Experiencing Girona Through Its Legends
September 11, 2013 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
What I love about travel is that it is about more than place, it’s about storytelling. Through stories, we as visitors begin to absorb the essence of where we are, both historically and in the moment, and most importantly within the context of getting to know the local people.
Over a cup of coffee one morning, Carles Mallart, owner of Girona’s Hotel Llegendes de Cathedral, shared with me how his hotel had been the vision and passion of his wife, Roser Vallmajó, who died in 2007 at age 51. She was an intellectual and creative woman, Mallart told me, a woman I would have wanted to know.
Vallmajó’s interest in travel and in the history of Girona, about an hour north of Barcelona, led her to the renovation of the 18th century building which is now the Hotel Llegendes, smack dab in the center of Girona’s historic old town.
Roser Vallmajó believed that to really know this historical city, one needed to understand it through its legends, the cultural heritage that is at the core of Girona’s identity.
Its prime location makes the Llegendes a perfect base for exploring the city through its history as the themed hotel is a celebration and living record of Girona’s many legends–43 to be exact.
Documenting and preserving these tales–which appear to be rooted in fact but may have in the telling become urban legends–was one Vallmajó’s life purposes. Through legends like the Flies of Saint Narcís, the Witch of the Cathedral, and the Cocollona, she envisioned the Llegendes as a gateway not just to the city but to the 43 stories told for generations.
He who loses his roots, loses his identity.
A renovated 300 year-old building with many of its original stone walls, the Hotel Llegendes maintains the historic charm of the original property with the addition of contemporary interior design and amenities like hydromassage rain showers.
Overlooking the Carrer Portal de la Barca, a narrow cobblestone passage in the area of Pou Rodó, the intimate hotel stands in the shadows of the towering Girona Cathedral, is around the bend from the Sant Feliu Church and plaza, steps from the edge of the Onyar river and the Arab Baths, and a few minutes stroll to El Call, Girona’s famed Jewish Quarter.
Each of the hotel’s rooms is named for and recreates a legend, with words from the narratives etched onto the frosted glass partitions that divide interior spaces.
Mine, room 204, was created in homage to La Campana Beneta, the largest bell in the central bell tower of the Girona Cathedral and the source of many legends. The people of Girona have always called the bell “Bombo” due to its size and powerful deep sound, which they claim is the best bell tone in Catalonia.
Modernity meets ancient tradition and design throughout the property, and in its details the Llegendes is an homage to the city’s history and a point of departure for reliving the legends and events so central to Girona’s story.
Local sculptor Gerard Roca Ayats chiseled in marble representations of the legends, which the hotel displays throughout to reflect the reliefs still embellishing the facades of the numerous centuries old structures throughout the city.
I sat with some my local host, Marc Grañèn and his wife Anna on the hotel’s intimate little patio, sipping wine and discussing the next day’s plans. Grañèn, a local garden and landscape artist, created a large vertical garden painting, above, for the hotel’s exterior 18th century wall. At night, tiny LED lights sparkle from the living wall art.
“Cities are much more than stones, spaces or areas. Cities are a deposit for traces of the lives of its inhabitants; they are impregnated with their life experiences, with the history of all their thousands of hopes and efforts, and they are even a hoard of imagined happenings and traditions which time can transmit to us in many ways; but it does so too in the form of legends, which have existed from the beginning of time and in all cultures.”
Josep Riera Micaló
President, Girona, College of Architects of Catalonia
The stories I hear while I traveling all share a common element: they are about the universal magic that makes us human beings. Legends and stories connect us to others we would never have known had we not ventured out in the world, and in the process we connect deeper with ourselves.
One of Girona’s most popular legends says that visitors to Girona must kiss the Lioness Bottom–a sculpture in Carrer Calderes, in Saint Feliu Square–and the legend is accompanied by this saying:
He who has not kissed the bottom of the lioness is not a good citizen of Girona.
The sculpture is actually a male lion and at one time was thought to be a monkey or a wolf. Nonetheless, the legend says that after having kissed the Lioness’s bottom, visitors will be guaranteed of a happy return to Girona. I will without doubt be happily returning to Girona.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Hotel Llegendes. All opinions in this feature are my own and I did not receive any additional compensation for this post. Unless otherwise noted all images courtesy of Hotel Llegendes.