Categories
Girona

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.

Categories
Beaches

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.

Categories
Girona

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.

Categories
Girona

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.

Categories
Beaches

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)

Categories
Girona

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.

Categories
Beaches

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.

Categories
Uncategorized

Time for music-Summer festivals in Catalonia

Summer festivals are plentiful here and cater for all tastes and pockets. Pop, rock, classical, opera, contemporary dance, even poetry. Indoor and outdoor venues small and large. The choice is yours and it all happens during the long summer break. A fair number start late in the evening, so won’t interrupt your sun-bathing or siesta. 

Some have been running for a very long time and attract audiences from near and far. Whilst many take place in Girona and the Costa Brava, I’ll also mention those near Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia.

El Grec (late August) Home grown and foreign theatrical and musical talent appear in this Barcelona based festival. www.lameva.barcelona.cat/grec

Festival de Torroella de Montgrí (August 1 – 19)

www.festivaldetorroella.cat

Classical music is the order of the day, in what is considered one of the three main classical music events that take place in the Emporda region every summer. A few international names with some recitals held inside churches.

Cap Roig Festival (July 12 – August 21) www.caproigfestival.com

Cute, chic Calella de Palafrugell must’ve felt like the cat that got the cream when it landed this gig. Set in botanical gardens overlooking the sea it bangs out beautiful sounds over 26 nights. A mix of Spanish stars and from abroad. Big international names like Sting, Elton John, Tony Bennet and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli have graced the stage. That usually means big prices, like about 200€, but I saw George Benson for about 50€ and Texas the same. The programme is released about early March so early booking is advised. My tip is to dress up and come early for pre-concert drinks and snacks. Cava by the bottle is a bit steep, 30€ last time.

Festival de Musica de Begur (July 27- August 24) www.festivalbegur.cat

Begur, a vibrant, well kept village lends itself to a music turn, like its Placa de la Vila. Long running established music festival, since 1977, promising quality, different music styles at accessible prices. In the past that’s included anything from pop to flamenco-that’s nice, but about as Catalan as cheese-on-toast.

Festival Castell de Peralada (July 4 -August 17)

Another firm favourite that crosses our radar to book early when its programme is advertised. An outdoor auditorium is erected in the grounds of this pocket-sized private castle. Posh patrons walk through the mature gardens, past its sauve lake with white swans. Same mix of national and international stars as Cap Roig, but with an extra dash of classical music, opera and dance. Bar and dining options are available, but we prefer to come early and choose somewhere else in the village. Cavas del Ampurdan is a wine shop with an outside terrace that also serves acceptable tapas dishes, just a stone’s throw from the castle. Post concert there’s an outdoor bar area with live music that we stop at to avoid the exit rush. Artists we’ve seen include Earth Wind and Fire, Roger Hodgson (Supertramp), Kool and the Gang and Simply Red.

If the music didn’t float your boat there’s a swanky casino next door to drown your sorrows. www.festivalperalada.com

Festival Nits de Classica (June 26 – July 30) Classical music, held in Girona’s modern venue next to La Devesa park. www.auditorigirona.org/nitsdeclassica

Festival Jardins de Pedralbes (until July 15) www.festivalpedralbes.com

Relatively small scale music festival in the Pedralbes area of Barcelona.

A temporary auditorium is set up inside these fine, landscaped palace gardens which also feature numerous food and drink areas. Again, a mix of domestic artists and from abroad. It all makes for an enjoyable night out, we saw the Gipsy Kings here back in 2019. British band Madness were billed for 2020 but postponed till the following year (Covid).

Portalblau festival (July 11 – August 9) www.portlblau.cat

Various venues around the seaside town of L’Escala are used for this event, even the Greco-Roman ruins at Empuries, for extra effect.

Festival de la Porta Ferrada (July 4 – August 20) Long running music festival held in St Feliu’s port area with some concerts in its football stadium. 

Spanish artists and a fair few international bands and solo artists, with most concerts at reasonable prices. We almost made it here one year to see UK pop band Spandau Ballet, until they cancelled last minute.    www.festivalportaferrada.cat

Pau Casals festival (July 12 – 23) www.auditoripaucasals.cat

Celebrating the music of Pau Casal, so classical performances from various soloists.

Estereofonics (June 1 – September 21) www.estereofonics.com

Largely free concerts and lots, the 5th edition had 82 over the span of 113 days. All happening in Castell-Platja d’Aro and S’Agaro. 

Jornades Musicals a l’Ermita de la Petat d’Ulldecona (June 2 – August 25)

Festival Internacional de Musica d’Altafulla (August 5 – 27) www.altafulla.cat Another long-running classical music festival.

Sons del Mon (July 5 – August 3) www.sonsdelmon.com

Small and large venues  in Castello d’Empuries and Roses. Some of the smaller performances take place in wineries.

White Summer (August 3 – 25) www.whitesummer.es 

Near the medieval village of Pals. We went here when it first started, as an upmarket outdoor retail event with food stalls and music acts peppered throughout the month. Back then the entry fee was a few euros and the music acts so so. As its popularity grew the entry prices increased, for what we thought of was a predominantly retail event. It’s 8th edition offered a lot more shows, almost 80, a mix of music, theatre and dance.

Sonar (July 18 – 20) www.sonar.es

Barcelona based, electronic dance music, promising 140 shows spread over 9 stages.

Festival Pau Casals (July 25 – August 13) www.prades-festival-casals.com

More of this Catalan composer’s classical output from a festival that’s been running for almost 70 years. (Northern Catalonia).

Festival Internacional de Musica S’Agaro (July 20 – September 21) www.associaciopaucasal.cat

Classical music concerts held inside churches in S’Agaro and Sant Marti d’Empuries, no doubt for their acoustic appeal.

XXIII Festival Ple de Riure (July 23 – 27) www.plederiure.cat

Comedy festival in Mas Nou, a municipality in the province of Barcelona.

Planestiuja’t (July 6 – August 31) www.planestiuejat.cat

Saturday night concerts and food through these two summer months in the La Garrotxa region.

Festival Cambrils (July 25 – August 11) www.festivalcanbrils.com

International music festival with well over 45 editions, set in this coastal town in the county (comarca) of Baix Camp. province of Tarragona.

Festival Anolia (July 13 – 20) www.igualada.cat

Local artists feature in this programme of free concerts in Igualada, in the province of Barcelona

Bachcelona Festival (July 16 – 21) www.bachcelona.com

Classical music dedicated to German maestro Bach with inaugural concerts held at Barcelona’s Palau de Musica.

Festival de Musica de Sant Pere de Rodes (July 13 – 25) www.festivalsantpere.com This Romanesque monastery plays host to various classical pianists from home and abroad.

Festival Internacional de Guitarra (July 24 – 28) www.guitarfesthospitalet.cat Classical guitars galore in this part of Tarragona province.

Jazz Festival L’Estartit-Costa Brava (July 25 –28) www.jazzestartit.cat

Just 4 days and several performances is all the jazz you’ll get, in front of the Medes Islands next to L’Estartit.

San Miquel Mas i Mas Festival (July 30 – August 31) www.masimas.com

Held across five venues this Barcelona festival began in 2003, a mix of jazz, blues and soul, backed by the brewer San Miguel.

Festival de Sant Pere de Casseres (until July 27) www.santperedecasseres.cat Poetry every Saturday in July, in this old Benedictine monastery.

Notes al Parc (until July 27) www.girona.cat Girona’s parks and gardens provide the venues for free concerts throughout July. A nice range of music from pop, hip-hop, electronic, rock, rap and folk.

BioRitme Festival (July 22 – 25) www.bioritmefestival.org Set in the Sau reservoir and billed as ‘a space to share committed music for a better world’. This means all the stalls and bars are 100 percent organic, with workshops and talks on environmental conservation.

Festival de Musica Antiga Poblet (August 16 – 18) www.fundaciocima.org

Five baroque music concrete, over three days in the Santa Maria monastery.

Arts d’Estiu (July 27 – August 25) www.artsdestiu.com Music concerts next to the beach, spread between the municipalities of  Pineda de Mar and Santa Susanna, near Barcelona.

Sant Cugat al Descobert (until September 27) www.cugat.cat A well to do satellite town near Barcelona which hosts about 35 cultural events, in various areas. Not just music, but visual arts and theatre.

Festival de Musica Antiga dels Pirineus (unti August 25) www.femap.cat

A large scale affair with over 35 towns in the Catalan Pyrenees hosting various Baroque music.

Garrigues Guitar Festival (until August 24) www.garriguitar.com A guitar festival started in 2012 to honour the memory of classical guitarist and composer Emili Pujol. Guitar workshops run alongside, and it also promotes local gastronomy and heritage.

Poesia I + (until July 14) www.poesiaimes.cat A festival devoted to mostly poetry, with a bit of music.

Sons Solers (July 17) www.sonssolers.cat Held in the natural surroundings of the Sant pere de Ribes estate it’s very much a celebration of music of Catalan origin.

Tempo Sota les Estrelles (July 18 – August 11) www.tempogirona.com

Loosely translated as ‘time beneath the stars’. A small-scale, top quality food and music festival in Girona’s old quarter, opposite the Arab Baths. Large outdoor terraces are transformed with a small stage surrounded by seating, bar and food stands. Free and paid concerts with home grown talent, and from abroad. On balmy, summer non-music nights just come for a drink and a bite to eat.

Festival Jardins de Terramar Sitges (July 19 – 04 August) www.festivaljardinsterramar.com Another large garden area is used as a temporary outdoor arena to host a mix of international and Spanish artists, and groups. Take a relaxed stroll through the manicured grounds with plenty of food and drinks stands, plus various retail stalls. We went in 2019 for George Benson and spent an extra few days here. Sophisticated Sitges, near Bacelona has good beaches, very lively and popular with the gay community.

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Uncategorized

Barcelona for culture vultures

Living in Girona we often take the train down to Barcelona for a day out. I don’t fancy driving either, too much hassle and parking is expensive. Let the ‘train take the strain’ was an old TV ad message.

Girona’s train station is just a short walk from our flat and we tend to get off at Barcelona Passeig De Gràcia station. That’s nice and central  for most things. With so much to see and do we’d go to one place then stop for lunch, then visit another location in the afternoon. There’s no real rush, we can always come back another time. We mainly get around using taxis or an Uber / Cabify (some ridesharing apps may or may not be still operating).

Here are a few places to start with, probably too much to do in just one daily visit so take your pick.

If you have kids a good place is CosmoCaixa C/d’Isaac Newton, 26. It’s a sort of mix of natural history and science, ‘designed to stimulate people’s knowledge and opinion of science’. Low entry price, it covers many various topics, from an indoor jungle to ancient humans. With many interactive exhibits, roomy cafe space and a large outdoors. A leisurely visit would easily take up half a day.

La Sagrada Familia 

Designed by the famous Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi this grand basilica has been under construction since 1882 and is still unfinished. 

That’s obvious from the cranes towering above, and the current estimated finish date is 2026. That hasn’t put off tourists who flock here en masse. Yearly visitor numbers are in the region of 3 million, so book your tickets online in advance.

I’ve always been a bit underwhelmed when visiting churches in general, but this is something so different. Sure there’s plenty of the usual stained glass around, but it’s when you enter and start to look up.This is the moment your lower jaw drops. Those spires reaching for the heavens, that impossibly high crafted ceiling, and all that cascading light. Rooted to the spot you become hard-pressed on where else to cast your gaze. Stick around a bit more as daylight tracks the sky and that colour show resembles looking through a kaleidoscope.

We paid extra to go up one of the spires. As you ascend, the narrow spiral stairway does make you feel a touch dizzy, like you’ve just jumped off one of those fast spinning kiddies roundabouts. At various points there are small outdoor viewing points that just heightened my feeling of vertigo. Perfectly safe of course as they are covered with a wire netting, and the views of Barcelona are sensational. I didn’t fancy doing all that in reverse and upon reaching the top was glad to see there’s a lift down. 

No wonder it’s the top sight to visit and rightly so, packing a true eclesiastic punch.The only time I wasn’t in a rush to leave a place of worship. 

Chocolate Museum (Museu de la Xocolata) C/del Comerc, 36.

Here’s something more up my street and a welcome distraction to other more formal museums. We owe it to the Spanish explorers who brought cocoa beans back to Spain in the 1600’s. We English have the less envious reputation of stumbling across the humble potato. Discovering tobacco was down to us too, so maybe that makes us equal.

This private museum housed in a former barracks is in the lively Born neighbourhood. Entrance prices are low with an option of paying for various workshops that require pre-booking.

Explanatory notes for exhibits are presented in 3 languages (Catalan, Spanish & English). My general impression was that they were largely staid, and left me thinking it could all be displayed with a more imaginative stamp. If you’ve ever visited the York (UK) Chocolate Museum you’ll know what I mean.

It won’t take you long to go round to see everything, being relatively small. It explains the history of the plant, but not interactive enough for kids I thought. You finish up at inevitably the best part of any museum visit, the gift shop. Of course take your pick of the plethora of chocolate bars on display, and leave a comment if so inclined on a large blackboard. 

If you exit at lunchtime there’s a cracking Vietnamese restaurant just opposite.

Parc Guell

This is not your normal run-of-the-mill park but another of Gaudi’s creations for a rich industrialist client. Forget about formal lines and pretty flower beds, this is more garden design on steroids. I’ve been here twice, the first time was about 20 years ago when it was free entry. This time, we’d booked a few days in advance as it’s a popular stopping point for Barcelona visitors. 

Peruse at your leisure and be sure to pick up a paper map, as you work your way towards the exit point. Extensive use of curves, arches and oceans of coloured tiles adorn the handful of buildings. The use of coloured tile fragments continues within a large seating area, that boasts fine seaward views of the city. A long wide stairway down to the gatehouse is decoratively served with the same panache. At its base a large green-tiled lizard awaits.

Gaudi even applied his artistic flair to the ironwork of the entrance gates (above).

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Beaches Girona

How to get from Girona to the coast

This is more of a guide for those independent visitors and tourists to Girona who arrive at its airport and have to find their way to other places like Barcelona or coastal resorts without the benefit of a car.

You can of course choose a taxi, convenient and quicker but that can get pricey. There’s always a long line of taxis waiting outside the arrivals hall and there’s usually information visible that shows the cost to popular destinations. Forget about getting an Uber or similar, none of these rideshare companies operate here.

For Barcelona bound people who want to take a coach you need to take a right turn as you exit arrivals. Walk a short distance down to a large parking area where you’ll see parked coaches with Barcelona Bus or Sagales, and a small stand-alone ticket office. 

For anyone wanting to get to the many Costa Brava resorts and towns by bus you’d need to get to Girona’s bus station first. Most of the major towns are reachable e.g. L’Escala, Estartit, Playa d’Aro, St Feliu de Guixols, Blanes and Lloret de Mar (bus No.660).

LIke above, turn right out of airport arrivals, walk down about 50 metres to the bus waiting area. There’s a small ticket office where you can buy a single ticket 2.75€ for the airport bus, from bay 1, that will take you straight to Girona’s bus & train station. It’s underground so when you step off, walk towards the main waiting area at the far end,where you’ll see various ticket booths and the large departure information board. You’ll see the available destinations and departure times.

Try to plan ahead as bus timetables vary according to the season and are less frequent at weekends. Be mindful that the station does close at night. If you need to exit the bus station for any reason, follow the exit signs (sortida/salida) using the lift, stairs or escalator. Most signs are in fact shown in 3 languages, Catalan, Spanish and English. On reaching ground level and outside the building you’ll see the train station just across from you. The platforms are raised above street level, and the ticket office and ticket machines are inside.

Girona train station has the following amenities: toilets, atm, tobacconists (tabac), cafeteria, general store with drinks, snacks etc, left luggage, lottery sales, gift store (ale hop) and car rental offices. Whichever side you exit there are always taxis here. One side has free short-term parking, or longer term paid parking which can be found on the other side (of the above photo, facing C/Barcelona).

As far as trains from Girona to the Costa Brava coast the destinations are very limited. That’s a shame as there used to be a narrow gauge track that ran all the way down to St Feliu de Guixols, that was ripped up in the 1970’s. It’s now a popular cycle route with an occasional reference to its former usage.

Going in a northerly direction towards the French border there’s really only two coastal destinations, Llanca and Colera. Heading south the main line is inland and only touches the coast when it reaches Barcelona.

For the resort of Blanes you’d need to change at Macanet-Massanes and take the R1 service towards L’Hospitalet De Llobregat.

Llanca is 62km by car from Girona, travel time about 50 min. or one hour by train. It’s a fair size town with the usual tourist amenities and an important fishing port. www.visitllanca.cat

Colera on the other hand is far smaller with a darker, hard sand beach, holiday apartments, tiny marina and not a lot more. On my one and only visit, we took the slow train from Girona and for some reason had to change at Figueres. Arriving in Colera the miserable excuse for a station was reminiscent of a Spaghetti Western movie set. What must have been the station at one time was now a boarded up graffiti strewn building. 

The bare bones platforms on either side of the tracks were equally uninspiring and had seen better days. The walk to the resort is short and I have to admit there are better looking Costa Brava resorts. On our way back to the Girona bound platform we observed groups of teenagers gleefully jumping into the pools of unoccupied properties.

One last thing to add is that if you’re travelling with a dog then train travel is fine (costs may apply), but banned on bus travel.

www.sagales.com Bus timetables

www.renfe.es  Spain’s rail operator