LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Girona

Filmic Catalan stronghold, Spain’s new football force

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Gateway to Barcelona and the Costa Brava, the historic Catalan city of Girona was overlooked by football tourists and holidaymakers until the game-changing year of 2017. Regularly seen anywhere between the second and fifth tiers since their formation in 1930, Girona Fútbol Club was part-bought by the City Football Group – as in Manchester City, Pep Guardiola and Gulf riches – shortly after a first-ever promotion to the top tier.

Six years later, the Blanquivermells were the success story of 2023-24, beating FC Barcelona 4-2 away to claim top spot in La Liga that December. With the door to Europe open for the first time, club chairman and part-shareholder Pere Guardiola, brother of Pep, could look back on a swift transition from Catalan also-rans to title challengers.

Girona are not getting ahead of themselves, however. Home remains the modest municipal Estadi Montilivi south of town, with the smallest capacity in La Liga.

Football’s first home in Girona was Camp de Mart de la Devesa, set in the largest urban park in Catalonia, at the junction of the Ter, Onyar and Güell rivers, north of the historic centre. Here teams such as Strong Esport, Agrupación Juventud, Girona Sport, Atlético and Club Patronato played in the early 1900s, as the game was developing quickly in nearby Barcelona.

Welcome to Girona/Harvey Holtom

In 1921, CE Gironí and, most importantly, Unión Deportiva Gerona came on the scene, UDG a continuation of FBC Strong and Center Gironenc. Playing in the blue and yellow inherited from the latter, Unión Deportiva opened a new stadium in 1922, the Camp de Vista Alegre, set near a bend in the Onyar south-east of town.

A plaque, unveiled on the centenary in 2022, now marks the spot where an FC Barcelona XI beat UD Girona here 5-2, the inaugural fixture witnessed by FCB founder Hans Gamper.

As professionalism crept into the game, so Unión fell into greater debt and would have to make way for a new club whose founders met at the Café Norat on July 23, 1930, on la Rambla, the city’s main street.

The first president of Girona FC would be lawyer and republican politician Albert de Quintana de León, whose rise coincided with the left-leaning Second Spanish Republic. With Catalonia granted home rule, the patrons decided that Girona FC should adopt a new badge in the colours of the region, and shirts of red and white.

Welcome to Girona/Harvey Holtom

The ground, however, would still be Camp de Vista Alegre, where the club met with immediate success upon joining the third tier in 1933, rising to the expanded Segunda a year later. Topping their group in 1936 did Girona little good, and the Spanish Civil War put paid to football, Catalan resurgence and, in an air raid, part of Camp de Vista Alegre.

Recovery was slow but the post-war Franco period eventually saw the development of the Costa Brava as a destination for package tourism. Girona welcomed several new hotels and the return of university studies at a complex of faculties south of town. Alongside, unveiled in 1970, the Estadi Montilivi replaced the Camp de Vista Alegre.

If modest – one cantilevered main stand and terracing – the Montilivi was ideal for the Tercera. By the time Girona sank to the fifth tier, however, in the late 1990s, it would only be accommodating a few hundred.

While the rise of the Blanquivermells came several seasons before the City Football Group – Girona weren’t far off automatic promotion to the Primera in 2013 and missed out by two goals in 2015 – the achievements of 2023-24 dwarf the previous 93 years to such an extent that even Leicester pales in comparison.

Girona-Costa Brava Airport may no longer be the main entry point for budget travellers to Barcelona – that’s now Barcelona – but the city offers far better reasons to visit these days. As supporters of competing European sides should soon discover.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Girona-Costa Brava Airport is 12.5km (eight miles) south-west of the city, connected by Sagalés bus 602 or 607 every 1-3hrs, journey time 30mins, to Girona bus station (€2.75, pay on board), beside the train terminus west of the city centre. Note that most 602 services also link with Barcelona Airport 2.5hrs from Girona.

Taxi Girona (+34 605 72 72 72) is a reliable local service and should charge around €25 from the airport into town, €20 to the stadium on the same side of the city. It also has a rank alongside the ground.

Girona train station serves the R11 regional line from Barcelona-Sants and Plaça de Catalunya to Portbou, journey time around 1hr 30mins, and slower R1. A single is around €12. An AVE/Avant mainline train takes 40mins and costs as little as €13 if you buy in advance.

TMG oversees bus services within town, single ticket €1.40 purchased on board by contactless payments only. The stadium is way south of town and you’ll either need a bus or taxi to get there.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Pubs and bars can be found on and near the Onyar riverbank, in Girona’s historic centre from the Cathedral to Pont d’en Gómez bridge and beyond. A good first port of call should be the River Café (Carrer de la Barca 2), part football pub with drop-down screens (all Girona and Barça games shown), part DJ venue, part restaurant, part Springsteen fan hangout. It’s also on a narrow street down from the Cathedral, attracting passing trade to find a place on the terrace. Close by, König is named after the beer it serves, but it’s mainly a handy Catalonia-wide pitstop with a lovely courtyard, providing welcome shade in summer.

Just before Pont d’en Gómez bridge, there’s a wider range of beer (and tapas) at the Bar San Félix, with views of the river Onyar from the back room.

Further down, on main Rambla de la Llibertat, McKiernans is the main Irish pub in town, where food and live music are brought to the fore but sport (often rugby or hurling) is also shown. Note the framed Girona FC shirt on display.

Behind Girona station on Carrer del Riu Güell, the Märzen Sport Bar is designed for big-screen action, Spanish pub food and pool.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and city centre

The Girona Tourist Office provides a directory of local accommodation.

Close to the train station and walking distance from the stadium, the four-star Hotel Carlemany is filled with original art nodding to local history. A basic double goes for around €100, with packages linked to golf and seasonal celebrations.

Nearer the city centre and the river, the Peninsular Hotel dates back to 1853, its Savoy Café-Restaurant offering wine-tasting sessions. Towards the historic centre, the urban four-star Hotel Ciutat de Girona specialises in sports tourism, with bike storage, and details of cycle and jogging routes.

Close by on Carrer del Nord, the Nord 1901 Superior was fully converted to a boutique hotel in 2009, swimming pool and all. The date refers to when the original owner was born, before his exile to Venezuela during the Spanish Civil War. It remains in family hands.

On the Gran Vía, Hotels Ultonia are two lodgings in one, three- and four-star, with shared access to a panoramic, rooftop cocktail bar, set in a former Art Deco cinema dating back to the 1940s.

On the Cathedral side of the river, the Històric sits within walls dating back 1,200 years but doesn’t skimp on contemporary comforts. Opposite, overseen by a friendly couple, the Bellmirall Pensió combines style and affordability.

Towards the Cathedral, the Hotel Museu Llegendes de Girona plays up its historic surroundings while serving local organic produce for breakfast.