(part 3) We’re fast approaching the xmas festive season (late in publishing) and I’m trying not to resort to those expressions we use when places are so quiet, like ‘would the last person turn off the lights’.
Solitude sucks for some, others lap it up, I may be somewhere in the middle for now. At least there’s us two and the two dogs, a reason to go out. Sure, the long morning beach walks are uplifting, especially when the sun’s out.
The sea view here in L’Estartit is dominated by the Isles Medes, a series of rocky outcrops a mere few hundred meters out. Now a nature reserve and popular diving spot. To my left the coastline disappears, slithering its way to the next resort, L’Escala. To the right there are distant views of inland Pals, the jutting headland of Begur and those upmarket beach resorts like Sa Riera .
Much longer beach walks are possible in a southerly direction, about 45 mins will take you to the mouth of the river Ter (la gola de ter). That’s about as far can go, as there’s no bridge across here, as the soft sandy banks shift too much. During the summer you’d just wade across or for fun walk up river a bit, jump in and drift slowly down with the current.
However, this is winter and there’s no ferryman.
Life in L’Estartit slowly develops at its own pace, our daily beach walk encounters may include other dog walkers and even the odd metal detectorist. I’ve heard they’re illegal to use on a beach here but then this is Spain. People’s attitude to rules are different-seen more as guidelines and not to be strictly adhered to.
On windy days when the sea is rough you see small groups of surfers, but this isn’t exactly dramatic ‘wipeout’ territory. Even when wearing wetsuits it looks too cold. As I traverse the vast expanse of sand I still continue with my ‘good dead for the day’ by picking up rubbish whenever I see some.
On days when the wind really whips up the sand to sandpaper proportions you appreciate the might of nature. I’m starting to realize what it feels like inside a wind tunnel.
Okay we’ve been living here in Girona for fifteen years and I’ve never done a looking back type of blog post before, so here goes. It may well even stretch to a second part.
When people say time flies it’s true, as it doesn’t feel like that long. I’m even mildly surprised to be honest.
Where do I start I ask myself. In general terms I think that Girona’s charms have been noticed by more outsiders who’ve made this place their new home. We’ve been lucky to have met a wide range of people, not just other Brits.
One such story comes to mind. In the early days having very young kids meant you often bumped into other parents with similar aged kids of their own. Especially in kids playgrounds. On one such occasion we found ourselves in the tiny Catalan village of Monells. By the way, if you’ve never been there do yourself a favour and put it on your list.
Our kids could never pass a playground without stopping and trying out the slides and swings. It was here that we struck up a conversation with a young German couple with their baby. It turned out they were living nearby in a converted farmhouse that was split into smaller apartments. A friendship kind of developed and we’d meet for a coffee whenever they came into Girona.
He was quite jovial and entertaining, ruining my preconceived stereotype that Germans lack a sense of humour. They too were here in Catalonia, Spain living the good life. Curious as we always are as to what people do to survive here, he told me he was working for an American company.
The twist was that the US bosses always believed he was working from his home town in Koln, Germany. To mask this charade everytime he had to speak to them, he’d have to check what the weather was like in his supposed hometown, just in case they’d ask. If memory serves me right they went back to Germany to have their second child, and we lost contact.
The losing contact with good friends we made here who returned to the UK was a recurring theme amongst the many British expats we knew. Their reasons were many. Family, friends, frustration with the education system here, health are all part and parcel of the why’s.
Another common thread we found was that once they’d left, future contact was minimal or non-existent. People who we’d got to know very well, mixed socially many times at each other’s places and then nothing.
Maybe I’m being too sentimental but life moves on and many other long term resident friends are still here. They include Americans, Dutch, French, Ukrainian, Italian with a sprinkling of Catalans and Spanish too.
I even met an elderly Dutch lady who had read my blog and decided to move to Girona. A lot of the bonhomme involves long liquid lunches, sharing stories of what made us move here, and how much better it is for the kids.
Ours were quite young when we arrived in 2006 at 6 and 8. They deserve some credit as far as what we’ve made them endure. Jumping from a small quaint village primary school in the English countryside to a foreign land where they understood zilch.
Kids are quite resilient though, and get on with it. We didn’t have the funds to place them into an international school, so the local state school would have to suffice. The rarity of being the only English kids in class soon wore off too. However, their ability to pick up the language meant that nowadays their Catalan is indiscernible from local natives.
They’ve also grown to appreciate the many plus points of living here, including being fluent in 3 languages (English, Catalan and Spanish). As parents we fare less better in the language stakes, calling them into service when needed.
I even get a bit cagey when Catalans ask me how long I’ve been here. I think they expect me to be a fluent speaker by now, more forgiving if I’d only chalked up a few years. I can’t deny that I find it harder to learn than Spanish, and that Catalan is so dominant in Girona. I keep telling myself that I must try to improve.
The other big story over the last decade has been the surge in popularity of all things cycling. Though popular long before we arrived it’s been boom time for property rentals, and even ‘cycle-themed’ cafes and coffee shops. Those international cyclists are big fans of not only the surrounding topography, but also the climate and cuisine.
The restaurant scene within Girona’s old town area has certainly edged slowly towards the more expensive end. The culinary kings of Girona, the Roca brothers have added to this exclusivity be extending their empire with a hotel, ice cream parlour and a rather oddly named restaurant, Normal.
That new normal is if you can wait a few months and prices are anything but normal.
As our adventure in L’Estartit enters into early November the recent winter time change has meant it’s dark by about 6pm. As long term residents we know the score, begrudgingly accepting this annual change.
It always feel like a major step change, a cut down version from balmy long summer days. There’s the reassuring compensation that sunny days can still hit 20C by about lunchtime, enabling outdoor pastimes.
In our Girona apartment it was always a running joke that we didn’t turn on the central heating until November. A red line not to be crossed.
Cooler days and nights have meant digging out warmer clothing, a gentle but firm reminder of seasonal change. Jumpers, scarves and hats that haven’t seen the light of day for several months are resurrected.
We’ve replaced urban living for big skies and XXL wind, boy does it blow up here. Not all the time mind you, and if I’m honest friends had mentioned it before in passing. Night time requires lowering the persianes as howling gusts of wind rattle them, reminding me of the film ‘The Shining’. I’ve heard Catalans mention that the Tramuntana winds here do affect some people’s psyche.
We’re surrounded by a sea of boarded up holiday apartment blocks. A few show signs of year-long residency, as window and balcony shutters stay up. Visually there are a few parked cars, and a passing car is evidence that we’re not completely alone.
At long last we get to try the heating options here. Remember these places are mainly summer residences and heat insulation is largely an afterthought. Bedrooms have an electric wall-mounted radiator, and the living room’s AC unit pumps out toasty levels of hot air.
The missing link is the bathroom with its stone floor tiles and large window. We’ll just have to wait and see what can be done. The other bugbear is the limited amount of kitchen worktop space, and dim lighting. We’re reaching the minimum requirements for the formation of a to-do-list.
The daily morning walk to the beach with our two dogs continues regardless of the weather. One visibly loves it, tumbling in the sand, while the other gives the impression of do I really need to be here. Occasionally we stumble across a dead fish or seagull, why do they always want to rub their faces in such dead detritus.
As I walk along the windswept pristine shoreline I can’t help picking up rubbish, mostly the odd tin can and bits of plastic. On one outing some kids saw what I was doing and added to my bounty, well done to them.
Thursday is Estartit’s market day which stretches out along a handful of streets a few blocks back from its seafront. I’ve been twice and there’s little to get excited about, a lot of clothes, bric-a-brac and bags, with a sprinkling of fruit and vegetable stalls opposite the church. I spot red chillies so grab a few, plus some red peppers and a dozen figs, all for less than 2€.
I keep hearing a lot of French spoken so it’s no surprise that I come across a French bakery in town. El Pa de l’Anna is small with an adjoining workspace where two bakers were hard at work. I managed to buy two small tarts, one chocolate, one lemon, two croissants and two small filled baguettes, one with chorizo, one with blue cheese and walnuts.
I walked out a mere 10€ lighter but was pleased with my choices, let’s hope they don’t close for winter.
I have to remind myself that this is a small town with equally small expectations given the time of year. Its ‘life and soul’ has retrenched until at least the spring, or a little later.
My next foolish quest is to find somewhere that offers an all day English breakfast.
A lot of people from Girona ship out to the coast at the height of summer. This familiar annual migration creates sparsely populated neighbourhoods that are eerily quiet.
Some of the lucky few are fortunate to be able to make use of a property bought by their parents, or shared between the families.
Prices were so much cheaper and affordable back when the Peseta ruled. The unlucky ones make do with renting for a week or two. Holiday rentals generate a substantial income for owners, albeit for a short period, chiefly July and August.
Canny regulars are known to book the same place year after year to ensure they get their slice of the sun. Those of us looking for something last minute are often disappointed with what’s left.
We’ve done it in the past, and you can expect to pay 700 to 800€ for a 2-bed flat for 1 week. That’s not even on the seafront, those frontline properties are naturally the first to go.
The other great bugbear is car parking, which can be extra or as happened to us one year, meant parking a 5-10 minute walk away. If you’ve got pets like us then that narrows the field even more.
The vacation agony is also compounded by long traffic queues waiting to get into resorts too. The summer of 2021 may have seen less Brits but a large influx of Northern Europeans made the season a much better turnout than the year before.
Kids decamp to the coast when the summer term ends in late June, with mum and dad commuting into Girona daily. Places like St Antoni de Calonge are like Giron-by-the-sea as we always bump into someone we know 90% of the time when we just go there for a day.
A good many 2nd residence owners are stuck in their ways, and tend not to visit their places out of season, even when it’s fine weather. In the thick of winter, coastal towns are so quiet you begin to feel like the last person on Earth.
So, being British and used to cold, windswept, barren, grey-skied seaside places we decided on a bit of reverse psychology. Let’s rent a seaside flat or apartment for the winter period and see if we like it.
The good wife was also keen on living a more relaxed lifestyle, and as long as the internet connection was good enough, she could still work remotely. Oh, and we also needed a place which accepted dogs, as we have two.
Recovering economies seem to focus people’s minds on ways to earn extra money, especially after the Covid experiences of early 2020. Trawling the popular Spanish property websites like Idealista, or checking local Facebook groups yielded a few results. Our net was cast wide and we didn’t have a firm favourite location.
Anywhere like St Feliu de Guixols, L’Escala or Platja d’Aro would be okay. We also started asking people and friends we already knew, and we were offered a flat in L’Estartit.
I’d always admired the wide expanse of beach here and the ease of free parking just next to the beach itself. True, it doesn’t feel as posh as somewhere such as S’Agaró or Calella de Palafrugell, more like a poor relation.
L’Estartit is a little grittier, with few hairs and graces, happy to have sand kicked into its face.
So what did we get?
A cosy sunny 2nd floor flat with 2 bedrooms, 2 balconies, a 10 minute walk to the beach. The front balcony looks out onto a large campsite, closed for the season. It catches the sun for most of the day, has ample seating, a top spot for a morning coffee.
Being late October the walk into town is a largely lonely outing. We’re near a motorhome site so bump into the occasional winter tourist. I see a few French cars in town and hear a lot of French spoken. Hardly surprising as we’re so near the border, even restaurant menus have French translations-at the expense of English ones.
Walking haphazardly around it’s no surprise seeing so many shops and restaurants closed for the winter. But, a good few are still hawking their menu del dia which I’ll be reporting upon more. The town even has two Indian restaurants open all year-if you’re not from the UK this fact is a reassuring slice of home.
This solitude thing may take a while getting used to after having lived in a bustling, noisy Girona ‘barri’ (neighbourhood).
On the other hand the fun part of any new location is checking it out. Not just where to eat or shop, but good places for a coffee, or a sunset drink.
We’re here until June 2022 so I’ll be adding to the winter rental story periodically.
There’s a plentiful supply of quaint Catalan villages worthy of a visit. Many of them are located in the Baix Emporda ‘comarca’ or county.
Drive out of Girona for an hour or even less in any direction-except maybe south. Not that I’m being snobbish about it, it’s just that I scratch my head when I try to think of a nice place to visit going in that direction.
What I’m looking for is perhaps a nice stroll, admiring the views, sights and points of interests. To cap it off, resting or relaxing in a cosy cafe or restaurant is a bonus.
What I’m not too keen on is what we might call a ‘commuter town or village’, too modern with plain looking houses. You often come across ‘urbanizacions’, a catch all word for a housing estate. These solely residential areas devoid of any character have zero appeal. Every second home owner has a noisy barking dog and there are no shops. Some might have a local cafe or bar, which I’m guessing would have heads turning as soon as a stranger walked in.
You won’t go wrong within the Baix Emporda, inland or on the coast.
Pals itself is about a 45 minute drive from Girona, it has a long medieval heritage with stunning views over the surrounding landscape. A verdant landscape that’s largely flat, famous for its rice fields.
We’ve been here a few times and not only during the warmer months. Between Christmas and early January it hosts an annual ‘pessebres vivents’, a living nativity event.
Pals’ narrow winding cobbled streets are a perfect stage for numerous locals dressed as peasants and the various tradespeople of 2,000 years ago. Butchers, bakers, basket makers and more are all represented. All silently toiling away in the background, while present-day visitors walk on by or stop to gaze a while.
Those who know what to expect and eagle-eyed viewers try to single out the Caganer character-the ‘shitter’ Yes, you too can volunteer to stick your naked butt out and crouch down in a corner of a field on a cold December night. One year I took my American nephew to one nearer to Girona (in Brunyola). He burst out laughing upon seeing the caganer, which is also on sale as a model figure in local souvenir shops.
At other times, the restored Gothic period old town is a joy to wander through. Welcoming pathways lead to pretty floral cul-de-sacs, or to a small quiet square with a bench. As with many such places there’s always a church to be found. The 13th century Romanesque church of Sant Pere has commanding views of farmlands below.
Modernity is never too far away with several bars and restaurants to choose from, where you can try a local dish,’arros negre’ black rice made with squid ink.
Though being inland it also gives its name to a fine long stretch of beach a few kms away, Platja de Pals and a nearby golf course.
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.
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.
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 a satisfying 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.
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.
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.