Does your heart sink at the thought of another year battling the crowds on Portal del Angel? Feeling guilty for trying to solve the Christmas shop in one fell swoop online? Then it’s time to turn the whole sorry affair into something much more fun by treating yourself to a day out whilst getting the necessaries dealt with. Girona is just an hour and a quarter away by train (or 37 minutes on the AVE) and its pretty, compact old centre is a wonderful place to spend a day. It has lots of quirky shops, cool eateries and cafés to keep the body nourished and watered, and bags of history to fill the soul.
Most of the big high street brands are found in the newer part of town or in the Espai Girona shopping centre outside the city. This means that the hordes of really serious local shoppers will be heading out there, leaving us to indulge ourselves in the much quainter retail therapy available in the little cobbled streets of the old town. That’s not to say that it doesn’t get busy, but it’s still a slower, calmer experience than most places pre-Christmas.
The old centre is great shopping territory with lots of little independent shops, craft shops and fabulous delicatessens. You’ll probably begin your day on La Rambla de la Llibertat. Developed in the 13th century to hold the municipal market, the street is characterised by its low arcades and unequal arches. It has long been the city’s commercial centre and has several outstanding Modernista buildings. In the summertime, this pedestrian, tree-lined street is a hive of activity, filled with terrace cafés, tourists and buskers. In winter, the street is reclaimed by the locals and lit up by the Fira de Navidad, with its stalls selling Christmas trees, ornaments and every detail a nativity scene could possibly need.
From the Rambla, stroll around the adjacent little streets and you’ll find plenty of interesting shops. Particularly worth a mention are Carrer Nou and Carrer Ballesteries and, just across the Onyar river and reachable by way of a pedestrian bridge, is the narrrow street of Santa Clara, home to lots of little independent shops.
Some of our favourite shops:
La Carpa (Ballesteries 37, www.lacarpa.cat). A small toy shop packed to the gills with imaginative toys and crafts. You can see a lot of their products on their website to help plan your shopping.
Colmado Moriscot (C/ dels Ciutadans 4). Step back a hundred years in this beautiful Modernista ‘colmado’. Built in 1908, it conserves many original details and is packed with local foods and licquors.
Nou taller de vidre (C/ de les Hortes 2, www.noutallerdevidre.com). This workshop designs and creates its own unique glass pieces, from small items of jewellery to sculptures, and everything in between.
Ambrosia (Careras Peralta 4). Located through the courtyard of a beautiful medieval building, this shop is perfect for some uniquely Catalan presents. All the products are made by local nuns and monks and include lots of beautifully packaged sweets and biscuits.
Gluki (Santa Clara 44, www.gluki.cat). These artisanal chocolatiers make the whole sumptious range themselves.
With a population of just under 100,000 people, Girona is often overshadowed by Barcelona. But the city has an immensely rich patrimony. Originally founded by the Iberians, it has undergone 25 sieges and been captured seven times. It has been home to the Romans, Visigoths and Moors and was one of Europe’s most important Jewish centres. Much of its history has been well preserved and you can weave your sightseeing and shopping seamlessly together as you seamlessly together as you amble around the old streets. Get a free map from the tourist office (Rambla de la Llibertat 1) to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Located in the heart of the old town and at once looming above it (it’s a 91-step climb to the entrance), this imposing building was constructed between the 11th and 18th centuries and includes many different architectural styles, from Romanesque (the cloister and Charlemagne tower) to the Baroque façade and steps. Its 23-metre-wide Gothic nave, from the 15th century, is the widest of its kind in the world.
Girona’s Call is one of the city’s most emblematic areas and one of the best-preserved Jewish quarters in the world, reflecting the cultural importance of the Jewish heritage in Girona. It consists of a maze of narrow streets and courtyards that have kept their medieval atmosphere. The Jewish community flourished in Girona in the 12th century, and at its peak there were 1,000 inhabitants in the Call. Their history ended in Girona in 1492, when the Catholic Kings expelled all Jews from Catalunya.
Arab Baths (C/ Ferran el Católic)
This beautifully-preserved building from 1194 was inspired by Roman baths. It was closed down in the 15th century and became the private property of a Capuchin convent, which used it as a pantry and laundry. In 1929, it became public property and restoration work began. Its most outstandng features include the entrance, which is covered with a barrel vault, and the cupola covering the central pool, which is supported by ornately-decorated columns.
Museum of Jewish History (C/ de la Forca 8)
This museum tells the story of the community that lived in the cramped alleys of the Call. Pictures, artefacts and models are used to observe different aspects of the Call, from community life to the synagogue, festivals and traditions.
Houses on the River Onyar
After the medieval streets of the Call, the brightly-painted houses that overlook the River Onyar provide a striking contrast. These houses have been built over the years and although the colours may seem random to the untrained eye, they do in fact follow a palette created by Catalan artist Enric Ansesa. The only house open to the public is Casa Masó (Ballesteries 29), the former home of Modernista architect Rafael Masó. The house is beautifully preserved with all the family’s original furniture and art. It offers a rare glimpse into well-to-do society in 19th-century Girona. You have to book visits to the house in advance.