There are many reasons to fall in love with Girona, but if there’s one thing — one sight — that will make your jaw actually drop, it will probably be the city’s main cathedral. That’s because its Baroque façade stands gloriously atop a massive staircase of some 90 steps. What you’ll find beyond its grand entrance is an impressive Romanesque-meets-Gothic church that claims the widest Gothic nave in the world.
Constructed between the 11th and 18th centuries, the cathedral sits upon the foundations of a former Roman temple. During your visit there, you can scope out its tranquil courtyard cloister, as well as the cathedral’s museum of religious artifacts, which includes noteworthy tapestries. Considering you’ve made it up this far, after the cathedral visit take advantage of your high altitude to go on a stroll along Girona’s ancient walls, which offer unparalleled views of the city.
The Onyar River will likely be your first and most lasting impression of Girona, its rainbow-colored-building-lined waters a warm welcome and unforgettable sight. Their dazzling appearance invites you to journey to the other side of the bank — the eastern side — where you’ll discover more of the city’s treasures, held within its old town.
But before you get there, you’ll likely cross one of the Onyar’s many bridges. Your eye will undoubtedly be drawn to its most peculiar and perhaps even familiar bridge, the Pont Eiffel. Indeed, this red, cage-like crossing is reminiscent of a more famous structure of the same name, the Eiffel Tower. This is, of course, because they share the same designer (the bridge was constructed in 1877, just before the tower). Once you arrive on the eastern bank, feed your river curiosity by visiting Casa Maso, the only waterside building open to the public, and once home to its namesake architect.
Girona, easily one of Catalonia’s tourist destinations, is perhaps most famed for its Jewish quarter, also referred to as the Call. Considered one of the best-preserved Jewish quarters in the world, the Call dates back to the 12th century, when Girona was home to a thriving Jewish community. This was, of course, until the Catholic monarchs expelled Jews from Spain in 1492.
Despite this, the neighborhood is still reminiscent of what it would have been like in those times, with its cozy, almost-ethereal interior patios, and its hauntingly beautiful maze of narrow medieval streets. Apart from soaking up the historic vibe while wandering the Call, you may wish to head also to the Museum of Jewish History to learn more about Catalonia’s Sephardic history. Other worthy sights include the city’s hilltop cathedral, the nearby 13th-century Arab baths, and scoping out views from above the walls that surround this old part of town.
If you tire of the crowds at many of Girona’s most popular sights, then the Arab baths will be just the perfect remedy. These 12th-century baths – or, rather, what used to be baths – are Romanesque in style and feature typical components such as cool and warm rooms, a changing room and a steam room. What they don’t feature: the hustle and bustle of other tourist stops.
A visit includes a guided brochure that will take you through each of the different rooms. Highlights include the octagonal, column-surrounded central pool that sits below a light-filled cupola, and a visit to the rooftop, where you can spy unique views of the city and cathedral. And though the visit is short, the entrance fee is nominal, making this otherworldly escape a worthy stop during your time in Girona.
The region of Girona offers so much more than just Catalan culture and historic towns; it’s also got a veritable nature wonderland called Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park. And volcanic, indeed, as it is home to 40 (dormant) volcanic cones, and 20 basaltic lava flows, making it the most prized volcanic landscape on the Iberian Peninsula.
You can explore Garrotxa’s park by setting off on one of its 28 different walking routes, many of which interconnect, and many that take you beyond the region to others. During your adventures, climb to the top of Santa Margarida volcano to spy the see-it-to-believe-it Roman chapel that sits within it; get lost in the beech tree-filled forests of La Fageda d'en Jordà; and make stops at some of the region’s most beloved villages, such as Olot and Besalu.
One of the largest ski resorts in Spain, Masella sits on the Tosa d’Alp in the Pyrenees Mountains. With nearly 43 miles of ski runs, there are plenty of options for skiers of all levels to choose from among snow-capped mountains and pine forests. Its tracks and trails through the tall pine trees make the ski runs here particularly scenic. The raw natural feel of Masella makes it feel mostly unspoiled. For snowboarders, there is a natural halfpipe in the forests. Because of its north-facing location, Masella enjoys one of the longest ski seasons in the Pyrenees.
The resort overlooks the sunny valley of La Cerdaña, the lands just before Andorra and France, with views that only get better as one climbs (or rides the gondola) up the mountain.
Along with Masella Ski Resort, La Molina offers some of the best skiing in the Pyrenees Mountains. La Molina has a few distinctive facilities, including a cableway slope for those with physical disabilities or for learning to ski and a sled-pulling circuit for dogs. It was Spain’s first ski resort when it opened in 1909, with its first ski lift introduced later in 1943. Today, it is the leading location for high level snowboard and downhill International Ski Federation events, hosting the Snowboarding World Championships in early 2011. With over 50 different runs at all levels, there is a nice variety of challenges for beginning, intermediate, and advanced skiers.
Set on Tosa d’Alp mountain, La Molina has the largest drop in the Eastern Pyrenees at 935 meters. The resort has other winter activities as well: snowshoeing, ice skating, tubing, bowling, sledding, and even segways and spas. In the summer months, the resort offers mountain biking and quad-biking as well.