Catalonia, Valencia, and the Costa Blanca: Places to Explore

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Girona

Girona (Gerona in Castilian), a city of more than 85,000 inhabitants, keeps intact the magic of its historic past. In fact, with its brooding hilltop castle, soaring cathedral, and dreamy riverside setting, it resembles a vision from the Middle Ages. Once called a "Spanish Venice"—although there are no real canals here, just the confluence of four rivers—this city is almost as evocative as that one. Today, as a university center, Girona combines past and vibrant present—art galleries, chic cafés, and trendy boutiques have set up shop in many of the restored buildings of the Old Quarter. El Call is one of Europe's best-preserved Jewish communities dating from the Middle Ages.

The Old Quarter of Girona, called the Força Vella (Old Force, or Fortress), is built on the side of the mountain and is a tightly packed labyrinth of fine buildings, monuments, and steep, narrow cobblestone streets linked with frequent stairways. You can still see vestiges of the Iberian and Roman walls in the cathedral square and in the patio of the old university. Head over from modern Girona (on the west side of the Onyar) to the Old Quarter on the east side. The main street of the Old Quarter is Carrer de la Força, which follows the old Via Augusta, the Roman road that connected Rome with its provinces.

The best way to get to know Girona is by walking along its streets. As you wander through the Força Vella you will be repeatedly surprised by new discoveries. One of Girona's treasures is its setting, as it rises high above the Riu Onyar, where that river merges with the Ter, which flows from a mountain waterfall that can be glimpsed in a gorge above the town. Regardless of your approach to the town, walk first along the west-side banks of the Onyar, between the train trestle and the Plaça de la Independència, to admire the classic view of the Old Town, with its pastel yellow, pink, and orange waterfront facades. Windows and balconies are always draped with colorful drying laundry reflected in the shimmering river and often adorned with fretwork grilles of embossed wood or delicate iron tracery. Cross the Pont de Sant Agustí over to the Old Quarter from under the arcades in the corner of the Plaça de la Independència and find your way to the tourist office, to the right at Rambla Llibertat 1. Then work your way up through the labyrinth of steep streets, using the cathedral's huge baroque facade as a guide.

The GironaMuseus card is good for discount admission to all the city's museums. Some are free on the first Sunday of every month. Check with the tourist office or at the Punt de Benvinguda welcome center, which can also arrange for guided tours.

Punt de Benvinguda. Look for this visitor information center at the entrance to Girona from the town's main parking area on the right bank of the Onyar River. Carrer Berenguer Carnisser 5, Girona, Catalonia, 17004. 972/211678.

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