A shadowy Old Town lies over the River Onyar, where cobblestoned paths twist and turn through hushed corridors and a sunwashed palette of ochre and umber always seems to be reflecting late-afternoon sun. Gothic fantasies are born in Girona, Spain.
How to get there: Just 61 miles north of Barcelona, Girona is a popular destination for organized day trips. But these magical streets are best wandered alone, and the logistics for it are easy. A high-speed AVE train line links the two cities via Barcelona Sants Station for a 38-minute journey (€32-€60, roundtrip), while regional service takes about an hour and a half (€17-€23, roundtrip). There are hourly outbound options for both—consult RENFE’s online timetable, but if your schedule is flexible, it’s perfectly fine to just show up at the station.
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 narrow corridors and alleyways that pitch upward in the imposing shadow of 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. A bird’s eye view of the city is inevitable as you wander—all paths seems to lead up. 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. Rest your feet inside the cathedral’s cavernous Gothic nave—at 75 feet, it’s the widest in the world.
Where to eat: Michelin three star El Celler Can Roca topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2013 and 2015, and in an intimate country house just over a mile out of town, the trio of brothers serves up a freestyle menu of Catalan classics. Plan 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). Take up residence with a bottle of cava at a riverside café, or follow the wafting aromas of a neighborhood bakery to taste some of Spain’s most delectable sweets: xuixo, native to Girona and pronounced “shoo shoo,” are mini multi-layered croissant balls coated with sugar and filled with Catalan crème brûlée.
If you stay: The eight, family-owned rooms at Hotel Historic are nestled right into the cobblestones adjacent to the cathedral.