We had slept so soundly it was difficult making a move, but after turning off the alarm clock several times we finally managed to rouse ourselves, coming to life with an invigorating shower followed by a delicious breakfast in the restaurant of the Doubletree by Hilton.
Set up for the day, our first stop was at the Lion Market Hall where we wandered through the stalls observing the locals shopping for their fresh produce. The market hall is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and continues to thrive with its attractively displayed stalls and small cafes.
From the market hall we strolled along the narrow cobblestone streets of the old quarter glancing in some of the older, traditional shops looking attractive with their original shopfronts and signs.
It was already becoming quite warm so we popped into a bar in the Placa de la Indepencia for some cool drinks before participating on a Girona Walking Tour (€12 per person) which commenced at 12.00 noon. Tours operate several times daily in both Spanish and English with approximately 18 people on our tour. We don’t usually opt for this kind of activity but as it included admission to two historic sites we thought it looked good value and we would give it a try in the hope we would discover some hidden gems in the city. Our tour guide Carmen was very informative leading us through the old town of Girona in an engaging manner.
From our starting point at the Benvinguda Bridge we crossed the river and made our first stop just a few steps away on C.Colderers at the statue of ‘The Lionesses Bottom’.
Girona is home to numerous myths and legends and as tradition goes, the fable says that if you kiss the Lionesses bottom you will surely return to Girona! From our first experiences, we were enjoying the city, so we climbed up the few steps and did just that, hoping to return one day.
It was then just a short distance to our next stop, relating to another of Girona’s fables and this time the Mythical Files. According to medieval records, in 1285, Girona was surrounded by the troops of the French King Phillipe the Bold. The French soldiers ransacked and damaged numerous churches including that of St. Felix where they tore open the tomb of St. Narcis. Suddenly a swarm of stinging flies emanated from the tomb, flew over the city walls and attacked every French soldier. The enemy panicked and fled in disarray restoring peace to the people of Girona. Since then, Girona has retained St. Narcis and his flies as an emblem of the city.
We then continued onto a small section of the old city walls and then back down to the Monasterio de Sant Pere de Galligants (admission included in the walking tour). Here we were able to explore the Benedictine monastery and its delightful cloisters where we learnt about its history from our knowledgeable guide.
Just around the corner from the monastery lie the Arabian Baths (admission also included) where we given a guided tour. These baths are actually Romanesque and were built in the 12th century, inspired by both Roman and Arabic designs. The baths remained in use until the 14th century. The entrance hall features a central pool and ornate columns reminiscent of exotic palm trees with pineapples cast in stone growing on top.
To one side are two more rooms, one cooler and the hot room featuring the remains of its original chimneys and ovens. There was an opportunity to ascend an outdoor staircase from where we had splendid views looking down onto the ancient building.
Leaving the Arabian Baths, the tour continued to a stone bridge that some readers might recognise as a filming location in Series 6 of The Game of Thrones and to the steps of the Cathedral where scenes were also captured. Fortunately, it was bright and sunny enabling us to enjoy much better views than when we visited the previous day.
Our tour concluded in the narrow streets of the Jewish Quarter, an historic part of the city and one we planned to explore in more detail during our stay. It was 2.00 p.m. when we completed the tour so we found a shady table in one of the restaurants along Rambla Libertat where we relaxed with glasses of Estrella beer and a mozzarella and a tomato panini each.
We’d arranged our next activity for 4.00 p.m. so there was ample time for some shopping and ice creams from the famous Rocambolesc Gelateria. The shop is owned by the Roca brothers, the team behind El Celler de Can Roca, one of the best restaurants in the world. Their delicious ice creams are reasonably priced and are available in a variety of flavours and, in addition to traditional cones and tubs, can be selected in the shape of several of Girona’s monuments. We were definitely in ice cream heaven tempted with their unique flavours, toppings and shapes and although we couldn’t afford to dine in their restaurant, we had done the next best thing!
Approaching 4.00 p.m. we continued the short distance to Casa Masó the family home of the architect Rafael Masó (1880-1935). It is the only one of the famous houses overlooking the River Onyar that is open to the public. One hour guided tours (maximum 8 people) can be pre-arranged Tuesday to Saturday with standard admission €6.
The house is the result of the combination of four adjoining homes acquired by the Masó family between the mid 19th and early 20th centuries. The ground floor contains the museum shop, a video room and gallery and was originally a print shop. After a short introductory talk we were shown an interesting video detailing the buildings that Masó had designed.
The house is unique as it has been preserved with the decorations and furniture of the time. We climbed the original staircase to the first floor with its beautifully tiled floors and walls all designed by Masó himself. Feature stained glass windows incorporating a rose design were inspired by the Scottish architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and these allow natural light to flood into the building. Enclosed, narrow balconies on each floor overlook the picturesque river with tiled floors designed by Masó himself.
The collection includes many objects and works of art made or acquired by the family and their ancestors over 300 years. Along with the Glasgow architect. Mackintosh the house also contains some influences of Barcelona’s famous architect Antoni Gaudi. It was an extremely interesting and engaging tour led by a knowledgeable guide who was clearly passionate about Masó and his home. We knew little about Casa Masó before taking the tour but it was actually one of the highlights of our stay in Girona and is highly recommended.
It was about 5.30 p.m. by the time we returned to the hotel and after a welcoming cup of tea our plan had been to go up to the rooftop pool for a swim. Unfortunately, it had started raining so the idea of relaxing on a sun lounger for an hour or so soon lost its appeal and instead we got ready to go out to dinner.
Later, we returned to the old town armed with an umbrella each and found an attractive restaurant with indoor seating. Our dinner of moules marineré, grilled lamb with roasted vegetables followed by slices of almond cake was delicious as was the carafé of local wine to accompany it. The end of a very enjoyable day exploring delightful Girona.
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