The perfect trip: Catalonia
Best for medieval Spain: Girona
Crowned by a looming cathedral and encircled by formidable walls, Girona looks like the film set for a medieval epic. This is one city that really knows how to put on a show. The star historical attraction is its architecture – Girona’s high stone walls contain churches and former cathedrals, one-time synagogues and minor palaces, all dating from different eras of its medieval past. Across the steep-sided hill that Girona’s old town inhabits, an intricate network of stone-clad laneways turn and twist. Buildings guarded by high archways and antique doors, adorned with balconies of wrought iron, tumble down to one of the prettiest urban river frontages in all of Catalonia. Wandering these alleyways, it somehow isn’t all that surprising to see a robed monk emerging from the shadows. The mysterious figure is one of many who take part in Girona’s numerous historical re-enactments – their way of breathing life into the city’s medieval past. Today is a restaging of its heroic defence against Napoleon’s armies – in 1808, Girona held firm against the invaders for seven months while around them cities and entire regions capitulated. Looking rather Napoleonic himself, a local man who introduces himself simply as José is playing the leader of Girona’s defenders – a mix of grizzled chaps dressed as soldiers with fixed bayonets and town noblemen who swagger and strut. ‘Why do we do this?’ José says to me. ‘Partly, it’s a bit of fun. But it’s also because we take our history seriously here in Girona. How could we not? The city’s story is written on every stone.’
Where to eat
A throwback to the literary cafés of early 20th-century Catalonia, Café Le Bistrot serves Catalan and French food (mains £8).