The ancient, walled city of GIRONA provides a startling and likeable break from sand and sea. An easy day-trip from the Costa Brava or Barcelona, it really warrants more time – two or three nights will show you the best of the city and let you enjoy some of the surrounding countryside. Girona has been fought over ever since it was founded as the Roman fortress of Gerunda on the Vía Augusta. Following the Moorish conquest, Girona was an Islamic town for over two hundred years, a fact apparent in the web of narrow central lanes, and there was also a continuous Jewish presence here for six hundred years.
Although Girona boasts a hotchpotch of architectural styles, from Romanesque to modernisme, the overall impression is of an overwhelmingly beautiful medieval city, whose attraction is heightened by its river setting. There are several excellent museums and a cathedral equalling any in the region. Even if these leave you unmoved, it's hard to resist the lure of simply wandering the superbly preserved streets, fetching up now and again at the river, above which tall, pastel-coloured houses lean precipitously.
Most of the modern city, including the attractive nineteenth-century Mercadal district, sprawls west of the Riu Onyar, but points of interest are concentrated in the compact medieval quarter, or Barri Vell, on the east bank of the river. It takes only twenty minutes to walk from end to end of this thin wedge of hillside, still partially enclosed by medieval walls.
From the lively, café-lined Rambla, streets rise through El Call, the beautifully preserved Jewish quarter, to the cathedral, which dominates old Girona. Restoration and gentrification have not completely banished workaday shops and bars, with Girona's student contingent providing a further balance to chi-chi galleries and high-end outlets for designer clothing and furniture that reflect the fact that Girona and its province have the highest per-capita income in Spain.