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Why Choose Girona as the Next Destination?

Regular visitors to this site will know that since completing my book on Andorra I’ve been working on a new travel book which is all about the province of Girona in Catalonia (Spain) and may well be wondering why choose Girona as the next destination. So here I’m posting the first draft of part of the new book’s introduction. The final version may change slightly when the book is published in April, nonetheless this extract provides an answer to the question, ‘Why choose Girona?

As a young boy I was brought up in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia in the early 1970s. We lived in the province of Almería, home of the Tabernas desert where they filmed many of the Spaghetti Westerns.

Almería has one of the warmest and driest climates in Europe and our village was very hot and rather dusty. Most of the surrounding rugged and rolling landscape was tinted with hues of browns and yellows interrupted by scrub and the occasional patch of startlingly green Mediterranean pine.

Scrubland near village where I lived in Almería

Sharp agave spears were dotted about and the occasional prickly pear with its lush, ruby-coloured thorny fruit contributed further detail to the landscape’s palette. Dark, jagged mountains on the horizon and small whitewashed villages in the distance like splashes of white paint that had fallen from the sky completed it.

No wonder the Italian film director Sergio Leone chose the location for his Westerns. Others also filmed here. My mother saw Orson Wells driven past our house various time on the way to filming the 1972 production Treasure Island.

This was where I was raised. It all sounds rather romantic to anyone who does not know the place and I suppose it was. It was also undeveloped, very dry and apart from pine and eucalyptus trees there was rather a shortage of green about. We played football on patches of concrete or dusty, hard waste ground littered with sharp stones so that no one ever wanted to be the goalie (though the sharp stones aside I suppose that was the case the world over among young boys… being goalie is a bit boring and offers little opportunity for glory among one’s peers).

Cactus near Garrucha, Almería
Cactus in Almería

I remember a bunch of us sitting around talking one hot summer afternoon when a boy explained—with some awe—how the nearby little village’s football club across the riverbed had an actual grass pitch. There were several gasps of astonishment. We had seen grass pitches on the telly of course but not in real life. (Truth be told even on the television most of us had not seen a green pitch because most sets in the village were black and white).

We did not venture far in those days. The village was about just under a kilometer away but it involved traversing a large river bed that separated the two settlements and was somehow as major a natural barrier in our minds as a large river would be elsewhere. But within a few days we became brave and made an excursion of it.

When we reached our destination and peered through the fencing it was indeed true, a sea of emerald green lay before our eyes (though now, upon reflection, it was rather tired looking and patchy, but at the time it appeared a wondrous thing). 

Now, of course, with plenty of money about, lots of tourism, (over)development and water for irrigating it all, there is plenty of grass across Almería. But it was not like that then, at least not where I lived.

I loved the area, still do in fact, and it is like a magnet that draws me in whenever I am in Spain. But because of where I was brought up, as a boy I thought all of Spain’s landscape was like that of hot and dusty Almería. When we returned to England occasionally to visit family I was astounded to see so much green.

Spaghetti Western territory
Near Nijar, Almería (Spaghetti Western territory)

When traveling to the UK it was usually by ferry from Santander or Bilbao and as my dad would often drive through the night to ‘get us there’ (which to a little boy driving throughout the night was as dramatic as it gets) I rarely saw the lush, green countryside of northern Spain. On one occasion, though, I woke up in the car very early in the morning and distinctly remember my surprise at seeing the green landscape north of Burgos.

Of course, having travelled thousands upon thousands of miles around Spain since, now I know better. Spain is an incredibly diverse country, with mountains,  desert, lush green landscapes, forests, broad and majestic rivers, and more. When it comes to nature and beauty Spain is indeed a blessed country.

When I first really began to take notice of Spain outside Andalusia it was in the province of Girona (then named Gerona, Girona is the Catalonian name). When our family left Spain to move back to the United Kingdom the whole episode was somewhat traumatic for me. Spain had been my home for some ten years and England, though beautiful, was alien. Leaving behind the small, insulated, innocent and backward village where I was raised I found English schoolchildren to be much more streetwise, somewhat sharp, at times even cruel, and I longed to return to my Spanish home.

But after settling in the UK we eventually started to return for short family trips to Almería. My dad had built pretty much by himself a small house in the countryside which was our home for several years before we moved to the village. This ramshackle property now stood empty, without mains water or electric, and when we returned it provided us with cheap—if unassuming—holidays in Spain. We nearly always drove to Spain because it was, by far, the the cheapest way (it was still some years before the budget airlines we know today were established).

Why choose Girona
Girona’s Costa Brava

As we approached the Spanish border during each trip  I was always very excited about it all. My childhood home beckoned. In those days we nearly always entered Spain at La Jonquera, near the Mediterranean coast, because there was a motorway there (the AP7) that hugged much of the Mediterranean and meandered all the way down to Alicante, which was several hours from our village in Almería.

Today Spain has one of the largest motorway networks in Europe, but not then, which is why we always took this route, to get to Almería all the faster. And so, as the Spanish border at the province of Girona approached during each trip, this boy, now a much more observant young teenager, thrilled with anticipation to reach Spain. In doing so I began to notice Girona.

For me it is the Spanish province that makes my heart both glad and sad, because it is where I nearly always enter and leave Spain. Even decades later and for countless trips, I still nearly always enter Spain via the province of Girona.

Girona province
Sant Joan de les Abadesses, Girona province

Moreover, about 12 years ago my wife and I became besotted with charming Andorra, a love which has continued and indeed my first book in this travel series is all about the eastern Pyrenees principality. As such, we nearly always included a trip into Girona province to take in the Mediterranean Sea as part of each visit to Andorra. While Andorra borders the Catalonian province of Lleida, Girona’s  easternmost fringes, near the town of Puigcerdà in Cerdanya, are just a few miles from the principality.

Next, over the years Girona changed from being our entry and exit point to Spain, or an extra few days tacked onto a visit to Andorra, to a region we began to explore in its own right. Since then I have travelled extensively throughout this splendid province, which has so very much to offer. Indeed, Girona’s diverse landscapes are poles apart from Almería but it is indeed a splendid place to visit.

Introducing Girona

Located in northeast of Spain, in the autonomous region of Catalonia, Girona is an incredibly diverse province with a wide range of landscapes, wildlife, places and activities for visitors to see and do.

Why Choose Girona?
Botanical gardens on cliffs on the edge of Blanes, Girona

Its coastline is the stunning Costa Brava, meaning “wild” or “rough” coast. The name perfectly describes Girona’s wild, rough and rugged coastline of cliffs, rocky coves of crystal clear water, sandy beaches and pine-covered mountains tumbling abruptly into the deep blue Mediterranean Sea

The Pyrenees mountains run along the entire length of Girona’s northern border with France, from the Mediterranean Sea in the east to within a stone’s throw of the principality of Andorra. These snow-topped and majestic mountains, which stretch all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, have well over one hundred peaks reaching…

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