Girona, the ancient "Gerunda," is capital of Catalonia's fertile Lower Ampurdan region of green fields, olives, vines and neatly arrayed poplars all presided over by the towering distant Pyrenees. Here Iberians, Romans, Arabs and Visigoths have all come and gone, leaving a rich palimpsest of past impressions. Although it was besieged no less than 27 times, a remarkable number of old buildings have survived, and even the severely damaged walls that surround the city have been restored and "pedestrianized" so that it's possible to wander all the way around Girona today on a route called the Passeig de la Muralla, at more or less rooftop-level.
The old quarter is a heady blend of historic influences, and the district known as the Call in particular recalls the city's strong medieval Jewish past. In the 12th century it housed one of Europe's most famous kabbalistic schools, but by 1492 its period of glory ended when the Catholic kings expelled all the Jews from Catalonia. What remains today is a steep, narrow-laned urban labyrinth that conjures up a haunting aura of the past as you explore it on foot.
Outstanding buildings include the magnificent Collegiate Church of San Feliu with its 16th-century altarpiece, the Benedictine Sant Pere de Galligans and Romanesque Gothic Cathedral with its superb "Tapestry of Creation." Other not-to-be-missed highlights are the Banys Arabs (Arab Baths), Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat and the Arqueological Museum with its 11th-century cloister. The River Onar flows gently through the town center, crossed by a variety of bridges including a sturdy work built by Gustave Eiffel, of Paris tower fame. The river is overlooked by rows of multicolored houses, all examples of the style known as noucentisme—a reactionary, tradition-oriented step back from the avant-garde movement. One such house, Casa Maso, named after a famed Catalan architect, is open to the public.
Girona is well-connected by bus and train service to Barcelona, Figueres and Perpignan in France, and to the homely Costa Brava towns of Palamos and Palafrugell. Its busy international airport is just 10 mi/16 km away.