Girona: no Jewish community but a well-preserved Jewish quarter

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Girona: no Jewish community but a well-preserved Jewish quarter

The chic, compact, charming Spanish city has much to offer

Visiting as I did before the terror attacks in Israel, it still struck me as poignant that the guide at the Jewish Museum, on what was the site of Girona’s synagogue in the community’s 9th-15th century heyday, admitted that there is no Jewish community in the city today.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, about whom we all learnt in school, much heralded for uniting the Spanish kingdoms and, as philanthropists, supporting the great explorers (probably with money lent by the Jews, according to fascinating records in the museum – there were several early 14th century female moneylenders), decided to banish Girona’s Jews by edict.  Those who could left for Morocco and later dispersed in Spanish-speaking South America. There’s much of interest at the museum, including stories of prominent-named female Jewish doctors and a vast, beautiful map of Europe as it was conceived back in the 14th century, including just-discovered America. Yet, knowing six centuries on that Jews are still facing persecution, might make exploring the Jewish area, El Call, uncomfortable now.

Mas de Torrent

I would still highly recommend a visit to alluringly chic and compact Girona with the proviso of staying at least two nights in the hushed luxury of Mas de Torrent, less than an hour away. It’s a Relais & Chateaux property that’s been on my radar for 20 years or so and surpassed my highest expectations. It has even lured pop royalty including Kylie, Shakira and Streisand. The main hotel is in an original stone Masa built in 1756 as a private home for a wealthy farmer with a series of elegant yet cosy living rooms with slouchy cream sofas, original beams and wood panelling. There is lots of good artwork as the hotel’s owner is a serious collector, including works by Jose Maria Sert y Badia, an allegorical muralist who was a friend of Salvador Dali, whose work fetched £20,000+ at a recent Christie’s auction.

Bedroom suite at Mas de Torrent

There’s a glamorous bar and airy dining room with a spacious terrace affording plenty of privacy and views across the Empordá countryside towards medieval hilltop villages. Dinner is traditional Catalan, and local seasonal ingredients are given an elevated sophistication by Michelin-starred chef Ramon Freixa: cloud like, creamy croquetas, the famed anchovies of  L’Escala with mint mojo, sublime grilled turbot and duck dishes and a most impressive cheeseboard. Breakfast is by the secluded pool among bougainvillea-filled gardens sheltered by cypress trees. There’s a world-renowned spa with its own indoor pool and hydrotherapy suites, the latest in gym tech and much more. Yet, even leaving our room, a very private haven of indulgent tranquility with a generous-sized living room and bathroom, was hardly tempting, especially as it had its own secluded five-metre pool.

El Call – Girona’s Jewish Quarter

Talking of bathing, the most fascinating and positive element of visiting Girona’s Jewish quarter, which is considered among the best preserved in Europe, was seeing the relatively recent excavation work. This has enabled archaeologists to work out the likely layout of the synagogue, which incorporated not only a large square mikveh, but a butcher’s shop and a school for boys and, separately, girls. Wandering the labyrinthine streets later, it was touching to come across a classical guitarist playing plaintive tunes in one of the small sloping alleyways with steep porches where you can still make out where mezuzot were once placed.

Girona’s medieval Old Town is charming overall with a real sense of walking in history. There’s a circular path along the medieval walls, and the dramatic cathedral, built between the 11th and 16th centuries, with its long wide staircase in front of the main portal, now so inextricably associated with Game of Thrones, has to be visited. Beautiful too are the brightly-painted houses along the River Onyar.

Huge swathes of cyclists pedal respectfully slowly along the cobbled streets as a number of professional teams base themselves in Girona and train in the surrounding mountains. This has attracted plenty of cycle tourism, even dedicated cafes. Most outstanding, even for non-cyclists, is La Fàbrica with its thick stone walls and inglenooks with cycling memorabilia and sepia race photos and a beautiful vintage road bike backlit behind the chrome coffee machine.


Eating well is totally assured in Girona with a superb choice of independent restaurants and cafes. Be sure to try Xuixo (pronounced choocho), a cylindrical pastry that is filled with crema catalana flavoured with citrus and cinnamon and fried. Botiga de Xuixos on Castello Carrer dels Calderers has been making this pastry – found only in Girona – for well over a century. Find excellent tapas and a huge choice of wines at Placa del Vi 7 under the brick arcade arches in Wine Merchant Square. My favourite cafe is within the charming and surprising courtyard of the elegantly transformed new Palau Fugit hotel, once a palace, with weathered stone facades and vibrant colours.

Terrace at Hotel Casa Cacao

Normal restaurant is anything but average, more a bistro de luxe. It is owned by the legendary Roca Brothers of three Michelin star, former number one in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants El Cellar con Roca who have accomplished something of a Rick Stein Padstow-style takeover in Girona. Be sure to visit the Roca’s Gelateria, Rocambolesc, with its sophisticated flavours and toppings. I chose pomegranate and bergamot ice-cream topped with caramelised apple and walnut cake. Newer still is La Terraza at Casa en Cacao with dazzling views across to the medieval Old Town. It is a boutique hotel decorated in hues of cacao with a stunning roof terrace restaurant serving an exceptional brunch of multiple thrilling savoury and chocolate courses, ravishingly presented. The terrace has exceptional views over the medieval city of culture and gastronomy. Life enhancing, even in such difficult times.

Sudi Pigott was a guest of and

Girona Jewish museum can be found at

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