Girona, Spain, is a half-hour north of Barcelona Sants station by AVE bullet train going at 200 km per hour. It catapulted us into the Middle Ages.
It has the best preserved medieval Jewish neighborhood in Europe dating from the 8th century with an outstanding museum atop an archeological dig that contains a mikvah. There is an investment by the Spanish government now in historical Jewish tourism. Spain is offering dual citizenship to Sefardim who want to reclaim their past.
Until the pogroms of 1391, Girona was a center of Jewish intellectual life in Spain where Kabbalah Jewish spirituality fully developed from its roots in southern France.
By 1492, with the Expulsion Decree and the start of the official Inquisition, Jews had either converted to Catholicism or left for France, Amsterdam, Turkey, North Africa, towns along the Adriatic Sea and the New World. No Jews remained in Spain.
According to our expert Barcelona guide Dominique of Urban Cultours, the Spanish Jewish community there was mostly decimated in 1391. Surviving in Girona are tombstone fragments from Montjuic cemetery and artifacts of Jewish ritual and daily life. In Barcelona, cemetery stones were used for foundation construction of 15th century church and government buildings.
Girona boasts an amazing gothic cathedral dating from 1038 A.D. with an impressive, wide nave, second only to Saint Peter’s in Rome.
The stained glass windows spill colored light into an otherwise dark, stony and austere interior. It speaks of early European Catholicism where the so-called chair of Charlemagne commands attention.
From the top of the cathedral steps, you look down onto a lovely square, perfect for resting, sipping a glass of Estrella beer with tapas appetizers.
During the Spanish civil war, 1936-1939, the figures of the twelve apostles that flanked the side entrance to the cathedral were destroyed. Their intricate crowns are still intact, and one can imagine …
Girona’s old town flanks both sides of the beautiful Onyar River, connected by bridges. It is walkable, accessible, filled with narrow alleyways, hillside steps, ancient porticos, smart shops filled with designer clothes and accessories, excellent patio cafes and Catalunya flags flying everywhere.
The sentiment for an independent Catalan state is strong. It feels and smells old world.
Two days here are not long enough!
Compared with Barcelona there is not the crush of tourists although there are plenty of European visitors. We heard French, Italian, Czech, German and Russian, plenty of Catalan and Spanish. Not much English!
We had an amazing dinner at Massana, a one-star Michelin restaurant, our best in Spain. We saw the restaurant sign and rang the doorbell to what we discovered was a private dining room. Chef-owner Pere Massana emerged in his kitchen whites to personally guide us to the actual entrance.
Our welcome was warm, service outstanding and engaging. Food spectacular. We opted out of the tasting menu — too much food late at night (most restaurants don’t open until 8:30 p.m.) and instead ordered an entree and dessert. Otherwise, we would have lingered until well beyond midnight!
The meal was preceded by three taste treats to whet our appetite: fresh goat cheese topped with rosemary, mussels marinated in orange vinaigrette and a fois gras yogurt topped with crunchy flashed dried ground corn. This sure beat the chocolate coated fois gras popsicle we had in Granada at overrated La Fabula that was part of an over-the-top tasting menu.
This chocolate hazelnut extravaganza tasting plate was my dessert at Massana. So chocolate-y I couldn’t eat it all!
We were astounded that Chef Massana followed us out to the street to personally thank us for coming, asking how we enjoyed the meal! Memorable. Sincere.
After a good night’s rest at Hotel Nord 1901 we took the afternoon train to Figueres, rented a car and drove to a 15th century village where we stayed overnight in a converted farmhouse. Then, on to the Dali Museum where I will post about his surrealist jewelry designs next.
Today, we are resting in the Mediterranean seacoast town of Cadaques, Spain. But, I can’t get magical Girona off my mind.