Sushi, sushi everywhere

I know I’ve been living here a while but I can remember a time when sushi restaurants were a rare sight in Girona. Anything new or different food wise would make the local grapevine twitch. 

Fast forward to today and sushi establishments seem to be springing up on every street corner. Have the locals suddenly changed their taste buds and adopted this Asian cuisine? They certainly seem to be lapping it up as most look busy with clientele.

Surely we’ve reached the sushi-saturation point, maybe not quite yet. I’d always thought about the large number of opticians, dental clinics and shoe shops in Girona. Do Gironians suffer from poor eyesight, bad teeth and poor footwear?

On and on new sushi cafes and restaurants keep appearing. Many in what were once previous food premises but revamped and restyled. Luckily we’re a family that loves sushi so the more the merrier. It’s fun to try out new places, and the ‘buffet libre’ is our personal choice. It’s basically what they call ‘all you can eat’.

As a quick recap or guide, the cheapest deal is to eat during weekdays at lunchtime where you’re offered a set menu which in my experience is sufficient. The all-you-can-eat option is a few euros more. The same option at night, weekends and festival days is the most expensive. The average is around 16-17€ and often excludes drinks.

So it was that we ventured out to try Koyo, a small chain with several restaurants, in premises which had been a Chinese restaurant before. The one thing I remember about the old place was how large the interior was, and how unwelcoming it all looked with bright lights. It made me think of school canteens.

In its new reborn form the interior, though still large, has been thoughtfully redesigned avoiding that cavernous look. Together with the extensive use of wood panelling and softer lighting, it’s a big improvement.

Being so big it’s swarming with staff and the workmanlike greeting was unremarkable and slightly off putting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not after the kind of enthused smiley greeting you’d find in the US, something in between.

Our table for four was fine and maybe because of covid overhang rules, sufficiently spaced apart. We went for the buffet libre at 16.50€ each, excluding drinks and desserts. The menu is in the form of a picture book, and you’re given a paper and pen to write down all your chosen dish numbers.

The place quickly filled up as it was the evening of a national holiday. The beauty of the buffet libre is that by using the pen and paper you can reorder stuff-as often as you want. But, being so full it was getting progressively harder to grab a waiter’s attention to hand him/her the paper.

There was also a tardy approach to collecting the stacks of small plates that this kind of eating generates. More napkins too were needed which we asked for but none arrived. 

The food was good-when it arrived, but the wait time when reordering was becoming painfully slower. I’m sure they missed out on some items too. Our drinks seemed to arrive quicker though.

Verdict: A good place to retry, but on a less busier night or for lunch. As for the level of service-could try a bit harder.

Cost: With 2 Asahi beers, 2 soft drinks, 2 bottles of white Penedes wine (11.95€ ea.), no desserts, it all came to 103€.

Koyo, Restaurant Japones, Joaquim Vayreda, 4-6, Girona 17001


Arrels restaurant, Quart

I do like a Catalan country restaurant and Girona is blessed to have many dotted around the surrounding countryside. Luckily many aren’t too far away, so locals take advantage of these larger dining spaces and easier parking. 

No more so than at the weekends where booking is highly recommended. Those of us with a looser work timetable can take advantage of a week day visit which is a much simpler exercise. And less expensive.

A good few have a daily set lunch menu priced so as to be affordable and don’t get too overcrowded.

The only slight downside is if you’re driving you ought to watch the amount you drink, fair point. 

So when it came around to paying back a favour for a friend recently, we thought of one near to where he lives, in Quart. A few minutes drive once you leave Girona’s outer limits and you reach Arrels (roots in Catalan), a large, handsome, imposing stone building set back from the busy main road.

I should add that I’d been here before, about 6 years ago when by chance we stopped here because of car trouble. Back then it was called by a name I no longer remember.

This time it’s sweeping entrance driveway welcomes you into a spacious car park. The restaurant sits in a generous plot with the addition of outdoor tables that I don’t recall before.

The interior dining space has had a facelift and our Tuesday visit still boasted a decent lunch turnout. Even with the usual chatter and clanking plates from other diners, it was unobtrusive.

Our table for 3 was ample, crisp white tablecloths and cloth napkins are always a nice touch. Service was swift, polite and jovial. The set weekday menu is 17.50€ for 3 courses, wine and bread.

We’re sufficiently good at understanding menus in Catalan but asking for one in Spanish shouldn’t be a problem. Getting one in English is often hit and miss. Culinary vocabulary is sometimes a minefield getting the correct equivalent translation. Still, we’re in Catalonia and must show willingness.

Starters (primers) and mains are the first decisions to be made. 

Todays’ included  Nicoise salad (my choice) with green beans (mongetes verdes), anchovies and candied potatoes.

A lot of mutual nodding and slight clarification followed. We were unsure what Papardelle was-it’s a type of pasta, which came with a mushroom sauce and parmesan (crema de ceps i parmesa).

Our drink of choice was red wine and a bottle duly appeared- and remained.

The choice of seconds (segons) was slightly bigger and included:

Bacallà amb salsa verda (cod with green sauce).

Arròs sec de pollastre i bolets (dried rice with chicken and mushrooms).

Bracets d’anec a la taronja-my choice (duck with an orange sauce)-bracets translates as ‘arms’ ?

Two further steak dishes had an additional small supplement.

Whilst portion sizes aren’t in the XL stakes it is tasty, fresh, home-made quality food. When it’s this good you don’t always need much. My mind always thinks back to what this all might cost if I was in the UK-at least 2 or 3 times more.

For dessert I’m glad I chose the ‘Textures de xocolata’ a deliciously tasteful mix of 3 different chocolates, topped with a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Top notch. I’m usually unimpressed by the dessert choices in most places, many appear to be shop bought.

No better way to while away a couple of hours, with good food and friends.

Restaurant Arrels, Carretera C-250, KM7, 17242, Quart, Girona


Costa Brava beach days – Sant Marti d’Empuries

Strung out by bountiful beach coves and gently sweeping sandy beaches that stretch out to the horizon, there’s little to not like about Sant Marti, located a short distance from its neighbour L’Escala. 

If you’re already in L’Escala, take the Cami de ronda de l’Escala (Passeig Dr. Pi i Llussa), a coastal footpath and walk here at your leisure. Even here you can stop, just turn off to the right, via one of many access paths (unmade, often uneven) to discover uncrowded sandy coves.

We often make our way directly to a beach area, a 20 minute walk past the village, which welcomes dog owners. It is also a popular spot for kite surfers, windsurfers and the occasional naturist. The beach is sufficiently large enough enabling you to spread out, avoiding any eye contact with bare flesh.

For directions, we make our way from Girona using the AP7 toll free parts. If you weren’t aware, you can travel north or south for free, using a limited number of exits. We join the motorway at St Gregori, going north and get off at the Vilademuls exit. You still get issued a ticket at the tolls but there’s no payment. 

Continue along the N-II road through Oriolls and turn off at the GI- 623   signposted Escala. Go all the way eastwards to Escala itself if that’s your final destination, or take the St Marti turn off. As you come off the roundabout here go past the village. There’s a horse riding place on the left and shortly after look out for a sign ‘RioMar Hotel’, just before a bend in the road. Turn right here and continue down this dusty track. You’ll start to see parked cars on one side, the further you can get down here and find a parking spot the nearer to the beach you’ll be.

If not then continue to the end where you’ll see the beach and follow the track to the right, and take the first right, where there are more places to park. The beach area in front of the 1-star hotel RioMar is popular with windsurfers and there’s a beach bar here (Ukelele) too, but only during the summer season. Look to your left and you’ll notice a small river and a long wide expanse of sand with dunes at the back. You can see right across the bay of Roses and the resort of Roses in the distance.

Cross over the arching iron bridge and choose your spot. At the height of summer there are lots of dog owners here and hundreds of kite surfers which use a nearby camping site as their base. This area has no beach facilities like showers or lifeguards, except for a portaloo (summer only). Do wear sandals or some sort of foot protection as the sand is blisteringly hot. Entering the sea at this point the water’s quite shallow for a fair way out.

Of course you don’t have to venture out as far as here, you can enjoy super beaches located just a stone’s throw from the village itself. The only downside is finding free parking, or use the paid option. For example, just behind the church, walk down below to one that has a beach bar (chiringuito Olivia) which I’ve been well informed serves good food. That said, Sant Marti is well served by a handful of eateries in the Placa Petita, a cute triangular shaped area that gets super busy in the evenings and more so at weekends.


Girona Sant Narcís Festival-Correfoc

The CorreFoc is a feature of Girona’s annual city festival known as the St Narcis Festival in late October. It’s several days of fun, festivities, various cultural activities and the mayhem that’s Correfoc. Loosely translated into ‘fire-runs’ but charmingly referred to as ‘running the devil out of Girona’. They pop up in various forms in many Catalan and Valencian festivals. Participants dress as devils and light fireworks which are fixed onto devil’s pitchforks. Spectators also follow them closely, maybe too closely.

Visitors and onlookers might like to reinterpret that as something along the lines of ‘I’d better get out of the way of this ensemble of amateur arsonists’. No one it seems throughout the whole spectacle has probably ever heard of the ‘Firework Safety Code’ that we abide by when messing around with fireworks in the UK.

An unmissable event in my opinion, it starts late, around 10pm within the confines of the old town, and charts a route that eventually ends up near the university buildings (the old part). We usually catch it somewhere just after the starting point, like near the steps of the old convent La Merce. Street lights are extinguished, which signals the beginning. As part of the large participant/spectator entourage, drummers start a slow rhythmic beat. Also in a pyrotechnic tandem joined by loud bangs, and red and white flashes.

Seeing this marauding band approaching you along the dark, narrow, cobbled alleys shrouded in a red haze is quite a sight. It’s also wise to move away, to retreat up the steps of La Merce to a safer vantage point. Thinking we were okay up here we were joined by this guy in green.

The official participants are dressed in various devil-themed overalls, masks, headgear and goggles, for obvious protection from the sparks and the smoke. A necessity but with such little attention to the safety of the constant whirring fireworks, bangs and booms makes it look wholly unorganised and unsafe. Here are another two characters who look like they’re enjoying themselves.

This riotous smoke-filled rabble continued on their merry way for at least another 45 minutes. Long after passing, the old town alleyways still reverberate and echo to their distant sounds.


Costa Brava beach days-Calella de Palafrugell

Lucky Girona residents have the best of both worlds it seems-easy access to scenic mountain landscapes, and a short drive to a dizzying array of fine beaches, bays and coves that even Robinson Crusoe wouldn’t say no to.

When you heap praise on Catalan friends, regaling them on their wondrous naturally sculpted heritage, they often simply shrug their shoulders. A complacent, satisfying but proud acceptance is how I see it. Many have their own favourite sandy escape, closely guarded secrets with names I’ve never heard of. Tiny, charming and hard to access coves that prompt ‘wow I never knew about this place’.

As an outsider there’s the thrill of visiting and experiencing individual beach locations. Holidays are fine for that and the Costa Brava has prospered enormously. 

We first encountered Calella de Palafrugell when we toured Catalonia while on our holidays, way back in 2001. These days we’re avid fans of its annual music festival (July/August) at Cap Roig, an old botanical garden. Facing the sea, the grounds are transformed into an outdoor auditorium, and many famous faces have appeared here, including Tom Jones, Sting and Elton John. Not to be outdone, there are also plenty of Catalan and Spanish artists featured.

One way you can enter is via nearby Palafrugell, a modestly sized ordinary looking working town, handy for stopping for supermarket supplies, and possibly resupplying your drinks cabinet. It has a huge warehouse sized shed, Vins i Licors Grau selling wines across all price ranges, by the bottle or by the case. We were also here once to see its spring festival full of colourful carnival floats, music and costumes.

Further northwards the coastline gets craggier, more impressive and more expensive. Resorts like Begur link to ever smaller, exclusive postage stamp places like Sa Riera, Aiguablava and Tamariu. Mention to friends that you have a place in any of them and don’t be surprised by raised eyebrows.

The last time we came to Calella was to discover one of its scenic coastal paths. We started with good intentions, but it wasn’t long before an attractive beachside restaurant loomed ahead. The lunch light bulb came on, and we didn’t need too much encouragement to stop. After all, when the sun shines, thoughts turn to more culinary matters. We’ll do that walk next time.

There are plenty of holiday apartment blocks and houses set back from the beach and spreading up into the hilly areas above. Thankfully there’s little in the way of high rises or interfering commercialism. Also absent (as far as I can tell) are any obvious signs of tackiness and ‘cheap and nasty’ parts to avoid. Of course, there are hotels and camping areas but younger party goers looking for any nightlife will be disappointed.

If you work your way down to the seafront and along the beach you’ll see a number of small coves that are a great part of its appeal, all close to each other. Platja del Canadell is a popular spot. Others further along include Platja de Malaspina, Platja de les Barques and Platja d’En Calau all next to each other. Thankfully, they’re all close to shops, cafes and bars in town.

The next one along is Platja Port Pelegri (below) which has steps down to the sand, and a restaurant (Fiego) a stone’s throw from the water.

The swanky beachfront in Calella is largely traffic free and full of shops and eateries, attracting evening diners and strollers taking the evening air-well worth staying for some late entertainment. Summertime evenings this stretch also has a smattering of stalls selling local crafts and jewellery.

For a small, picturesque, charming and popular Catalan resort it offers plenty of handy beach-hopping options to fill your day, if that’s your thing. 

Out of season Calella is deathly quiet with few people and empty streets, the only plus being plentiful parking. Some of the beachfront cafes open only on weekends, making a winter visit worthwhile, especially when it’s sunny.


Welcome back – Girona Flower Festival (Temps de Flors)

Whilst it hasn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs in most places around the world, the ban on most things cultural here in Girona has surely run its course. Even some of the long standing music festivals have woken from their enforced slumber and are promoting themselves. Not that any real promotion is necessary as I’ve read that their concerts have been selling like hotcakes. 

The ‘get out and enjoy’ genes have reawoken and rightly so, the thought of getting out enjoying yourself is kickstarting the road back to a Covid-compliant normality. Quite how that all pans out for the summer season remains to be seen. The memories and experience of last summer linger to some extent, kids especially are yearning for as normal a summer as possible.

So, because of current restrictions and being conditioned to a life of monastic seclusion, I was just a little surprised to see posters popping up all over town advertising Girona’s annual flower festival, Temps de Flors. It’s always been a high point of the year, an expectant time when we anticipate better weather and temperatures. A kind of precursor to the many other cultural and culinary delights that follow.

That’s another oddity this year, the yo-yo weather of late. Easter-week saw a run of warm weather to be replaced with a climate more akin to winter as temperatures see-sawed wildly. As a long entrenched resident this is not what I’ve been used to, having one eye on the heating bills, which normally have a downward trend by now.

So it’s nice to hear that the local powers that be have decided to hold the flower festival again, but the rumours are, on a much lesser scale. In normal times Girona’s old town, where most of the action occurs is overflowing with visitors from far and wide, even France. 

The flower festival has become a real victim of its own success. So much so that we never went ourselves until the last few days because  of the crowds. The local town hall (ajuntament) graciously supplies free maps which feature all the exhibits and stopping points, which runs into over a hundred.

It’s boomtime for Girona’s cafes and restaurants, but old town residents can’t wait until it’s over. The chief complaints being that simply going about your daily business is difficult. If you’ve ever visited you’d know that the maze of narrow streets means bottlenecks and a snail’s pace of navigating all the important bits worthy of seeing.

One perennial example is the Arab Baths (Banys Arabs), where constant queuing is the norm all day long. They use a one-way system, and a chance to enter for free to see the interior floral displays. Ordinarily there’s a small entrance fee. Just around the corner is probably the most anticipated exhibit, the steps leading up to Girona’s Cathedral. It’s quite a large blank canvas, and a talking point amongst locals as to how good it is compared to previous years. This photo is from 2019.

It’s an opportune time to see inside many private courtyards and interior spaces otherwise closed off to public view. That includes Girona’s air-raid shelter, near Placa Catalunya, built during the time of Spain’s civil war (!936-39). Whilst it doesn’t wow in the floral stakes it’s one for the curious visitor. 

Another exhibit, now sadly crossed off the route map due to redevelopment is an old former cinema at the rear of the town hall. This building remained boarded up, unused throughout the year, only to open during the festival. The seating areas were long gone, as was its roof space, with just rusty girders showing off its nakedness. Sometimes it featured dramatic art and floral installations with the subtle addition of haunting music. In 2015 it had as part of its perplexing theme, these hanging chairs. 

Another popular stopping point is the long expansive steps at Pujada de Sant Domenec that lead up to the small intimate church of St Marti. Opinions differ as to whether the best view is from down below or from up above. Do pop into the church to view their displays.

There’s a lot to get around if you’re just here for one day, comfortable shoes will help and a bottle of water as bars stay busy all day.


3 good places for a coffee in Girona

What better way to get into a subject like coffee than having one. Cue the Nespresso machine as it grunts and pours me a no.10 strength cup.

So many ways you can have it, we went in search of a decent cup of Joe. Locals seem to have their favourite cafe for their morning break or lunch. In a rush? then have a tallat/cortado (espresso).

The usual cafe scene here is ordinarily unspectacular. The majority serve up a decent beverage. Count yourself lucky if you find one with outdoor tables that catch the sun. Or, go inside for bland decor and a noisy TV blaring out the latest celebrity scandal. The rapid fire chat just adds further irritation.

My normal safe choice is a cafe amb llet / cafe con leche (coffee with milk). If you’re from the UK/USA cup sizes are smaller here, but then again you’re only paying less than 2€. Recently because of Covid more have been offering takeaways. Here again, cup sizes are small. Don’t expect anything the same size as in Starbucks. I really think someones missing a trick here.

Another recurring gripe is whenever I get served a coffee it’s always lukewarm, which makes me drink it quicker before it gets cold. I’m well aware you can ask for hot milk when you order, but I’m human and I forget.

Over the last few years the coffee scene has woken from its long slumber with some fresh new places-mostly in Girona’s old town. Hard to tell if it’s local owners with new ideas, but some are run by former foreign cyclists. The whole coffee and cycling thing is becoming almost symbiotic, frequented by a cadre of professional foreign riders who call Girona home. Handy meeting places too, and get your caffeine fix for that next hill climb.

Here’s what the two of us found, all these are in pedestrianised areas so no noisy traffic to ruin your experience.

Buttercup, Nou del Teatre, 2 (now closed-has become a restaurant)

I pass here a lot and often think it might be hard to notice this place down a narrow alley. Thoughtfully they’ve positioned a sign in the main square (Placa del Vi). Split into two seating areas the large minimalistic theme is on point, with murky blue walls and high ceilings. Extra large windows with a long bar set rather low, with small wood stools that wouldn’t look out of place in a kids nursery. The additional utilitarian table and chair sets fill the floor space politely. All complemented by a buttercup yellow (I presume) padded wall feature. A single, long wooden table dominates the second space which also features a small shop area. Nice but not overloaded front window display of homemade cakes and cookies to tempt you in. Remember to order at the front counter first. Food and drinks menus have an English translation, the brunch menu (18€) would have got my vote if I’d been hungrier.

Charging points? Limited spread of electric sockets and no clear indication if you can use them freely. Slightly tinny music emanated from the open kitchen-a nice smooth jazz via well positioned speakers (none) would’ve been ideal for our Sunday morning visit.

Judge the beans. We had a regular coffee/milk and a cappuccino, both 2.20€ ea. Small mug sizes served on a clay plate, no visible option for larger sizes. Perfectly fine but again, lukewarm.

Piece of cake? Oh yes, loosen that belt notch. We had a peanut butter and jelly muffin (2.80€), and a vanilla and cinnamon croissant pudding served with berry compote and creme fraiche (7.50€). Final bill 14,70€

Verdict. A heavenly escape for work from home millennials.

Coffee and Greens, Rambla de la Libertad, 25

Friends who’d been here moaned about it being too draughty when the entrance door slides open. On my last visit we sat at the rear which looks out onto the river Onyar. That visit was spoiled by a workman inside drilling. This time we went with a clean slate. The not too wide frontage probably explains their in-your-face window full of what they offer. Dog friendly too so we took our two mutts.

Urban dwellers will like the honest, stark interior, lots of wood, steel and bare brick. Nice touch is an indoor parking spot for your precious bike.

Not enough customers for outdoor tables at the time of our visit.

Charging points? Good number of them are spaced about.

Judge the beans. We had an iced caramel latte (4€) and a Large latte (3.20€). Nice large cup for my latte, but yes, you’ve guessed it, lukewarm. Good news, someone’s listening, they offer a small and large option on many drinks. 

Piece of cake? Cakes and pastries on display were largely absent, so not this time. We were more tempted by the eclectic selection of toasties, bagels, sandwiches and ‘energy bowls’. We shared the Eggs benedict (10€) and a Caprese sandwich (7€). Final bill 24,20€

Verdict. Coffee and Greens could become a new noun phrase like bread and butter.

La Fabrica (The Factory) Carrer de la Llebre, 3

Popular amongst the cycling fraternity, hidden away down a side street off C/Ciutadans. We felt out of place as a constant stream of lycra clad cyclists parked their bikes in the cycle rack they provide. Plentiful outdoor tables in a quiet spot surrounded by old town historic charm. Inside it’s well decorated, a cosy interior space I liked spending time looking over. One side has a  series of recessed alcoves, each differently and thoughtfully decorated. An honourably sufficient spread of pastries on the counter, and an enticing selection of snacks that would leave your local hipster scratching his beard trying to decide.

Charging points? Not really, maybe it doesn’t encourage laptop lingering.

Judge the beans. Flat white and my usual, a latte both 2.50€ ea. Small cups and I’m getting predictably repetitive, yes lukewarm.

Piece of cake? Go on then, just a tiny piece. We had a generous slice of the Hummingbird cake (banana, walnut, pineapple, 5€) and an avocado on toast, with red pepper, sweetcorn, feta, green sprouts topped with an egg, (8.50€). Total bill 18.50€

Verdict. Lean mean cycle hangout for beautiful bikes.


Costa Brava hotels- S’agaro

Only a 25 minute drive from the city of Girona, we were looking for a peaceful and restful weekend break in the middle of a cold February. This hotel and its facilities proved to be the perfect solution. Looking for spa hotels in Girona & Barcelona, we did our research on prices, facilities and availability. Some hotels do not open until March, some seem to just pay ‘lip service’ to Spa – it may run to a jacuzzi and a small room for body treatments but nothing else. Some were already booked up and some were just extortionately expensive.

S’Agaro Hotel Spa & Wellness looks lovely from the outside, with a pretty facade, balconies, gardens, the pool area and terraces (not in use in the winter). It all looks inviting for the summer and just moments from the beach you can hear the sound of the sea (which the rooms at the front have great vistas). 

The furniture is comfortable and inviting with marble floors, lots of light with large windows. The hotel has obviously been refurbished and everything is tastefully decorated, cleanly painted with tasteful pieces, artifacts, ornaments and pictures here and there. This was the case not only in the reception area but the bar, restaurant, corridors etc. Staff efficient, polite and helpful. As it was February, it was very quiet. Online booking offers extra choices to enhance your stay.

As we were more interested in trying out the spa facilities than a luxurious room, we got a good deal on a special offer. Apparently, you can check the website but better to call them as depending on how busy they are, there are special offers every week. 

The staff obviously speak English. The good value deal meant a room (with a small balcony, tired looking table & chairs). Overlooking the back car park but with views of the urbanisation of S’Agaro (which is all low rise attractive properties – so not an eyesore). The room was small, basic and clean but with lovely furniture and a minibar, although two single beds pushed together even though we had asked for a double.

This happens a lot in hotels anyway. If I had a gripe it would be that the room felt cold no matter how much we turned up the heating and didn’t seem to be working sometimes. However, this is a summer resort hotel and there was provision for A/C. Also, I just wanted to catch the news in English but not one channel offered English (although French & German as well as Catalan and Spanish). It was a shame also, that there was not a fire burning in the fireplace in the bar. The large space was very comfortable & inviting but so cold, it was empty. 

There is room service but breakfast (included in our deal) was very good in the dining room, and catered for every taste (even bacon & eggs!). Reasonably, (time wise) this was served until 11am so you don’t have to get up too early. Dinner was delicious also and the set menu offered an excellent choice for a good price, although extras such as drinks, coffees etc. are expensive.

The spa which has been open for about a year at the time of this report was really superb. Beautifully designed in the space available. You can see this if you go directly to the hotel website and view the YouTube video (click on the Spa bit). What you see is what you get. We were shown around, given slippers and dressing gowns to use (all clean and wrapped in plastic bags) and left alone by the discreet & non-interfering staff to enjoy the experience. 

There is a very small gym, steam room (they call a hamman) a sauna, two pools (one extra warm with some very gorgeous water features to enjoy). Special shower cubicles with lots of interesting water therapeutic experiences, separate treatment rooms, private changing rooms with showers for washing. There were lots of interesting buttons to press and it was a case of ‘try it & see’ which brought some fun surprises! 

There were also lots of comfortable seats, loungers with cushions for those that just wanted to chill, including a room with two marble beds that were heated and a changing light colour ceiling. If I had anything to complain about it would be that towels were in short supply, so we ended up bringing our room ones to the spa. 

This may seem churlish but it didn’t have that fresh, relaxing ‘spa’ smell you would expect which could have been easily provided (such as sprayed natural scents, perfume plug-in ‘thingys’, josh-sticks, scented flowers perhaps ? – understand candles would not be safe). Also it would have been lovely to hear a quiet backdrop of ‘chill’ music that would generally suit everybody without being obtrusive such as easy jazz, tranquil sounds or whatever especially in the relaxed areas. 

You could hear the sounds of the noisy water machines kicking off, the ‘whoops’ and exclamations of surprise bathers having cold water poured over them. Children are allowed with adults and it’s the perfect place just to relax with your partner. Such sheer, indulgent luxury at comparatively very reasonable prices for what’s on offer. Especially in the mid/high season when you can use the pool outside, hop & skip over to the beach and enjoy drinking & dining on the terraces. 

I’ll be keeping this in mind when I go back with our kids and hope to plan a ‘girly weekend’ that I know everyone would enjoy. However, it’s also a great winter escape. I shouldn’t share this but I know that there is no point in keeping secrets if not enough clients use the hotel and its facilities.

 Although the hotel told us they were busier than last year, we generally enjoyed the spa facilities relatively alone and all to ourselves. This was an extra 60€ each for the weekend and included a full body massage for an hour (normal charge 50€). Our room was 155€ for two nights including a massive breakfast (although this was an immediate pay on-line booking & no cancellation return). Total cost came to 270€ for the two of us (not each) including the spa, relax vouchers inc. massage. We did pay for a meal in the restaurant and drinks from the bar on top. 

Room tip: Front rooms for front line sea view & pool view. Cheaper rooms over back car parking would still be quiet as they also face a park and distant urban houses. They don’t seem to get sunlight so would be cool also, but guess the front areas are more sunny but noisy in the summer. Also above reception, pool, terrace & restaurant areas. More luxurious rooms available than we stayed in.

(This review was written several years ago)


On your bike-Girona and cycling

Road cycling and mountain biking are firm favourites here. It’s not just the weekend hobbyists and tourist bikers who ‘don the gear’, it extends to the refined professionals who are attracted here like bees to honey.

Girona’s surrounding topography lends itself to offering a challenging variety of routes. The weather is a mighty good adjunct too, ensuring a pleasant climate most of the year. Add the relaxed lifestyle, fine cuisine and a medieval setting, you quickly see why you’d want to bring your bicycle pump here.

The whole cycling in Girona phenomenon has created a thriving economic boost for those businesses catering to their needs. It’s not just the professional teams who base themselves here for training purposes, but the growing number of cycle tourists. So much so that I’m sure it has been a helpful boost to the property rental sector, as many choose to stay a while.

I’ve been here for almost 15 years and remember meeting an American cyclist by the name of Marti Jemison, way back about 12 years ago. I think it was when we used to frequent a local outdoor pool. Anyway, this is me reminiscing. We got real friendly as we had a mutual American friend who also lived here, but we lost touch soon after. He ran a high-end vacation business offering European road cycle tours. Apparently he was a part of the US Postal Service Pro Team in the late 1990’s, as was Lance Armstrong in 2005. By all accounts Armstrong lived in Girona for a while, somewhere within the old quarter.

Another famous English Olympic cyclist who resided here for a while was (Sir) Bradley Wiggins.

Friends of ours who run a cycling holiday business have had a real run of success and rightly so, as they’re one of the best in town. They also organise a popular annual cycling festival called Gran Fondo, which has further promoted the sport. Numerous copycats have appeared, tapping into that demand which just keeps growing. 

A good many seem to plump for basing themselves in the old town. Maybe they prefer running up and down five flights of stairs in their lycra shorts, as many old places have no lifts. It’s the road cyclists who seem to dress like they’re going bobsledding. Bicycles that cost thousands of euros that you can lift with ease, with just one finger.

Back in 2009 Girona even hosted a leg of the famous Tour de France. Race followers were here in their droves. I remember being in France on holiday and seeing it pass through Carcassonne. I waited for ages, watching various sponsors drive by distributing freebies, only to see the racers flash by so fast you would’ve missed them if you’d blinked.

Fast forward, and the wheels have kept turning but there’s been a lull in cycling activity recently during the past Covid waves, as movement restrictions were applied. Once normality has returned I can see a resurgence in all things cycling.


Costa Brava beach days-S’Agaro

I’ve mentioned previously that being in Girona you have easy and relatively quick access to the coast. You could even catch a bus there from Girona’s main bus station. The beach at S’Agaro is hard to beat, it’s one of our top favourite destinations-even out of season. Not for sun-bathing mind you, but for a bracing walk along the Cami de Ronda, a coastal path full of wind-bent pines. 

It certainly has the feel of a holiday home place with a couple of hotels and nothing really high-rise. Weekends sees posh cars jostling for a prime parking spot. Whenever the sun shines day visitors flock here to dine and people watch. No better way to spend a lazy Sunday.

This small town nestles next to the much larger St Feliu de Guixols, whose beach is nice too. However, S’Agaro steals the show in the chic stakes, smaller in size with a peach of a beach. If you blindfolded someone and asked where they thought they were, you’d be unsurprised if they said somewhere in dreamy California.

That American link does have a ring of truth, because of the 5 star Hotel La Gavina, with its prime location overlooking the bay. An old S’Agaro chestnut, its guest list includes former Hollywood A-listers Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. She starred in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, filmed in the 50’s in nearby Tossa de Mar. She felt at home in Spain, and came back to stay for longer periods.

Next to and behind this hotel is a gated community of large 1930’s built, detached houses that was designed by Rafael Maso. He’s known for his modernist style house designs, of which there are several in Girona. It’s fine to walk through here enroute to La Conca, another small beach worth a visit. Or get there via the Cami de Ronda path which is a more rewarding walk. 

Fine sea views and when the sea is rough the crashing waves add drama. Rocky outcrops jutting out, pines struggling to grow straight, and that turquoise sea. Feeling carried away, once you reach La Conca there’s the reassuring sight of a chiringuito (beach bar-summer only). There’s a way of getting here via a different road as it has a car park (and public toilet).

Failing that, just stay on S’Agaro’s beach, St Pol. It’s never too hard to find a paid parking spot (free off-season) close to the beach. Time limits apply, which I hate as you’ve got to go back to feed the meter if you plan to stay a while. 

A warped boardwalk slithers along the seafront and there are plenty of potential sandy spots to pitch your beach umbrella. Watch the boats and yachts bobbing about or take a dip in the clear water. It’s fairly shallow so you can wade out a fair way. There’s a sailing club here too, if you fancy a go at windsurfing or paddle surf.

A road running parallel to the beach is well served with cafes and restaurants, many with the requisite outdoor seating. Thoughtfully you only have to cross the road to dine alfresco with a sea-view. Lunchtimes are busy here, book on weekends. Try decent seafood in La Palmera, or tapas in Las Dunas. Wintertime many only have a lunch service, closing about 5pm.

You’d need to take a 5 minute hike away from the beachfront for more food choices. On Avinguda de Platja d’Aro there’s a good pizza takeaway Cibu that has outdoor tables. 

Or, find a beach bar, sit yourself down and watch the sunset.