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  • Carol Duval

Girona and the Catalunya Hinterland

Sant Marti and Casa-Palau Agullana Steps

Elaine had told us that if we were beginning to get cabin fever in La Forge del Mitg we should spend a couple of days in Girona—Spain’s version of Florence. That was one good suggestion!

It was certainly a bit like Dante’s circles of hell in some ways, though not so much because of the hellish landscape but more the feeling of travelling through circles.

We’d walk from the perimeter from our rather dull hotel and equally dull apartment buildings and then under the railway line with groups of roaming youths and litterbugs.

Things started to look up when we reached a handsome quarter with gravelled squares with porticoes full of restaurants.

On one of the bridges over the River Onyar on the way to Girona Cathedral

From there it was over an ancient bridge to a medieval maze of cobbled lanes and staircases, leading upwards to the splendour of the art museum, basilica and cathedral at the city’s central peak.

Our experiences too, a bit like Dante’s two major works, were a strange mix of light and dark. The main buildings—Girona's museum, cathedral and basilica—were wonderful as were the amazing works within them which showcased so much talent in sculpture, painting, weaving, embroidery and precious metal work.

But the content! SO dark. The Spanish, in centuries past anyway, seemed to have concentrated their energies on depicting the most harrowing aspects of Christianity’s history—crucifixions, flayings, beheadings, whippings, an angry deity condemning nonbelievers to snake pits and overall misery and mayhem. Poor St Bartholomew suffered a particularly harrowing fate.

After a couple of days of that, I was desperate for an image depicting compassion, wisdom and peace!

As for the food—working around opening hours is generally a challenge in Spain, as is finding something to eat that isn’t based on a lot of meat, but at least in Girona these issues didn’t pose much of a problem. We only had one terrible meal of prefabricated trans-fat-imbued chicken schnitzel and cardboard cake (much of this was left uneaten on the plate) but later we discovered the wonderful Fabrica Bike Cafe in a back alley on steps leading up to the cathedral. It was understandably very popular with biking groups, including one from Queensland, and had great coffee and HEALTHY food with FRESH vegetables and fruit on the menu in various imaginative guises.

So with our other discovery, Simfonia, a wine and cheese spot in another quiet square further down the hill that served beautifully presented sardines with figs and roasted vegetables with gruyere cheese— we started to feel a lot less weighed down by junk food and lighter in body and spirit.

On the way home we stopped in the valley town of Camprodon which had quite a different atmosphere. For a start, its geography is very different with a rushing river spanned by ancient bridges running through the centre, and it seemed to be something of a skiing/second home hub in parts. The houses in the centre of town were much like those in Girona—terraced, three storeys and very old.

An unexpected treat exploring Camprodon

But not far from the centre were exceptionally well built new townhouses which showed great care and thought in the town planning stage with wide tree-lined boulevards, communal gardens and environmentally sensitive design.

The townspeople were friendly and we could sense a strong sense of community. Sadly the food was not only hard to come by—it was a Thursday so we thought we’d be safe by avoiding the usual closed shops of Sundays and Mondays but no! It was Thursday so in Camprodon, naturally, there was barely a shop open.

We managed to find Fraxanet Taverna with lovely staff and great outlook from their terrace but very stodgy food—as we’ve come to expect in rural Spain. Meatballs, meat with beans in tomato sauce, meat and chips, meat and white rice.

But not to worry—tomorrow will be leek quiches and a great mixed salad at Le Chien de Pascale in Ceret—still Catalonia but with some French flair.

Late autumn morning outside Le Chien de Pascale, Ceret

Ceret vegetarian restaurant
Sunday vegetarian brunch as presented by Pascale

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