Girona Spain

Exuberant Barcelona has long hogged the limelight, but its little sister Girona is stepping out from the wings. This diminutive city in northern Catalonia packs a cultural punch that is the envy of many a larger destination, with a superb dining scene to match. Girona's historic quarter, a secretive jumble of medieval mansions and courtyards crowned by a magnificent cathedral, is piled up on the eastern bank of the River Ter. To the west of the river, elegant avenues laid out during the 19th century are lined with smart boutiques and cafés. The lofty peaks of the Pyrenees form a violet smudge on the horizon and the rugged coves of the Costa Brava are just a short drive away.

Plunge into the time-capsule of Girona's Barri Vell (Old Quarter) to discover Roman walls, Arabic-style baths and one of the best preserved medieval Jewish ghettos (El Call) in Europe. The ancient stone streets culminate in the mighty cathedral, which boasts the largest Gothic nave in Christendom and an extravagantly sculpted cloister. Peer down on the huddle of ancient rooftops from the walkway atop the medieval walls, then stroll across the River Ter for a spot of shopping. Catalan cuisine is renowned the world over, and in Girona you'll be spoiled for choice: grab a counter table at the market for a filling dish of the day, check out the contemporary creations at a glossy new tapas bar, or push the boat out at gastronomic mecca Celler de Can Roca, voted second best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine in 2011.

Mary-Ann Gallagher is the author of multiple guidebooks to Spain and the Mediterranean region, including Madrid Day by Day.