It’s easy to see why the Catalonian city of Girona has endured 25 sieges and fallen to enemy forces on seven different occasions. It’s a place you really do want all for yourself. And on our first night in town, we had exactly that.
The day-trippers had all gone for the day. Girona is just an hour’s train ride from Barcelona, making it a quick-hit destination for many. They were mostly leaving just as we arrived.
At nearly dusk the ancient cobblestone streets were quiet. We followed those empty streets past delicate facades and sturdy structures seemingly designed to stand forever.
Mostly we were struck by the abundance of greenery. It was such a stark contrast to the solitary stone – sometimes rough hewn, oftentimes expertly shaped – that forms both street and wall of the other medieval Spanish cities we’ve visited. In Girona, those same hard exteriors were softened and accented by leafy plants that sprout from almost everywhere.
With daylight fading and a light mist clinging to both leaves and battlements, the city felt like something out of Camelot. We quickly and affectionately dubbed Girona the City of Gardens.
But the following morning we learned that other monikers would fit Girona equally well. We easily could have called it the City of Architecture, owing to its abundance of interesting and conflicting styles.
There is the forbidding Romanesque posture of the city guard towers and Sant Pere de Galligants, a Benedictine abbey.
And the Gothic flourishes of the Catholic cathedral.
There are Arab baths.
And Mediterranean-style houses overlooking the Onyar River.
The city is both modern and ancient.
After a day exploring all of these wonders, though, we decided on a different nickname: Girona, City of Steps.
Up wide embankments, through twisting tunnels, around corners and in every conceivable direction, there are stairs. Stairs that lead to the cathedral (eighty six of them to be precise), stairs that take you to an art museum in an old bishop’s palace, stairs down to the baths, stairs that lead to other stairs, and stairs that ascend the walls that once protected the city against invaders.
It’s still possible to walk atop those fortifications and get a spectacular bird’s eye view of all the gardens and buildings and everything else that has made Girona so desirable for so many hundreds of years past and, quite likely, so many more to come.