Girona? It's a nice place really
CITY OF GOOD DEATH tells a story of murder and retribution that crawls through the medieval streets of Girona's old town and pulls everyone in the city into a killer's embrace. Which is all very well, but if we could put that to one side for a moment, Girona's actually a very nice place really. For one thing, it's forever coming top of national polls as the most desirable place to live in Spain. For another, it's only got half its defensive city walls left, which I'm convinced has to prove something.
Founded by the Romans and fought over every century since then, it's one of those quietly beautiful cities that can constantly take your breath away. A troubled past of sieges and persecution, of ghetto and occupation, have bequeathed it a history that today enchants on every corner – possibly the reason why the people behind Game of Thrones have chosen it as a location for series six. Combine that with a wholly sympathetic nineteenth-century expansion of the city across the river from the old town and a late twentieth century of surprisingly tasteful affluence, and you get a city that's a gift to a crime writer.
In a nutshell, the old quarter (Barri Vell in Catalan) begins the moment you cross to the east side of the river Onyar, starting with the Rambla, brimming with life and sunlight and writhing plane trees. Behind this, the darkened gorges of the narrow streets of the hugely atmospheric El Call, once the Jewish quarter, climb slowly to the cathedral, towering over the old and the new cities. Beyond lies the city walls, circling around university buildings and green shaded courtyards and punctuated with ruined towers and lonely walks.
On the west side of the river lies the Mercadal district, built on the newfound but short-lived wealth of the late nineteenth century, with shaded streets, ambitious avenues and open squares. This merges westwards into the soaring trees of the Devesa park and a hundred years of residential buildings and neighbourhood shops in the Santa Eugènia and Sant Narcís districts. South of it are the gridiron streets of the Eixample district, a chic and self-contained part of town, with homes and bars and schools. Beyond this you find the newer Pericot and Montilivi suburbs, the first built at the end of the twentieth century, the second the home of the city's upwardly mobile.
Moving further outwards, to the north is Germans Sabat, an odd mix of old businesses and new apartments on the road that leads to the world's best restaurant. To the west, Girona fuses into the neighbouring town of Salt, home first to the influx of immigrants from southern Spain in the 1960s and now home to many of the most recent newcomers to the country. To the southeast is the marginalised neighbourhood of Vila Roja, sprawling over a dusty hill beside the river.
And in case you're wondering, the council got rid of the stretch of the medieval walls on the new side of the river in the 1930s to open up the city to let it grow in what probably seemed a good idea at the time. Where they once stood is now the semi-circular Gran Via, bookended by Plaça Independència at one end and the covered market at the other, the streets running inwards to the river marking the sites of the old gates. But don't worry, there are plenty of stories still remaining between the walls left standing in the old town and the lives lived out along the new avenues and squares.