Since moving to Girona in September 2014 I can say with authority it’s the best place I’ve ever lived. I spent a summer in Boston at 19 and another in Sri Lanka at 20. I moved to Australia the following year and resided in Bondi for six months. I’ve spent most of my life in Ireland, either studying or working.
I had a great life where I lived in Ireland, earned good money doing what I loved, worked with amazing people, lived with or close to my best friends and family and wanted for absolutely nothing, or so I thought.
So I quit the job, packed my bags (and bikes), moved to Girona and started on a journey that has been the most exhilarating one I’ve ever been on so far. I had no idea where it would take me when I came – but it’s one I’ll not be ending any time soon.
I knew one person when I arrived. The only trouble was, she was moving to the US for work the day before I came and I was taking her apartment on a six-month lease. The key was under the mat when I found it on Carrer de la Rutlla. I opened the door to a new life in Girona 18 months ago, not knowing anyone or a single syllable of Spanish or Catalan.
Here are 20 reasons you should do the same…
1) The lifestyle
So what does that word actually mean, then? Well, to me it’s year-round sunshine and a (very) relaxed attitude to life. Life is savored and enjoyed at a slower pace here. People walk in the streets at night, stop to chat for hours, take a beer or a coffee at any hour of the day and are genuinely interested in how you are. Well-being is everyone’s business.
2) The weather
Yes, the sun shines here an awful lot and there’s no better feeling than opening the blinds in the morning and having your eyes burned by the brilliant ball in the sky. It stays there too. It sounds cliché but the weather impacts my mood. I’ve been in a good mood now for 18 months. Feel free to hate me!
3) The food
Girona is blessed with some of the best restaurants in the world and in fact, it has one that’s twice been voted the world’s best. (El Cellar de Can Roca). There are endless eateries in the city and they’re very well-priced too. You can get a superb three-course meal with wine for less than €20 while during the day, most places will serve a set menu, or Menu del Dia for under a tenner. This, by the way, is a bottle of water or wine, a bread basket, two main courses and a desert! Not bad eh?
4) The coffee
Prepare to become a coffee addict or aficionado. I’m probably the former at this stage…and I’m not seeking help for it! The place has an array of places, but the best is La Fabrica. It’s a stunning little spot in the heart of the Barri Vell and it’s where all the pros get their cortados in the morning. Amber Meier will greet you with a smile and if her husband Christain isn’t racing (with top professional team Orica-GreenEDGE), he’ll be on hand to serve you too. Coffee spots crop up every week…the trouble is keeping up!
5) The people
The people of Girona are warm-hearted and kind. They inquire about you, they hold doors open, they greet you in the street, they’re welcoming and mild-mannered. They are immensely proud of their Catalan heritage and make you feel like one of them. I’ll never forget the help I received the night I locked myself out of my apartment; free hostel stay- check, free use of phone – check; loan of money – check.
6) The cycling
Okay, so the reason I am here is to work as a cycling journalist and yes, you may or may not know this city is home to over 100 professionals. Why? Because it offers everything an aspiring pro could need….keep reading.
7) The roads
If cycling nirvana is what you’re after, you’ll find it here. Think endless kilometres of rolling terrain with the only sound being that of your own laboured breathing and the occasional search for an easier gear. The roads are in immaculate condition and it is a fact that I am yet to puncture here! I have what I call a ‘car counting ride with a friend where we ride for one hour hard and predict how many cars we’ll meet on the ride. The person who guesses correctly gets a free coffee from the other. Often, the winner has won by accurately predicting we would meet zero cars.
8) The climbs
There is such a variety of roads in Girona and its surroundings that you could do a different ride every day of the week if you wanted. You can be climbing for an hour and a half (on Mare de Deu del Mont) or just less than half that (Rocacorba), both of which are within an hour of the city. There are the lovely 3-4% draggy roads where you can do some strength work on or a complex maze of second and third-category roads you’ll never get bored of. There’s the popular beach loop to Tossa de Mar via Llagostera or the ever-popular Olot loop (100k). Really, there is everything you could want for a training base here.
9) The cost of living
Compared to other places in Europe, Girona is much cheaper and this has been one of the main reasons why I’ve enjoyed it so much. Simply put, you can enjoy a higher standard of living for less. You can eat out cheaply, you can fill your fridge and get change from a €50, you can get car insurance cheaper than the UK and Ireland, second-hand cars offer good value, and healthcare is free. As you won’t need to heat your house, there is a saving to me made there too.
10) The beach
Some of the best beaches in Europe are less than half an hour from here. My personal favourite is the little-known Tamariu but further north, Cadaques is a real find as well. Take a ride out from Girona to Platja d’Aro on a Saturday morning, stop for breakfast in the latter and ride home over Sant Grau. Trust us, this shit is good for the soul.
11) It’s safe
Not once have I seen a physical confrontation in the street during night or day, not once have I been woken by noisy neighbours or drama on the streets on Thursday nights when students apparently hit the town, not once have I been set upon or intimidated while walking home. I was told keep the noise down once while singing once one night…
12) It’s clean
The city prides itself on appearance and you’ll have to look hard to find rubbish, anywhere!
13) Learn the language
Okay so it is most definitely CATALAN here and don’t be one bit surprised to be answered in the ‘native’ language if your question or statement is in Spanish. The city is a real centre of Catalan idealism and the language is something they intend to hold onto. However, they all speak Spanish too and there are language schools where you can learn pretty quickly. I’m here 18 months and can definitely solve everyday issues with what I have.
14) Fiesta fiesta fiesta!!
No country has a longer life expectancy in Europe than the Spaniards and they’ll tell you it’s because of their commitment to enjoying themselves. This means partying and lots of it! Girona’s two big annual festivals are the week-long Temps de Flores in May and the festival of Sant Narcis in late October is another that draws upwards of one million into the city. There are calcotadas in February and March (huge family gatherings where spring onions are roasted and dipped in Romenesco sauce), there’s the festival of Sant Jordi in April which is like Valentine’s Day only men receive a book and women a rose. There are harvest festivals throughout the summer and autumn while Christmas is a real time of celebration here. The norm is three weeks of non-stop revelry!
15) The mountains
If you like to ski, hike, fish or snowboard, Girona is less than two hours from the Pyrenees where you can access some of the best slopes in Europe. Andorra has hundreds of kilometres of powder snow in winter and an endless amount of trails to explore in summer. The Vuelta A Espana and Tour de France usually make a visit to the mountains and at Eat, Sleep, Cycle we hope to bring you there before too long.
16) The sense of community
Girona is small and if you know nobody coming here, then you are just like me. Now, I actually feel this is my home and I’m lucky to have such a close network of people I can call on at any time. Example? Last year I cut my hand at home. With blooding streaming from it I ran to the street seeking assistance. The first woman I met was the aforementioned Amber Meier who directed me to a medical centre but as we walked towards it, I met two more women who took one look and said the pharmacist would do the needful. The pharmacist washed the wound, patched it up and didn’t even charge me. Those five people are now people I see regularly, call friends…and owe a favour to!
17) The wine
Okay, I’m no wine expert but I do love a good Rioja! Especially when it costs a euro for a glass.
What better way to refuel after a hard ride than €1 tapas at night, in a packed square, under a dipping sun? That’ll do nicely.
19) The tourist trail
Where do we even start? Girona has a wealth of things to see and do and for my own article dedicated to this, check out a piece I did for the Irish Examiner last year.
20) The sense of community
Yesterday I motor-paced Zak Dempster. On the road home we met Ryan Mullen doing his time-trial efforts. Earlier that week I borrowed a book called Core Advantage from Aussie pro Ellen Skerritt. I must give that to a Novo Nordisk pro before Friday. When I got back to town I took a wander around the old town and met Marcel Kittel and Koen de Koert deciding where to head for a ride. Further up the bridge the ‘Scandinavian Mafia’, as we call them, were planning their day’s ride.
People help each other out. We borrow stuff from each other. The pros train hard together, they race harder against each other and drink a beer afterwards.
Girona. It’s cycling’s greatest gathering place.
Be a part of it with Eat Sleep Cycle.