Gothic fantasies are born in Old Town Girona, which lies over the River Onyar in Spain. Here, cobblestoned paths twist and turn through hushed corridors, and a palette of ochre and umber always seems to reflect late-afternoon sun. Best of all, it’s under 40 minutes from Barcelona -- perfect for an easy day trip of wandering and medieval magic.
How to Get There: Girona is just 61 miles north of Barcelona. A high-speed AVE train line links the two cities via Barcelona Sants Station for a 38-minute journey (€32-€60, or approximately $35-$65, roundtrip), while regional service takes about an hour and a half (€17-€23, or $19-$25, roundtrip). There are hourly outbound options for both -- consult RENFE’s online timetable.
What to Do: The remains of a 2,100-year-old stone fortress separates modern Girona from its Roman roots, and inside the once-mighty stone walls of Força Vella lies one of the most picturesque and well-preserved medieval Jewish Quarters in Europe. The Kabbalah took written form for the first time here, and an air of mysticism imbues the narrow corridors and alleyways that pitch up toward the town’s hilltop cathedral. The excellent Patronat Call de Girona, or Jewish Museum, recreates life in the Quarter (which was forgotten for half a millennium as layers of subsequent civilizations grew on top of it). Pass 12th century Arab Baths to get to Passeig Arqueològic, a historic, circuitous stroll around the city’s medieval walls through stone archways and Rapunzel-like gardens. Along the way, find endless bird’s eye views of the city as the paths incline, then rest your feet inside the cathedral’s cavernous Gothic nave -- at 75 feet, it’s the widest in the world.
Where to Eat: In an intimate country house just over a mile out of town, family-run El Celler Can Roca holds three Michelin stars and serves up a freestyle menu of Catalan classics. Be warned, though: you’ll need to join a standby list if you don’t book 11 months in advance. For those of us without superhuman planning skills, Occi’s fresh contemporary menu contrasts with its Old World setting (reservations are still a must, though they can be made closer to your visit). Otherwise, take up residence with a bottle of cava at a riverside café, or find a neighborhood bakery to taste some of Spain’s most delectable sweets. Especially recommended is xuixo -- native to Girona and pronounced “shoo shoo” -- which are mini multi-layered croissant balls coated with sugar and filled with Catalan crème brûlée.
If You Want to Stay: The eight, family-owned rooms at Hotel Historic are nestled right into the cobblestones adjacent to the cathedral. Double rooms start from €113 (approximately $123) and junior suites from €166 ($180).