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Walking the Walls in Girona or Avila?

I will visit both Barcelona and Madrid in early June and am considering a side-trip from one of those locations. I want to walk around on some ancient walls. Which city has the better wall-walking experience - Girona or Avila? I will have my 11-year-old godson with me, and I suspect his tolerance for museums and churches will be limited, so wall walking may be one of the only things we do while there, so which town should I choose? BTW, I will travel exclusively on public transit.

I want to plan physical activities - cycling, horseback riding, hiking, so we will definitely visit and hike around Montserrat while we're in BCN.

Posted by Enric
Barcelona (Catalonia)
2063 posts

... 11 y.o.?... you want to make an escapade from Barcelona and spend the day both in Besalú and in Girona.

Why Besalú?.... what 11 y.o. wouldn't like to walk in a reminiscence of a true Medieval town?... no false Hollywood-type cardboard sets here, it's the real deal! Check out a video here. Besalú was a key town in the history of Catalonia, a small European nation founded in the 9th century (now ruled by Spain) where Barcelona is capital of. Wilfred the Hairy, credited with the unification of Catalonia, was Count of Besalú. This town is not far from Girona (about 1h by bus) and a combined visit to this two exciting sites can be done on the same day, all by public transportation -no hassle thus. If he's a fan of G.O.T., he'll be happy to know that several of the scenes of the 6th season were recorded in Girona... follow this map.

I take the opportunity to remind those lucky enough to be able to visit Girona in May that this year the festival Temps de Flors (Flower Festival) is hosted from May 12th to May 20th. Very recommended!

Another exciting activity with children -although it can't be accommodated on the same day above!- is a balloon ride over the extinct volcanic area of La Garrotxa county and its capital Olot -about 2h bus from Barcelona, 1h from Girona. There are several companies offering this sort of activity, such as Vol de Coloms or AirCat among other. This is a peek to this magnificent opportunity to see this region from the air.

And about your godson's tolerance to "churches and museums"... well, we have churches and museums like he has never seen before... check out, for example, Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló or La Pedrera in Barcelona. And, depending on the days you're staying in Barcelona, a visit to the Font Màgica is a must when a godson is present. There are literally dozens of other sites an 11 y.o. will be amused with, both in Barcelona and elsewhere in Catalonia :)

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10369 posts

I completely agree with Enric: Both Girona and Besalu are great. Avila is totally skippable, not remotely one of the best side-trips from Madrid.

You can take the train to Girona (buying fast-train tickets in advance will save you money). Then you take a bus to Besalu. The Girona bus station is very near the train station. Girona's walled historic district is a bit of a walk from the train station. I didn't need a taxi, but there should be taxis at the station. The end of the historic district near the cathedrals is livelier.

Besalu does not have a bus station; the bus will let you off at a roadside bus stop. The return bus to Girona will depart either from that same stop or one approximately across the street; unfortunately, I don't remember which. It would be good to have a map of Besalu with you; you can print one from Google Maps. That will allow you to find your way around the small historic district and to the bridge. If you want to stop by the tourist office, it is near the end of the fortified bridge. You may spot it to the left as the bus drives into town.

Important: My onward bus from Besalu left at least 8 minutes early. Get back to that bus stop well ahead of schedule. There's often much less bus service on Sundays, so that is probably not a good day to take this trip. Worse, I had a Sunday bus just not show up at all, marooning me in Ripoll when I had a hotel room waiting for me in Girona. For safety's sake, if combining visits to Besalu and Girona on the same day, it might be best to go to Besalu first.

While you're in Madrid, I hope you can fit in a trip to Segovia. I'm pretty sure it will be a hit.

Posted by Enric
Barcelona (Catalonia)
2063 posts

Yep, the description of Ann to get to Besalú is also my favourite: fast train to Girona and across the station, you have the bus station, from there a bus to Besalú. HOWEVER, if you prefer, you can also catch the bus to Besalú in Barcelona. The stop is in front of the bus company office in Pau Claris street, near Plaça Catalunya. In fact, the bus you'd be catching in Girona is the same coach that departs from Barcelona. If anything the whole trip is slightly longer as the fast train only takes 40' to Girona.

Also, about the Besalú map.... http://www.xtec.cat/~jlagares/manaies/besalu50.jpg The bus stops are approximately above nbr 5. On your way into Besalú, it'll stop on the northern face of the road (direction: OLOT) and on your way to Girona you'll want the stop on the "southern" face (direction: GIRONA). I agree with Ann, don't cut it too thin on your schedule as sometimes it's a bit early (and sometimes a bit late too!).

By the way... upon arrival to Besalú do refrain from walking that cute narrow street into the town, I STRONGLY recommend instead to walk that road towards the right edge of the map AND enter Besalú thru the bridge... otherwise, you're missing a bit part of the wow factor. The bridge is the one seen above in the picture I included in my earlier post.

Enjoy!

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10369 posts

I didn't know there was a bus all the way from Barcelona. I guess in many/most cases the all-bus route to Besalu would be cheaper than a combo train/bus route, especially if the train was an AVE or AVANT.

Posted by Enric
Barcelona (Catalonia)
2063 posts

For info then:

Company: http://www.teisa-bus.com/en/rutes
Departing from: Carrer de Pau Claris, 117 in Barcelona (map)
Time to Besalú: 1h45'
Cost: 15.40€ (vs average 17+4=21€ on train+bus) Sometimes promo for the fast train is under 10€ though.

Posted by Marti OP
Atlanta, GA, USA
71 posts

Enric and Ann, thank you both for your very detailed advice. I had never heard of Besalu until I read your posts. A combination trip to Besalu and Girona sounds like a winner. I haven't researched it yet, but it seems to make more sense to take the bus to Besalu, then go on to Girona after. I especially appreciate all the links you both offered.

And yes, Ann, I DO plan to visit Segovia with my 11 y.o. (Before we go to Madrid, we will spend two nights in Toledo, which I think he will enjoy a lot.)

Feel free to share more kid-friendly suggestions. You guys are why I love Rick Steves' Forum community. You are the best!

Posted by Enric
Barcelona (Catalonia)
2063 posts

My advice for this combination is:

  • Bus to Besalú (9ish-11ish) -or combination fast train + bus
  • Visit the town. It's not that big, 3 hours should give you plenty of time to make a relaxed stroll thru the narrow streets, visit the church, the remains of the old medieval baths, even to poke around for a souvenir.
  • Either the 2pm or the 2:50pm take the bus to Girona. Arriving at 3ish or at 3:30ish. The first one has a slightly longer route. Do stop at the stop Girona-Jutjats (roughly: "gee-roh-nah-joot-jats"). Ask the driver.
  • Late lunch at one of the sites in Plaça de la Independència, a square with restaurants and terraces, located just 2 minutes from the stop.
  • Visit Girona until 8:15ish or so (not longer!)... you NEED to be at the station by 8:35 at the most since the LAST fast train to Barcelona departs at around 9ish and you need to find your platform, etc. The station is not "big" but there's a bit of walking involved. This, of course, unless you've taken my advice and stay overnight :)

PS. I use the "ish" not because there isn't a fixed schedule but because I don't know the exact schedule by heart. Check it out!

Posted by Enric
Barcelona (Catalonia)
2063 posts

Now, not gonna list all the touristy stuff, for that head to the tourism websites of both places; I will instead mention a few 'other' things I believe you might enjoy:

While in Besalú:
- Obviously, you have a really great photo opp if you follow my instructions and enter the town thru the stone bridge, and walk under the iron gate into the "fortress", your kid will be mesmerised. Have your best stories about dragons and princesses at hand!
- There are a handful of shops with souvenirs spread throughout the town, but not those tacky cheaply-made plastic Chinese imports, but real artisan-made little details that will truly inspire you: leather goods and lots of medieval-related items which exploit the glorious past of this key town. One particular toyshop comes to mind, it's called El Drac Màgic (Catalan for the Magic Dragon), it's near the bridge, in Carrer del Pont Vell, 15. You'll find all sort of wooden arches, swords, capes and shields and even fake armour for your kid so he becomes a true knight.
- Relax having a coffee at the terrace of "10 del Pont" (roughly:"deh-oo-duhl-pont") in Baixada de la Mikweh, a narrow street near the toyshop with great views of over the bridge and the river. Located just above the remains of the medieval Jewish Baths of Besalú.
- At the beginning of September, Besalú celebrates an spectacular Medieval Fair which attracts many families.

While in Girona:
- Have an ice cream in Rocambolesc, the latest venture of the Roca Brothers (they're from Girona). Their restaurant El Celler de Can Roca has been considered the Best in the World by the for several years. Yeah, I'm bragging about my fellow Catalans, of course, but it's not an exaggeration, it's true, check it! :) Your kid will love this Willy Wonka-esque gelateria!
- Relax having a coffee/tea and a pastry at La Terra, a quirky little coffee shop located by the river. Don't sit by the entrance, head towards the back and get a table by the window, facing the river.
- An idea for a late-afternoon snack kids do love... a chocolate crêpe at Crêperie Bretonne. They even have a real minibus inside the restaurant, my niece used to like it when she was younger.

Enjoy!

Posted by Sidney
Seattle
38 posts

We will be touring the region with a car in May. When visiting Girona and Besalu I am assuming it is unwise to attempt driving in the cities themselves. Are there public parking lots where one can park a car easily? What do you advise for drivers?

Posted by Enric
Barcelona (Catalonia)
2063 posts

Yes, you're right, you won't be able to drive into Besalú or in the centre of Girona... both are semi-pedestrianised areas. But there are a number of parking spaces.

Besalú check for the "P" to the right, alternatively the ones on the left
Girona I'd go for the ones near the Parc de la Devesa (the green patch). There's even one free of charge (Aparcament Gratuït Devesa)

You'll notice that parking in Catalonia is, in general, not cheap and that, especially in cities, there's no free street parking as most streets, especially in the central areas, are full of green/blue/for-residents-only parking places. For more info about this, so you understand the peculiarities of each type check, for example, these sort of parking spaces in Barcelona: https://www.areaverda.cat/en/types-of-spaces/

Finally, since you're driving around, these might be of help:

Welcome to Catalonia
Catalonia Experience
Map of roads in Catalonia
Routes and getaways

Advice: and this is so for the whole of Europe, when you park in the street, don't leave unattended bags/suitcases in the backseat of the car. Place them in the boot, out of sight.

Enjoy!

Posted by Enric
Barcelona (Catalonia)
2063 posts

De res, Sidney!

Btw, since your driving and have the freedom to move about at your leisure, you might want to explore some of the most beautiful places in my homeland here in Catalonia, noting that for those visiting without a car is rather difficult to visit on a day escapade. You'll be happy to realise that, for an Aussie, distances here are a laugh compared to yours back home, which means you can visit a number of places in a single day :)

Posted by Sidney
Seattle
38 posts

This is very useful information for us Enric. Just what I need!

Posted by Enric
Barcelona (Catalonia)
2063 posts

Oopsy!, why did I think you were Australian?... I had to be thinking of our friend David here in the forum+. Anyhow, for an American the case is similar, distances here are far shorter and you can cover different things on the same day.

Posted by Brad
Belmont Bay, VA
10367 posts

I walked the wall in Avila a bit. In general, the sights worth seeing in Avila are the wall and the church. There are others but the main reason people visit Avila is the wall. The town inside isn't really very pretty or special. In a way it's similar to Lucca, Italy.