Spain never really appealed to me as a holiday destination,
especially the popular tourist areas where they proudly proclaim, ‘Full English Breakfast or English Pub’ I may as well stay at home for that but, we were tempted to dip our toes into Girona in Catalunia and Ronda in the Province of Malaga. These are two contrasting areas and both full of excitingly different experiences for the visitor.
On arrival at Girona airport and with not really a clue in which direction to point the hire car we came up with a cunning plan. One member of the party would hire a taxi and let the taxi lead the rest of us to our destination on the outskirts of Sant Esteve. When we showed the non -English speaking taxi driver the map he just shrugged and went to another taxi driver who also shrugged. This wasn’t going well, but he agreed, with a lot of gesturing, to take us if one of us map read for him! The journey of only a few kilometres to the northwest of Girona towards Figueres, in the dark, was quite unique indeed and at times somewhat scary.
The villages in this lovely area were exactly what we were looking for – old and traditional. The small village shop sold everything from bread to bikes. On our first day we called in for Pan and was told, by pointing at the clock, to come back in an hour. On doing so we picked up the most beautiful freshly baked loaf. This shop became our source of supplies for the week and we had some excellent food. We wondered what the response would be when we asked for steak, “come back later” was the reply and we duly collected some superb steaks. When we asked for onions the old lady just shouted into the back room and her husband (we think) came out with garden fork in his hand and went across the road and dug up some onions. It just couldn’t get better.
Why on earth would you want the hassle of Marbella when this kind of thing is around. One of the villages had a restaurant, not well signposted but the villagers knew it was there. Again no English was spoken but one of our party declared that he had ‘worked with a Spanish waiter’ and knew a bit of Spanish so he ordered the food. ‘No pesce no carne’ he said expecting to receive no fish or meat, however the waiter proudly presented us with huge plates of salads with fish and meat, plus wineskins full of red wine that you poured with accuracy down your throat, a skill that took some mastering but we were determined to succeed. We feared what the bill would be for the eight of us but I’ve never had such an exceptional , unordered(!) meal so cheap in my life. They were so good to us the platters kept coming, so did the bread and wine.
The emphasis for our trip was also on seeing Catalunya.
Trips up and down the N11 to Girona and Figueres or the C56 West to Banyoles and East to Llafranc from our base were easy. Girona boasts six museums Catalonia-Girona Museum of Archaeology, Girona History Museum, Cinema Museum, Girona Art Museum, Jewish History Museum and Casa Masó.
Girona declares “The historic city of Girona invites visitors to trace its more than 2000 years of history through two fortified enclosures, the Força Vella and the Medieval Quarter. The Força Vella dates back to the Roman foundation while the medieval extension of the city walls was carried out during the 14th and 15th centuries. The city’s artistic heritage has been preserved in the numerous monuments that have survived until today. The highlights of Girona are rounded off by the impressive old Jewish Quarter or Call, with its beautiful streets and porticoed squares, and by the exuberant baroque spaces and Noucentisme-style buildings by architect Rafael Masó.”
The city’s many restaurants offer a wide variety of food: Catalan, Mediterranean, market and signature cuisine. Girona gastronomy has now become an international model of quality, with Michelin-starred restaurants that include El Celler de Can Roca, proclaimed by the prestigious Restaurant Magazine as the Best Restaurant in the World! We didn’t try that one but opted for the smaller bars where you can pick and choose from a large variety of tapas and a glass of Ratafia, a sweet liqueur made from a local herb, which makes for a very sociable afternoons relaxation.
A ride into the Pre Pyrenees Natural park of Sierra ei Cadi, the largest in Catalonia, afforded us the opportunity to film a golden eagle as it walked up the dusty track towards our car whilst we were having a coffee, then took off majestically only 25 yards in front of us. We were transfixed. It is obvious why this mountain range is so popular with hikers. It is also an area the young Pablo Picasso visited.
Whilst on the subject of famous artists, a short drive up to Figueres, right on the edge of the Spanish/French border, will offer you the opportunity to visit the Dalí Theatre and Museum which houses the largest collection of Salvador Dali’s work, and he’s buried under the stage too! During 2017 an exhumation order of his tomb was executed due to someone claiming to be a child of his. A short flat walk from the Dalí Theatre brings you to Castell de Sant Ferran the place where Napoleon based his troops and is proclaimed to be the largest castle in Europe.
As we took a leisurely stroll through the old town, through its squares, looking at the historic buildings, you realise that it’s a place that you need to explore again.
Flights to Girona are from East Midlands, and Birmingham.
You can also opt to fly to Barcelona which will give you easy access to the coastal area of Calella de Palafrugell or Llafranc (my favourite).
There are many companies who offer villas in this area but it is a little more pricey than inland which is to be expected. The beaches are a real treat around here providing a great base to get to Girona, Figueres or Barcelona further south.
Visiting this area provided us with history, scenery, beaches and brilliant cuisine. One to definitely return to.