The Pyrenees and hills of la Garrotxa above the chapel terrace in San Bartomeo de Torres, near Girona.
  • The Pyrenees and hills of la Garrotxa above the chapel terrace in San Bartomeo de Torres, near Girona.
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It wasn’t long ago that we visited Girona. After a six-hour drive from Nice, France, and just a few drops of fuel left, we arrived in the northeast conurbation of Catalonia.

Café in the center of town.

It was impossible to disassociate past from present. We walked the town’s pedestrian cobblestone streets while marveling at its architecture, medieval walls and cornucopia of gastronomic delights. We salivated over some of Catalonia’s most famous dishes such as cap-i-pota de vedella (cow’s head and feet) and bacallà amb samfaina (salt cod with ratatouille). This was a place to be hungry. After all, what lies in heart of Girona is the best restaurant in world, El Celler de Can Roca.

One of the fascinating things to witness here is the eclectic mix of faiths. Catholics takes pride in the 18th century cathedral of Santa Maria of Girona, while the Jews have their Jewish Ghetto – one of the biggest and best preserved in Europe. As for the Moorish, their claim to fame is the Arab Baños (baths) that date back to 1194. Local legend has it that if you kiss the bottom of the Leona de Girona statue, you'll return to Girona one day.

The Garforth's restored 15th-century stone villa in San Bartomeo de Torres.

Our dear friends Steve and Bea Garforth were right; Girona reflects life in the surrounding countryside and has a distinctly laid-back vibe to it. This was instantly apparent when they opened their doors of their stone villa to welcomed guests and travelers in the rustic village of San Bartomeo de Torres.

“It was Guillem de Torres, a crusader, who founded this place after his return from the Holy Land, carrying with him a thorn from Jesus’ crown at the crucifixion,” Steve cheerfully narrated. “After his death in 1253, the Benedictine monks constructed the chapel, where the thorn was kept until the 15th century, then later was moved to a nearby church.”

“It was all in ruins before it became our home for 10 years,” Bea added, as we all gazed at sweeping vistas of the snow-capped Pyrenees and la Garrotxa's volcanic hills in the distance.

The Garforths have transformed a piece of history into a lovely nook to linger in. I kept on dreaming about it, sitting on the terrace like a señorita. It surely won’t take a legend like kissing the lion’s butt to convince us to go back.

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