Eight delicious reasons to visit Girona, Spain

At Jordi Roca's Rocambolesc dessert store, flavours range from classic to bonkers.
At Jordi Roca's Rocambolesc dessert store, flavours range from classic to bonkers. Photo: Jaime Kowal

In fair Girona, where we lay our scene ... Hang on, no wait. Wrong story, wrong place. Girona sits between Barcelona and Costa Brava in north-east Catalonia and, to the best of my knowledge, it has nothing in common with Romeo, Juliet, Verona or Shakespeare.

It is beautiful, though. A medieval mystery box of gothic churches, cobbled lanes and fortress walls steeped in a history of Spanish bloodshed. Game of Thrones fans may know Girona as a filming location for the fantasy television series, while food lovers will associate the city with Roca brothers Joan, Josep and Jordi – the siblings behind El Celler de Can Roca, twice awarded pole position on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list.

The capital of the province of the same name, Girona is only 38 minutes from Barcelona if you hop on a high-speed train, and six hours' rail time from Paris, making it a cinch to access by Eurail Global Pass. 

The red iron bridge over the river Onyar was designed by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame.
The red iron bridge over the river Onyar was designed by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame. Photo: iStock

Girona's relatively small size means you can experience a lot of it either side of lunch on a day trip, but a longer stay is recommended to soak up the relaxed vibe. Late-afternoon vermouth should never be rushed. Here are eight of the best food and wine experiences you can have between basilica visits and strolling the gardens of Jardins dels Alemanys.

El Celler de Can Roca

If you visit only one restaurant in Girona, you might as well try for the big boy. Dinner at the Roca brothers' multisensory fine-dining temple will require planning 11 months in advance, however. Expect to part with about $520 for the tasting menu and matching wine, and experience dish components such as white garlic ice-cream and pine cone vinaigrette.

Locals flock to the Mercat del Lleo for delicious smallgoods, fresh produce and pastries.
Locals flock to the Mercat del Lleo for delicious smallgoods, fresh produce and pastries. Photo: Jaime Kowal

Can Roca

If El Celler isn't a possibility, the far more casual Can Roca is nearby. The Roca boys' 83-year-old mum, Montserrat Fontane, still operates the family's original restaurant, serving local specialities such as faves a la catalana – broad beans with bacon and botifarra. Chorizo might be the sausage most associated with Spain, but in Catalonia botifarra is king, made with lean pork and traditionally seasoned with salt and pepper – and no pimenton.

Mercat del Lleo

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Translating to "Lion Market", this indoor mercat links the old and new parts of Girona, and locals flock here for fresh produce, pastries, salt cod, smallgoods, spices and most other delicious things you can think of. Anchovies and tomato-rubbed bread are a top little snack for tourists in need of sustenance before walking Passeig de la Muralla, Girona's old city walls, parts of which date back to the ninth century.

Placa del Vi 7

Laureano Serres is a legend in the zero-intervention winemaking world and this wine bar, in Girona's old town, is an elegant place to experience the Catalan vigneron's expressions of local terroir under his Mendall label. Many more cult wines from Spain and France are housed in the cellar, so grab a seat by the town square and people-watch with vins naturals and patatas bravas.

Wine bar Placa del Vi 7 in Girona. 
Wine bar Placa del Vi 7 in Girona.  Photo: Jamie Kowal

Le Bistrot

Girona's most romantic restaurant might be this French-Catalan bistro, where locals sip vermouth on an ancient stairway covered in jasmine. Bistrot offers simple food (stews, salads, grilled meats) at modest prices. A no-fuss bean soup might be exactly what you need if you find your Spanish dining itinerary too packed with avante-garde tasting menus.

El Tall

Jamon heaven. Hundreds of cured ham shoulders (paleta) and legs (jamon) are on display at Plaza Catalunya's modern deli, El Tall, which specialises in the very best pigs scoffing acorns on the Iberian Peninsula. Staff will happily guide you through the wall of hams and all their nutty, sweet, salty, nuanced differences.

La Noucentista

Once a popular colmado (traditional Catalan grocery store), La Noucentista has transformed itself into a cheese shop of the highest and smelliest order. More than 200 types of European cheeses are ready to enjoy on a picnic by the River Onyar, including many Catalan favourites, such as the traditionally made goat's milk cheese formatge de la garrotxa.

Atempo at Sants Metges Hotel

"Ah, Mr Bond. Welcome to my hotel and restaurant housed in a former military base on the highest part of Sants Metges mountain, overlooking Girona." With brutalist architecture and sweeping views, this luxe 15-room retreat looks like the kind of place where 007 would relax, infiltrate a villain's lair, or both. It's also home to Atempo restaurant, where young chef Jordi Cruz, owner of Barcelona's three-Michelin-starred ABaC fine diner, oversees a highfalutin menu featuring squab with black truffle and sea urchin chawanmushi. Absolutely worth the 20-minute drive from Girona's city centre.

Rocambolesc

Yes, it's another Roca brother joint. Rocambolesc is the passion project of Jordi Roca, El Celler's Willy Wonka-loving pastry chef, and the tiny dessert store is a gelato-lover's dream. Flavours range from classic (chocolate, caramel, vanilla) to somewhat bonkers (parmesan, asparagus, truffle). Also be sure to visit the bakery next door for a xuixo (pronounced shoo-shoo), a creme catalan-filled pastry that's something of a croissant-churro crossover with roots in 1920s Girona.

Callan Boys travelled to Girona as a guest of Eurail.

Details

El Celler de Can Roca and Can Roca, cellercanroca.com

Mercat del Lleo, mercatlleo.cat

Placa del Vi 7, Placa del Vi, 7, 17004, Girona

​Le Bistrot, lebistrot.cat

El Tall, eltall.cat/project/el-tall-girona

La Noucentista, la-noucentista5.webnode.es

Atempo at Sants Metges Hotel, atemporestaurant.com/en/

Rocambolesc, rocambolesc.com