Travel: discover Girona, the most delicious city in Spain
The Spanish region of Catalonia is emerging as a world-class gastronomic destination. Jonjo Maudsley visits
Something big is happening in Catalonia, and I have come to find out everything. As soon as I land in Barcelona, I feel in the air the emergence of a gastronomic scene that propels Catalonia on the world map of culinary excellence.
If you know the name of Ferran Adrià, you will know what is coming. Otherwise, here’s a story in a jar: in 1987, the prodigious Adria became the chef of Michelin-starred restaurant El Bulli on the north shore of the Catalan Costa Brava. His deconstructivist method revolutionized the restaurant by making it climb to two, then three Michelin stars. For years, it has been Restaurant magazine’s number one restaurant in the world.
El Bulli closed in 2011 and Adrià moved on, mainly teaching. His former protégés, however, continued to cook, spreading Adrià’s gospel of experimental flavor design throughout Catalonia. A decade later, the area is populated by restaurants run by its alumni, many of which have earned their own Michelin stars.
It is therefore no coincidence that Catalonia now has 55 Michelin-starred restaurants. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that these are concentrated only in Barcelona. Adrià’s former playground in northeast Catalonia – the Costa Brava and, in particular, the region around the city of Girona – is also well stocked with world-class restaurants.
My first stop is Els Tinars. Housed in an ivy-covered masia-style building half an hour from Girona, the restaurant is run by the third generation of the Gascons-Lloveres family, in the form of brother-sister chef Marc and manager Elena duo.
Their dishes perpetuate the deconstructivist tradition established by Adrià, but with some novelties: the local mushrooms are very present; the perol, a Catalan meatball, makes a surprise appearance; and sumptuous breads nod to the roots of Marc and Elena, from a family of renowned bakers.
The tasting menu (from € 65 / £ 55 per person) offers all of this and more. My senses are put to the test as the lobster carpaccio and mushroom confit, drizzled with smoked mushroom juice, combine wonderfully. I find myself face to face with a piece of duck so sublime that it must have been carved by the gods themselves, served on a bed of liver pâté.
The fig and olive oil ice cream tantalizes, exalts, then disappears in my throat. The seven-course meal is over before I know it, and I’m taken to my next spot while it digests.
Located on the rugged coast of the Costa Brava, the seaside town of S’Agaró was designed by renowned Catalan architect Rafael Masó, who sought to create a garden city in the style popularized by English visionary Ebenezer Howard. With a monopoly on its own Mediterranean bay, S’Agaró has quickly become a popular place for trendy young Catalans to spend their summers.
From Elizabeth Taylor to Lady Gaga, from Ernest Hemingway to Robert De Niro, the brightest in glitter have taken their vacations to S’Agaró over the years – and they have all, I hear, stayed in the hotel on more historic of the city, the Hostal de la Gavina.
This five-star destination was Masó’s centerpiece for the city. Its eclectic but tasteful design is representative of the golden age of Catalan architecture, from its hacienda-style courtyards to ornate silk walls and herringbone teak floors – though nothing is quite as exemplary of the style than the royal suite, decorated in Louis XV – period furniture – yours for just € 2,200 / £ 1,800 per night!
Keep an eye out for new additions to Hostal de la Gavina arriving in time for its 90th anniversary in 2022, which will include a brand new infinity pool, revamped garden and updated patio complex that will surely be a favorite. among those who enjoy participating in Gavina’s popular sunrise yoga classes.
Three restaurants all offer sumptuous local cuisine with delicious service, but the most notable performance is undoubtedly Candlelight, the brainchild of two-Michelin-starred chef, Romain Fornell.
With this intimate and elegant company, Fornell not only brought the forgotten art of the candlelight table back to the forefront, he also orchestrated a tasting menu of impeccable quality (88 € / 75 £ per person ).
The opening number, a crispy shrimp pea cracker with plankton mayonnaise, served with a miraculous “sparkling olive” forged with an anchovy flavor is an education for my amateur taste buds.
Then come the foie gras tasted like a fondant, the rye bread with orange, served with tomato, white wine and rosemary butters, the celery risotto with parmesan and crispy langoustines, and the highlight of the show to finish, crushed caviar ice cream from the inside of a monolithic salted ice cube.
Before heading home, it’s just time to embark on a Girona tapas tour. At my first stop, La Reserva, I discover fuet, a fatty local sausage reminiscent of chorizo, which goes wonderfully with a midi from Penedes, Catalonia’s prized wine variety (tapas platters start from € 13.50 for one person).
I grab a slice of Spanish toast, painted with tomato instead of butter and topped with tasty local anchovies, at the Bau Bar, before visiting El Pessic for Xuixo, a cream-filled fried pastry that hails from the city, which I dip in a cup of hot chocolate (4.70 € / 4 £).
Italy has Emilia Romagna. Japan has Osaka. France has… well, France. And now, with Catalonia – and Girona in particular – Spain has its own must-see foodie destination. Get there before the news spreads.
How to plan your trip
Rooms at Hostal de la Gavina start at € 280 / £ 236 per night for a Classic Double, € 400 / £ 340 per night for a Junior Suite or € 450 / £ 380 per night for a Deluxe Suite. Visit lagavina.com/en/