A world-class city patiently waiting to be noticed, Girona (pop. 70,500) is really two cities in one: A hushed medieval masterpiece on one riverbank and a thriving, modem metropolis on the other. Though founded by the Romans, the city owes more to the renowned cabalistas de Girona, who for centuries spread the teachings of Kabbalah (mystical Judaism) in the West. Still a cultural center and university town, Girona is a magnet for artists, intellectuals, and activists.
Most sights are in the old city, across the river from the train station. The Riu Onyar separates the new city from the old. The Pont de Pedra bridge connects the two banks and heads into the old quarter by way of C. Ciutadans, C. Peralta, and C. Forga, which lead to the cathedral and UEI Call, the medieval Jewish neighborhood. A thriving community in the Middle Ages, El Call was virtually wiped out by the 1492 Inquisition and mass expulsion and conversion. The entrance to Centre Bonastruc Qa Porta, the site of the last synagogue in Girona (today a museum), is off C. Forga, about halfway up the hill. (Center and museum open May-Oct. M-Sa 10am-8pm, Su 10am-3pm; Nov.-Apr. M-Sa 10am-6pm, Su 10am-3pm. Museum ‚2, students ‚1.) Uphill and around the comer to the right on C. Forga, the Gothic cathedral rises a record-breaking 90 Rococo steps from the plaza below. The Tesoro Capitular within contains some of Girona’s most precious possessions, including the Tapis de la Creacio, a 15th-century tapestry depicting the creation story. (Both open Mar.-Sept. Su-M 10am-2pm, Tu-Sa 10am-2pm and 4-7pm; Oct-Mar. Su-M 10am-2pm, Tu-Sa 10am-2pm and 4-6pm. Tesoro and cloister ‚3.) La Rambla and Plaza de Independencia are the places to see and be seen in Girona. The expansive, impeccably designed Parc de la Devesa explodes with carpas, temporary outdoor bars. Bars in the old quarter draw crowds in the early evening. Cafe la Llibreria, C. Ciutadans 15, serves cocktails (‚3.60) and tapas (‚3) to intellectual types. (Open M-Sa 8:30am-lam, Su 8:30am-midnight. MCA.)
RENFE trains (972 24 02 02) depart from PI. de Espanya to Barcelona (154hr. 24 per day, ‚5) and Figueres (30-40min. 23 per day, ‚2.10). Buses ( 972 21 23 19) depart from just around the comer. The tourist office, Rambla de la Libertat 1, is on the other side. (972 22 65 75. Open in summer M-F 9am-3pm, Sa 9am-2pm; offseason M-F 9am-7pm, Sa 9am-2pm.) Most budget accommodations are in the old quarter and are well-kept and reasonably priced. The Pensio Viladomat , C. Ciutadans 5, has well-furnished rooms. (972 20 31 76. Singles ‚16; doubles ‚32, with bath ‚55.) Girona abounds with innovative cuisine; Calle Cort Reial is the best place to find good, cheap food. La Creperie Bretonne O, C. Cort Reial 14, is potent proof of Girona’s proximity to France. (e972 21 81 20. Open Su 8pm-midnight, Tu-Sa l-4pm and 8pm-midnight. MCA.) Pick up groceries at Caprabo, C. Sequia 10, a block from C. Nou off Gran Via. (Open M-Sa 9am-9pm.) Postal Code: 17070.
The jagged green mountains, Romanesque churches, and tranquil towns of the Pyrenees draw hikers and skiers in search of outdoor adventures. Spectacular views make driving through the countryside an incredible experience in and of itself. Without a car, transportation is tricky, but feasible.