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Budget carriers can give you an unexpected bonus

  • Chicago Tribune
  • Published Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, at 12 a.m.

GIRONA, Spain — Many European backpackers on a budget have braved the world of the “budget” airline. As if draconian bag fees and cramped seating weren’t enough, many budget carriers serve satellite airports, dumping passengers far from their ultimate destinations. That means more time and euros spent on buses, trains and taxis.

In the case of Girona, Spain, though, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

For travelers to Barcelona on Ryanair, Europe’s ubiquitous budget carrier, the quintessentially Spanish town about an hour by train from the Catalonian capital is an underrated, if slightly out of the way, port of call. Its winding sidewalks and high-walled corridors showcase the architecture of old Spain seamlessly preserved as part of modern Spanish life.

For a pedestrian, a gothic cathedral, partially restored Jewish quarter and medieval fortifications stand just minutes from each other. For view seekers, panoramas rivaling any in Spain can be found after a brief hike up Girona’s old guard towers, which tourists are welcome to climb free of charge. The town’s winding corridors also offer pedestrian travelers another benefit: sidewalk cafes around most every corner, beckoning the thirsty with cava and ice cold Estrella beer at small-town prices.

Just outside the city center is the town’s open-air market, which draws vendors hawking everything from American basketball jerseys to dried hibiscus and other Catalonian spices. Of course, there are plenty of chorizo bocadillos (like sandwiches) and beer to satiate any appetite.

For those with more than a day or two before shipping off to the brighter lights of Barcelona, Girona also is a quick bus ride from several resort towns popular with European tourists. And less than an hour away is a less crowded strip of Spain’s stunning Mediterranean coast. Bring a few extra euros to fill a gallon container from barrels of wine and sangria offered by shops along the coast.

You won’t quite be in Barcelona. But you won’t quite care.

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