Globalisation and gentrification have had their effect on Girona, it almost goes without saying. But only up to a certain point: in the province, they've had to close a couple of McDonald's, and the nearest Starbucks is about 100km away. The thing is that Girona locals, especially when it comes to food, love the label 'de tota la vida', which basically means places that have stood the test of time and endured through generations of shoppers. We love local butchers and artisan 'orxata' (summer drink made with tiger nuts, almonds or rice), as well as the clothes shop that's always been just round the corner. Read on to discover some of the favourite places to browse and purchase of lifelong Girona and Costa Brava inhabitants.
However bourgeois and proud of its past Girona may be, there's not a huge number of old bookshops or antique dealers there, except the odd noteworthy exception. El Portal del Col·leccionista is just one such place. And yes, it is exceptional as well. A small family business squeezed into a very old house in the Jewish quarter, which opened its doors 40 years ago, it's the place to find items ranging from gossip magazines from the '20s to rare objects that are seriously sought after by bibliophiles. Don't let the crowded space or your own embarrassment hold you back - you can browse at leisure through the old postcards, cinema posters, soda siphons, stickers and rare editions. It's a great way to spend a rainy afternoon, and a place where you'll always find the perfect gift for yourself or somebody else.
Can Rigo is a butcher's that's lasted for generations, the type that the grandmothers of today's residents would certainly approve of. The friendliness and patience that customers encounter when seeking the ingredients for their first attempts at traditional Catalan dishes have no price; and you can go there with no fear for your wallets, as it's by no means one of the most expensive butcher's in the centre of Girona. Their own meat products such as rabbit burgers and Iberian 'botifarra' sausage, artisanal pasta, wines and some well-chosen delicacies (try the chips of cod skin, they're spectacular) sit alongside the typical cooked ham and, take note, some Italian-style artichokes that have no rival in the city. Another secret to take into account is that they sell local pine kernels at a pretty good price, while the help and advice they give is abundant and completely free. They also have a shop in the Sant Narcís neighbourhood.
Until March 2016, this shop selling artisan wickerwork, hemp and bamboo as well as items for the home, was joined to a small workshop where, at 92 years of age, the grandfather of the house continued to work weaving baskets. Jaume Puebla, an institution in the town of Salt and one of the instigators of the unusual International Basket Fair, has left behind him a dynasty that continues with what was once a prosperous business and today is an artisanal centre rich with the charm of times gone past. It may not seem possible, but the majority of wicker items we still use at home don't have a wooden or plastic equivalent in Ikea. A basket to store logs next to the fireplace, one to go hunting for wild mushrooms, a shopping basket to go to the market or the beach - perhaps we've got used to living without them, but not because they're dispensable. Once you start taking a straw basket to the market (again), you can't imagine taking anything else. If you need to change yours, get your first one or are looking for one in the latest style, the place to head is this unique Salt establishment.
Sant Feliu de Guíxols
The stationer's Carabela in Sant Feliu de Guíxols is a great example of a family business that has managed to reinvent itself, following changing trends. Its founder rode the industrial wave that shook up the town at the start of the 20th century, and in the '30s, was at the head of a factory for paper bags that employed over 100 people. Now, 85 years later, the fourth generation of the Massós family has turned this exquisite shop into a meeting place for scrapbookers and anyone who thinks that God is in the details. Do you need handmade envelopes for a very special invitation? Labels with threads made in an artesanal way? Drawing pins with an extra long pin? Old-school writing paper from Switzerland? Diplomas, glitter or food colouring for cupcakes? Follow @CarabelaM and enjoy the marvellous tradition of stationery.
Alright, so it might not exactly be the last word in hipster fashion, but this is a really interesting place (of course, otherwise it wouldn't be here!). Last year Canny Boutique celebrated 40 years of dressing women both in everyday clothes and for special occasions. We like it because it's an old-school shop: an authentic boutique with personalised attention, made-to-measure alterations and advice from expert staff. Basically, the very antithesis of all those high-street franchises, a place where shopping is still an experience. Not interested? You'll change your mind the next time you're looking to buy a present for your mum. We also like the fact that they work hard to encourage local small businesses in Salt, which are always at risk of extinction due to the stores in Girona and shopping centres. For the 40th anniversary, they organised a fashion show with real catwalk models and a lot of glamour, and their window displays (which are always elegant and tasteful) help make the street of Major de Salt more attractive. Long live our classic shops!
Can Xapa is a well-kept secret that deserves to stop being one. Located inside a 13th-century castle, the owners of the cake shop will show you around the workshop and interior garden if they're not too busy. You'll find a range of products that's clearly inspired by France, such as the impressive Saint Honoré cake, along with more contemporary recipes, including a gin-and-tonic cake. The real star, however, is the chocolate they sell in bulk. It's made in bars of 1.5kg into which they crumble pieces of 85-percent cacao and candied dried fruits. To get there, you should take advantage to enjoy a bike ride from Girona, which will also relieve some of the guilt you may feel at trying some of their products. And even better, at Can Xapa they promise to use only the minimum sugar necessary for all their products.
La Reverter is a good example of a pastisserie that does well despite all the anti-calorie madness that our, otherwise well-fed society, is being bombarded with. The shop, located in the bourgeois Eixample of Girona, retains the magic of yesteryear while also showcasing various innovative products: surprising sweet fried potatoes (they're made of white and dark chocolate), and the star product, Coca d'Ermessenda, a variety of the typical Catalan 'coca' cake, that's inspired by the first abbess of the convent of Sant Daniel. The actual bakery of the cake shop is situated just next to that thousand-year-old monument, at the entrance to the Vall de Sant Daniel, a forest that immerses the city without warning, and that has hundreds of springs and some aromatic herbs that Reverter uses in its recipes. The bakery has installed a small counter and cafeteria, and the number of cyclists and runners stopping by for a croissant at the weekend just keeps on growing.
The Font patisserie in La Bisbal is a curious mix of tea room for ladies who've been going there all their lives, a market bar and an authentic mecca for those searching for the definitive dessert. It's hard to choose between the 'càntir', an ultra-light biscut that has no lactose, the 'rus de xocolata', a sweet biscuit and chocolate combo that once eaten will make you feel like you've done everything you need to in life, and, if it's Christmas time, the 'torró' of coconut covered in crème brûlée (nougat-like bar eaten for the festive season). And not forgetting the artisan ice creams and home-made 'orxata' drink (made with tiger nuts, almonds or rice) in the summer months. The best thing to do, once you've realised how difficult it is to choose just one thing, is to go as many times as you can, order a good coffee (which you'll be served by very friendly waitresses), eat a sandwich made with their own bread or a small cake, and experience just how wonderful local produce can be. Oh, and they also have options for coeliacs.
Those of us who consider ourselves modest people and satisfied with life think that happiness is enjoying a good horchata (summer drink made with tiger nuts, almonds or rice) in the sun. One of the few places on the Costa Brava where they still make it using the artisan style and fresh each day, is at La Jijonenca de Palamós, which is also known as Gelateria Candela ('gelat' is ice cream in Catalan). La Jijonenca is located in that part of Palamós that has just a hint of Cannes about it, and the best moment to head there to enjoy this delicious drink is before heading home after an afternoon on the beach, on a summer evening as the sun calmly sets; it's ideal for recharging your batteries for the night. The family that runs the ice cream shop buys their tiger nuts in Alboraia (a town in Valencia renowned for its 'xufla'), a sign of the quality of the finished product. And if you're watching your weight, they do a sugar-free version, to which you can add a sweet touch with a splash of lemon ice slush ('granissat de llimona'). Horchata (or 'orxata' in Catalan) is the only drink that an adult can drink with a straw without undermining their dignity!
Before you head to the many attractive shops in the Aigüeta neighbourhood in La Bisbal, the town that is the undisputed centre of the Costa Brava's ceramics industry, we suggest taking a trip to this large store on the area's main road. Els Planas Marquès were pioneers in techniques for painting on clay and tiles, working with wavy and very personal shapes -in a way it's impressive that for prices that start from just €5, you can take home pieces that are practically unique. If you let staff know that you want to buy a gift for someone to take them a piece of the Empordà, they'll be overjoyed. Take special note of the fruit bowls and lamps, they're marvellous. They also have a shop in the medieval village of Pals.