Shannon McRae, Girona

About 100km outside of Barcelona lies the ancient city of Girona in a region called Costa Brava. This area is known for its jaw-dropping views of Spanish plains leading to soft sand and cliffy beaches where the seawater is so clear you can see straight down for nearly 10m. A tour of the Costa Brava area was exactly what we were looking for when we were craving a little peek of the gorgeous Catalonian countryside. The first beach we went to was nothing less than breathtaking.

Nestled in a tiny, historical town along the sea was truly, the beach we had been searching for throughout our stay in Spain (you really need to get away from La Barceloneta for the good ones). One indication that you’ve found a really great beach is that it’s mostly locals there; you’ll know this by listening in on some conversations, realizing that everyone is speaking Catalan instead of Castellano. You’ll also probably notice that there is a lot more nudity there than you would see in Barcelona, and especially more than you’d see back in the states. After about an hour of swimming and lying in the sun we continued our journey inland to the village of Pals. This place looked like it came straight out of a movie set. All the buildings are made of old stone and it’s positioned steeply on top of an old rocky hill, with a castle lookout tower at the top offering some great panoramic views. This village was brimming with shops and cafés and art galleries, we even stopped to watch a bit of a wedding taking place at the church there. After some shopping and sampling the local chocolate (always a must, anywhere in Europe… anywhere in the world, really) we headed off to the city of Girona, a bustling metropolis compared to the isolated villages surrounding it. While we were told the city is usually rather temperate and cooler than Barcelona, it was boiling hot that day. The air was still and the sun was baking our shoulders as we began to explore the city center. We found immediate relief in the strong wind as soon as we stepped onto one of the many bridges that cross the river that splits Girona in two.

The best part of Girona was visiting the ancient wall that protected the city for centuries. Most of the wall was torn down for urban expansion, but part of it had been renovated for sightseeing. Its impressive height provided for more amazing views of the city. Also not to be missed in Girona is the Cathedral and the German Gardens, which have some interesting history. All in all, getting out of the city of Barcelona and seeing the countryside is something you can’t miss out on during your trip to Spain.