with Tim Pile
This historically rich city positively creaks under the weight of its grand architectural heritage. But it's far from being a stuffy old town - here you can literally bathe in wine.
1. Cathedral (below right)
Tourists gravitate towards Girona's magnificent cathedral to gaze at an architectural collision of Gothic, Romanesque and Catalan baroque styles. The approach to the 17th-century facade involves negotiating a rococo staircase of 90 steps. Closer inspection reveals that, owing to frequent rebuilding, many parts of the cathedral are older than the exterior. Look out for the 11th-century tapestry depicting the Christian story of Creation. For opening times and a virtual tour, go to www.lacatedraldegirona.com .
2. El Call
The steep cobblestone alleyways of El Call, the medieval Jewish district, test the calf muscles of day-trippers. The neighbourhood had been established by the ninth century and grew to its present size in the following 600 years. It remains one of the best-preserved Jewish quarters in Europe. A tourist map of the confusing labyrinth of lanes is widely available but it is still easy to become lost - which is all part of the fun. For a take on daily life in the quarter, finish up at the Jewish History Museum (tel: 34 972 21 67 61), built on the site of a 15th-century synagogue.
3. El Celler de Can Roca
Catalonia has a rich culinary heritage and the menu at El Celler de Can Roca combines the traditional with the avant-garde. The intimate establishment is run by three brothers and, despite its location in a nondescript suburb, was voted 11th best eatery in the world by Restaurant Magazine this year. Imaginative creations such as artichokes and sunflower soup and sardines with anchovy ice cream are a hit with patrons, including Spanish celebrities working the regional festival circuit. Reservations are essential and can be made at www.cellercanroca.com.
4. Dali Theatre-Museum
A short drive from Girona, the unremarkable town of Figueras is proud of its most famous son, Salvador Dali, and the tourist attraction he bequeathed. Surrealist sculptures line the streets leading to the museum, which is housed in a former theatre and incorporates a hallucinogenic muddle of turrets topped with luminous 'eggs'. Once you have adjusted to the nature of Dali's work it is easy to spend hours viewing paintings, graphics and exhibits covering a wide range of subject matter. Navigate the comprehensive website at www.salvador-dali.org for more about the museum and the unconventional master.
5. Wine spa
For a day of pampering with a difference, visit the wine spa at the Hotel Golf Peralada. Wine treatments, or ampelotherapy, are the name of the game here and quaffing a glass or two is almost an afterthought. You can bathe in the stuff, enjoy a grapeseed-oil massage or submit to an exfoliation session with a coarse paste of crushed pips. Whether the rejuvenation therapies inhibit the ageing process and boost the immune system is debatable, but believers can take home products from the spa's exclusive line of cosmetics. See www.golfperalada.com.
6. The Rambla
Running parallel to the River Onyar, the Rambla de la Libertat is Girona's main shopping thoroughfare. After the obligatory photograph stop to capture the pastel-coloured houses reflected in the water, join the crowds browsing the stores and stalls that line the street. Outdoor cafes and restaurants bustle beneath the arches. Find a prime spot, order a carejelio (black coffee) and watch the world go by. The area is a riot of colour on Sunday mornings, when the flower market is in full swing.
7. The city walls
Sections of Girona's Roman city walls remain intact, despite large-scale restoration, and a peaceful perimeter trail known as the Passeig Arqueologic enables visitors to navigate a path around much of the old town, soaking up the views (below left) from lofty vantage points. The walk can be completed in 15 minutes, but with numerous photogenic distractions, such as landscaped gardens and crumbling watchtowers, most walkers spend far longer than planned. There is little shade so take plenty of water.
8. Hostal de la Gavina
Close to Girona on the famed Costa Brava, the Hostal de la Gavina is a blend of modern architecture and traditional Catalan styles. The opulent surroundings attract the monarchy and the moneyed: King Juan Carlos, Robert de Niro and Elizabeth Taylor have all enjoyed the Mediterranean views, marble floors and old-world elegance. Bright, airy rooms - be sure to ask for a sea view - are furnished with antiques. The manicured grounds include tennis courts and a large salt-water pool overlooking a private beach. For room rates and more information, visit www.lagavina.com.
9. Museu de Cinema
Film buffs are in for a treat at the recently opened Museu de Cinema, the only museum in Spain devoted entirely to cinematography. Enthusiast Tomas Mallol has assembled a collection of more than 20,000 artefacts, photographs, accessories and reels of film. Besides chronicling the pioneering days of filmmaking, exhibits illustrate the often rudimentary techniques used for capturing moving images in the past 500 years. The museum also houses a library of books and magazines. Admission is Euro4 (HK$43); for opening times and details of special events, see www.museudelcinema.org.
10. Sant Narcis: Week of All Saint's Day
Citizens of Girona let their hair down with a 10-day fair each autumn. The old town becomes an impromptu market, where artisans display their craftwork and vendors sell everything from antiques to local delicacies. Events and activities include children's shows, sports competitions, folk dancing and firework displays. Ground zero is Devesa Park, which hosts a huge fairground, free concerts and street performances. On the final Sunday a procession of giant papier-mache figures takes to the streets. This year, the party runs from October 26 to November 4.