet, sedate Girona. Even the lure of mince pies, pigs in blankets and brandy butter wouldn’t change our minds.

The Christmas lights are part and parcel of it all too. Girona’s lights are often a bit of an understatement but this year’s attempt appears to be an improvement over previous years. The street lights go up during November and are switched on early December. 

Over many years we’ve sea-sawed between a home cooked xmas lunch and eating out. Well, eating out in Girona on Christmas day is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. It requires diligent research and forward military style planning. I even went to the Girona Tourist Office in La Rambla thinking they might have all the places open on the 25th. Not so simple, as lists are haphazard and produced too late. One place stood out.

We ate at Casa Marieta in Pl. de la Independencia one year, but I had to make a booking in late November. Even then it appeared to be a bit touch and go as she leafed through the diary. I was thinking please find me a table as my options were too few. 

On Christmas day it was unsurprisingly busy and while we waited to be seated a tad too long it was an acceptable, stress-free lunch. We even took our own Christmas crackers-some traditions are hard to discard. Who knows what the other Cataln diners thought of that. Other Christmas day lunches have been spent eating local fried-chicken,  to an out-of-town country restaurant. Fine but no drinking and driving meant expensive use of taxis.

Homespun equivalents have just resulted in domestic food meltdowns in our tiny kitchen, and emotional explosions that I swore never to repeat the experience. I think I need to re-examine that ‘what’s open on xmas day restaurant’ list. Back we go to the tourist office.

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Jazz-but don’t talk

I can never think of jazz without remembering that character, Louis Balfour in the 90’s BBC comedy The Fast Show and his catchphrase-Jazz, nice!

I’ve always been puzzled by the lack of live music venues in Girona-any music. My theory is that many suitable places are too near to residential blocks so locals would complain-which they do quite readily.

Contrast that to when the city celebrates its week long city wide festival of St Narcis in late October. What a racket then. Street bands galore and the large open area next to Devesa Park called La Carpa becomes a giant youth club dominated by a nightly blast of live music till the early hours.

In our middle-aged case we opted to go to the small but cute Sunset Jazz bar in the old town. The Saturday night music was a tribute to Billy Holiday by an American singer whose name I forget. Great, we thought, a meal first and then some sounds. First we went for a mini supper where we waited too long for our food and maybe overdid it a bit with the local vino blanco.

On entering the Sunset club we had to stand by the bar as all the seats were taken. The dim interior and bum-numbing seating makes for what you’d expect of a Bohemian-style jazz joint.

The rendition of Billy Holiday songs was a token effort and far from what we’d imagined. We were enjoying our drinks engaged in quiet conversation when the barmaid gestured ‘shoosh’ at those of us sitting and standing around the bar. We duly obliged rolling our eyes upwards.

The music progressively derailed itself from its original intention. The singer blurted out some felicitations in Spanish, which probably didn’t go down too well with the fiercely proud Catalan audience.

The shooshing waitress continued to patrol the bar acting like a scolding headmistress. To the point where we’d had enough and left. She spoke to us in unintelligible Catalan-probably saying ‘you’re barred’.

We’ve never been back since.