There's always an excuse for a romantic meal out, whether it's a first date or to celebrate an anniversary with your long-time partner, and Girona is a city that's perfect for romance. A supper or walk through the old part of time guarantee an unforgettable night. The city's restaurants know how to make the most of the fairytale-like features found around Girona, as this feature reveals. And if you're heading to Empordà? Don't worry, we've also included various idyllic restaurants on the Costa Brava. You'll find all kinds of places on the list, from the most formal to the more unpretentious, and all ideal for a special, enjoyable night. The rest is up to you.
Le Bistrot is a Girona classic that has managed to keep its iconic status since it opened back in the late '70s. The restaurant, which is located on the stairs leading up to the Barri Vell campus of Girona University, is infused with a French ambience that will remind you of authentic Parisian brasseries. It was one of the first places to introduce crêpes to the city, and they still make a range of different pancakes, some of which have a local touch, such as the one of 'brandada de bacallà' (cod brandade).
Els Pescadors was an old tavern in the port of Llançà until, some 30 years ago, the Fernández-Punset family transformed it into a creative seafood restaurant. They create 'mar i muntanya' (surf and turf) combinations in line with what's in season. To update the traditional seafood dishes everyone here's been brought up with, Lluís, the chef, brings to bear everything he's learnt from various haute cuisine restaurants around Catalonia, such as Girona's El Celler de Can Roca, and further afield. His dishes include rice with crab, lobster stew, sea cucumbers with cod tripe and black sausage, and king prawns au gratin with confit of wild mushrooms.
There's a lot of reasons to head to Els Jardins de la Mercè: the food (good and well presented), having a few drinks in the spectacular garden that gives it its reputation, enjoy cultural activities... Els Jardins de la Mercè is much more than a restaurant. It's a gastronomic and cultural space where you can see live concerts, poetry recitals, art exhibitions, and even secret markets.
Passatges is the name of the memorial that sculptor Dani Karavan erected in Portbou in homage to German philosopher Walter Benjamin. According to the chef, Sergi Gubert, the monument can also be used to reflect the restaurant's cuisine: if you go down its stairs, you'll see the sea, and if you go up, the sky. Moving to the elongated space of the venue, from the dining-room you can see the sea, a way to remember the essence of seafood cooking but, at the end, in the kitchen, is a laboratory where imagination rules along with a desire to create new things. It's cuisine that takes risks.
Art and gastronomy go hand-in-hand at La Penyora. It's a project by Lluís Llamas, who, for many years, has been hosting exhibitions in his restaurant-art gallery. 'We're bohemians,' he says. Yes, they're bohemians, and they attract bohemians - La Penyora is a restaurant regularly frequented by artists. The walls, full of drawings and paintings, are proof of that. In the kitchen, fresh ingredients - Lluís goes to the market each day - are used to prepare a range of dishes with a Catalan base but featuring French and south-east Asian influences.
Don't wait for people to tell you about it: you need to experience the charms of La Devesa de Tor for yourself. Visit the small Empordà village of Tor and immerse yourself in this restored 16th-century 'masia' (Catalan country house). The atmosphere will take you to a limitless place and time, exotic and sensual, from where you won't want to return. Go into any of the rooms, each with their own suggestive name (the Cove, the Intimate, the Clandestine, the Sky...), and if you're in good company, prepare for a romantic evening with chill-out music and candlelight.
Catalan painter and writer Santiago Rusiñol said of Sant Feliu de Guíxols, a town that was booming at the end of the 19th century thanks to the cork industry but otherwise terribly boring, that it was a 'a golden cage full of owls'. Whether or not the phrase holds any truth, it has become part of the colloquial language of residents, and this fantastic summer 'xiringuito' has taken it for its name. From Easter onwards, it opens at the weekends to make the most of the increasing daytime hours, but during the summer season you can start with breakfast there and go right through to the last drink of the night.
Looking for seclusion? An idyllic place of peace? Head for Garbet. This 'xiringuito', found at the centre of the tranquil beach of the same name, is almost 70 years old and has now been converted into a restaurant. It encompasses simplicity, a landscape that will stun you and, above all, excellent cooking based on top ingredients and traditional recipes. You can either sit in the small dining-room or (which would be our recommendation) choose one of the terraces in front of the sea. What's more, they have a boat-taxi service: if you're arriving at the bay, give them a call and they'll pick you up and take you to the restaurant.
Large sharing plates - that's the basic philosopy at Draps, and they achieve it with cooking that is modern, creative and Mediterranean, all at the same time. Such dishes include a large cannello of fish, cubes of cod confit with shellfish sauce, sweet and sour magret of duck, and sea bass with herb mayonnaise, which is made using a Sephardic recipe. In fact, they have a full kosher set menu that pays homage to the restaurant's location in the heart of Girona's historic Jewish quarter (Call Jueu), and also includes kosher wine from Montsant.
This is one of the few restaurants in Palamós that remains unchanged from its origins as a classic fishermen's tavern in the centre of town. It opened in 1936, started by Maria, the late great-grandmother of the current generation of owners. The cooking is also inherited from her: 100-percent seafood, 100-percent simple. All the fish comes from the local market, and your best bet is to let them advise you about whatever fresh products they have. Obviously the star dish is grilled Palamós prawns, but you should also try the fish stew, rice casserole and European flying squid with onion.