Passerguide: Girona (Via Barcelona)

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From salt-water pools to medieval villages, this is your starter’s guide to Girona.

For those of you that are familiar with my personality you’d probably say that I’m not very chill when it comes to planning trips; Spontaneity is not my thing and I'm not big on surprises; my thinking is, if I'm shelling out big bucks to go somewhere for a limited period of time then every place that I go to better be incredible/amazing?  This might not be the healthiest way to travel, but hey, these city guides don’t write themselves. So with that said, I'm excited to share with you my city guide to Girona, with a bonus (day) in Barcelona thrown in for good measure. If you're trying to do a bigger Spain trip, I recommend watching Michael Winterbottom’s highly entertaining A Trip To Spain with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (there are some good articles about all the spots they visit in the film). Honestly if I had more time, I would have traced their steps! Mine's pretty good though, read on...

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Day 1, Arrive in Barcelona

 

Check in at Margot House Barcelona 

It seems like nowadays airlines do a stellar job at stripping back all the little things that make flights bearable; after a long red-eye flight on which I didn’t get much R&R, a homey, comfortable boutique hotel stay feels all the more splendid. Margot House does an excellent job in this department. Hidden in an unassuming apartment building across Antoni Gaudí's famous Casa Batlló in one of the most busiest parts of Barcelona, this hotel prioritizes the things that matter: comfort, privacy, quietness, great breakfast and last but not least, Aesop products. After a calming bath and a nap I was ready for anything and everything.

 

Fuel up with a healthy breakfast at Flax&Kale 

I was secretly excited to see that Barcelona also jumped into the wellness trend with this breakfast, brunch & lunch spot. This restaurant is super spacious and usually packed, but service was pretty efficient nonetheless. They are definitely down with tourists as they didn't even entertain our broken Spanish. We try to keep it “family style” everywhere we go so we ordered a pancake, fish tacos, and the healthy eggs Benedict which we devoured with much aplomb. It was tasty and revitalizing. 

 

Explore the art of Joan Miró at Fundació Joan Miró 

Located on the the hill called Montjuic, the Fundacio Joan Miró is a museum that hosts the work of Joan Miró as well as temporary exhibition of emerging artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. I personally would recommend visiting for both the art inside and the architecture outside. It was built by the renowned Spanish architect Josep Lluís Sert, and if you're a fan of Le Corbusier, you're in for a treat. 

 

 

Stroll past the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys and Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya until you get to Pavello Mies Van der Rohe

There's much more architecture and art to be appreciated just outside the Fundacio Joan Miró. Make sure you have walking shoes on, check out where the 1992 Olympic Games happened, head back towards the Miró museum, via the Jardí Botànic Històric and explore Catalan art and design from the late 19th and early 20th centuries including modernisme and noucentisme at the MNAC. Finally enjoy the stunning architecture of El Pabellón de Barcelona. I know admission is pricey, but it's definitely worth looking inside.

 

Lunch at your pick of 4 culinary experiences all within one place El National Barcelona

It's like a department store for restaurants. I love options, and this is all about that, with a upscale vibe. It's a little pricey, and slightly touristy, but it's a gorgeous space and the food hit the spot. If not to eat, I'd definitely recommend trying this place for a snack.

 

Now back to your art stroll at Museu Picasso de Barcelona

Do you like Picasso? Well, The Museu Picasso houses one of the most extensive collections of his artworks. This place is always packed so I'd recommend buying tickets in advance. 

 

Quick tapas at La Cova Fumada

This is not your typical tapas joint, it's a family run place; no frills, just fresh, authentic and honest food. Don't expect to go in whenever and be seated right away, this place is typically packed, with a high turnover and their hours are limited to 9-3pm and some days reopen at 6pm. There's a reason for that though; their tapas is incredible, the fares are super low and they treat you like you are family.

 

Wind down with some natural wines at Bar Brutal

I'm quite particular about wine despite not really knowing much about it. What I do know is that I like natural wines, and by like, I actually mean I'm obsessed. Ironically I wouldn't be able to recall which wine I had (for obvious reasons), but trust me, Bar Brutal does not carry anything that's not excellent. And their food is great to boot. I so desperately wish we had this place in NYC, although, perhaps better that it's not! Drink responsibly. 

 

Dinner and more natural wines at Gresca

If you want a special dinner, I can't recommend this place enough. We sat at the 'bar side' and oh man, the food was unreal, I think I can safely award this place with the tastiest and most creative tapas I've ever had. I believe we ordered almost everything they had on the menu (we were 5, don't judge), and I'm still thinking about their slider burgers (highly addictive), the grilled cheese, eggplant and the sardines. Oh, and they also have natural wines.

 

  The Shop, image courtesy  Sarah Nguyen

 

Day 2, Drive to Girona

 

Start your morning with science at CosmoCaixa

I have this thing where I have to visit every Science museum in every city. Barcelona's is absolutely crushing the science museum game with their very modern and highly interactive exhibits. Most importantly, their planetarium is epic and immersive. If you can't spend the entire day at CosmoCaixa, then at least spend some time there to travel to the edges of the universe.

 

Lunch at La Cava

Yes you might be going on a short drive but it doesn't mean you can't sneak in some more of Barcelona's best tapas. La Cava, which is the sister restaurant of one of my favorite restaurants, La Pepita is open for lunch and they pretty much have an identical menu. It's excellent, you should go family style and order a little bit of everything (although that could be said about everything in Spain). 

 

Pick up a rental at Sixt and drive to S'Agoro

Make sure you pick up your car to leave Barcelona straight after. You don't want to deal with the traffic in Barcelona; traffic congestion and parking can be an ordeal and break-ins are not unusual if you’re not careful. The drive is pretty straightforward and shouldn't take more than around 1 hour and 15 minutes. I still can't believe how quickly the landscape changes just an hour outside of Barcelona…the roads are smooth and windy and the views reminded me a bit of the scenic routes between southern and central California.  Make sure you have a playlist ready and enjoy the peaceful contemplation that comes along with this classic Mediterranean joyride.
 

check in to Hostal La Gavina

Roughly midway between Lloret de Mar and Begur, is the unassuming calm beach-side resort of S'Agaro. The hotel really embodies the feeling of bygone European luxury. We arrive at Hostal La Gavina, a refined early 20th century feel that has been beautifully maintained. Bjork and Robert De Niro where previous guests, and weirdly that makes absolute sense. The grounds are beautiful, I'm not one to rave about parking lots, but this hotel had the most beautiful parking lot I've ever seen, cars hidden amongst concrete ceilings covered in greenery, surrounding a small garden of roses. This place is beyond tasteful, every little detail has been thought through, and designed in the most elegant yet minimalistic way. Honestly, I took a few pointers on how to decorate my place after my visit. I also discovered that I love the color forest green. Our room was a Deluxe Suite with a large balcony overlooking the sea. The website truly doesn't do this place justice, I was skeptical that the rooms would be too old-fashioned, and was pleasantly surprised. I also had a hydromassage bath that made the stay even more relaxing. Finding this gem was a huge win in my book. 

 

Walk along the coast of S'Agaro

There's an entrance outside of the hotel that leads you one of the most beautiful cliff paths along the beach you might ever go on: Cami de Ronda. This coastal path will lead you to Loggia de Senya Blanca, Escala Rafael Masó i Valentí all the way to Sa Conca Beach. Make sure to bring your camera and to wear your swimsuit as you are likely to stumble upon some very idyllic deserted beaches. This was truly a magical stroll.

 

Have a romantic gastronomic dinner at The Candlelight

I find that there's something romantic and intimate about going to classic and traditional restaurant, and The Candlelight offered just that. The room is quiet with an air of old school splendor to it helped by a live lounge pianist and a highly attentive and expertly trained old school sommeliers and waiters. Sometimes this kind of thing can be a little over-the-top but the vibe at The Candlelight is effortless and very pleasant. The Simon & Garfunkel covers music doesn't hurt the mood either. It made me consider going to more dress code restaurants, just for that added delight of dressing up for an occasion. As an aside, I feel like the New York lifestyle has left me a little jaded in terms of putting forth a whole lot of effort towards planning special dates, and our dinner at The Candlelight was a good reminder that engaging with the dinner experience more deeply helps make the night a little more special. Take your time to pick out a special outfit, sip the libations slowly, and enjoy the merriment. This is the Mediterranean way.

 

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Day 3, Beach (& Pool) Day

 

Breakfast at the Vila d’Este

One of my favorite things about going on vacation is typically a good hotel breakfast buffet, so this is a big one for me. Hostal Gavina makes it particularly exciting with their beautiful restaurant terrace overlooking the Mediterranean sea. Start your morning peacefully with a full breakfast and make sure to make yourself the popular Spanish breakfast, Pan con tomate (also sometimes called “pan a la Catalana”). It's simply toasted slices of a fresh baguette rubbed with fresh garlic and ripe tomato, drizzled with olive oil and a bit of salt. It can also be topped with cheese or ham (which is definitely a thing, don’t miss out).

 

Grab a good book

Post up pool side at or by the beach for the day. Personally, I'm more of pool overlooking the sea with a mojito in my hand kinda gal, which the hotel does exactly right. I know salt water pools are all the rage these days, but I gotta admit; they're way better than those disgusting old chlorine pools from the 90s! Kidding, but not really.

 

Keep in theme with a seaside lunch at La Taverna del Mar

Only two minutes walk from the hotel, this restaurant offers one of the best sea views of the entire beach. They specialize in whole fish dishes which looked incredible. We went with the paella, but we wished we had the fish instead. Enjoy some shellfish with a glass of white and relish in the salty breeze rolling off the sea before your eyes. This is a vacation after all.

 

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Day 3, Drive to Madremanya

 

Breakfast in bed (or at your room terrace)

Okay I lied, maybe room service is my favorite vacation activity (please refer to the image above). What can I say? Sit in peace overlooking an endless horizon and listen to the ocean waves. It doesn't get much better than this.

 

Drive to Madremanya and stop by La Bisbal d'Empordà for ceramics

I didn’t realize until we were in the thick of it, but turns out La Bisbal d’Empordà is now one of the leading pottery centres in Catalonia. It's a beautiful village that I strongly recommend exploring, especially if you're looking to shop for some one-of-a-kind pieces, that are very affordable to boot. If you’re into ceramics you’ll want to make an entire day of it. There’s lots to explore and we were underprepared for this revelation. 

 

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Check in to Hotel la Plaça de Madremanya

My husband can attest to this, but I literally cried upon opening my room's window because the view was so beautiful. Hotel La Plaça is in a remote village with a population of less than 300 with an atmosphere that has seemingly been preserved since medieval times. Surrounded in breathtaking beauty, take in the scenery, enjoy fresh farm raised food, and relish stunning views of the mountain landscape from a private balcony. The espresso machine in the suite was a nice touch too. Simply walking around the village and taking all the history in is a total delight, and thinking back on this trip now my only regret is that we had more time to enjoy it all. 

 

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Day 4, Game of Thrones

 

Drive to Cathedral of Girona

Did you know that the city of Girona doubles as the Free City of Essos, home to Arya Stark is the setting of the capital of Westeros’ Seven Kingdoms in Game of Thrones? I didn't, until I saw a group of tourist chanting 'Shame' pass me. My point is, you should dedicate at least a good 2 hours to strolling around there. It's as epic as medieval cities get, and the tourist scene is actually quite chill and fun there. 

 

More gastronomy at Restaurant Mimolet

Just around the corner (and away from the touristic restaurants) is this little gastro gem. Enjoy their tasting menu (the lunch menu is much more affordable), or go a la carte; whichever you prefer. As with many great restaurants in Spain, their sardines were excellent. 

 

Check out some museums

You'll have Caixa Forum, Museu d'Art de Girona, Museu d'Arqueologia de Catalunya-Girona, Bòlit Centre d'Art Contemporani AND the Museu del Cinema-Col·lecció Tomàs Mallol at walking distance from one another. Why not visit them all? I didn't get a chance to go to either but I heard that the Cinema Museum is a must visit!

 

Dine with the owners of Hotel la Plaça de Madremanya

This was by far one of our favorite nights of this whole trip. Since the hotel restaurant was closed the night we stayed, the owners invited us to his home for one of the best dinners of our lives. Everything on the menu was local or from their farm. They also made their own wine which they've generously left multiple bottles for us to enjoy throughout the night.  My husband, who rarely ever drinks more than a glass of red had seemingly turned into a professional wine taster before my eyes. Drink responsibly... by saving some room for the grappa at the end of this legendary meal. The next day we got to experience the hotel's restaurant, which is worthy of a Michelin star. We understood why the hotel began as a restaurant as we indulged in grass-fed steak from the farm, squid-ink pasta and chocolate fondant 

 

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Day 5, Enjoy The Present

 

I don't know about you, but living in a polluted pressure-cooker like New York City makes me yearn for all things clean and green. Take the day off to stroll around Madremanya and get lost in the beautiful landscape. Post up somewhere that gives you solitude and just relax without any specific goals in mind. Don't get me wrong; I'm all about the bucket list, entertaining the 'you only live once' theory of life, but I think it's equally as important to acknowledge where you are; immerse yourself in your surroundings and just sit with that for a while. There's no real rush, is there? 

 

 

Words and photography by Clémence Polès