A sacred dessert pilgrimage

00:59, Nov 26 2013
Rocambolesc Landscape
WHIMSY PERSONIFIED: The interior of Rocambolesc is a fantasy chocolate factory with red-and-white-striped pipes coming down from the ceiling.

There are pilgrimages, and there are pilgrimages.

Some people prefer to conduct their sacred journey in a state of hardship, trekking countless miles across, say, northern Spain to reach Santiago de Compostela, or battling the heat and the masses on their passage to Mecca.

Me, I prefer a train trip and some ice-cream. The best ice-cream.

Rocambolesc Std
WORTH THE TRIP: Rocambolesc serves six flavours of ice-cream a day, all of which are made at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant nearby and brought over by bicycle.

It's cold the day I begin my pilgrimage, setting off through Barcelona's busy streets in a coat and a hat.

The weather's not ideal but I won't be undergoing much hardship today (apart from an ice-cream headache). I won't be trekking through deserts or dragging heavy crosses or prostrating myself on the banks of the Ganges.

Instead I'll be riding in a heated train carriage as it wends its way north to Girona.


This is not just any ice-cream I'm chasing. I'm not normally a dessert fanatic but this is stuff that's worth making a pilgrimage for, worth taking the time to seek out. At least, I hope it is.

As the train pulls into Girona station it almost seems too early to find out. I need to stretch this experience out, to savour the anticipation, so I set off on a walk around town, over rivers and down winding streets, past churches and Roman ruins.

You could come to Girona purely for these sights and you wouldn't have wasted your day. Except you would have. Because you wouldn't have been to Rocambolesc.

The fabled shop and object of my pilgrimage is set on the modern side of the river, away from the ruins and the churches, a place that calls clothing stores and small bars its neighbours.

There are no other pilgrims outside today, just a lady with a dog that's marking its territory. I almost feel silly - would anyone else journey so far for ice-cream?

A traveller's pilgrimage, however, is a personal one. It doesn't have to be religious - the idea is simply to set out on a journey to experience something great in its original setting.

Spain is pilgrimage central for me. I've made the trip to San Sebastian to eat at a restaurant called Arzak. I've trekked out to the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona to see Lionel Messi play football. I've travelled to Granada to eat tapas. And I've come to Girona for ice-cream.

This shop, Rocambolesc, has pedigree. It's the brainchild of Jordi Roca, a dessert whizz who, as part of a trio of brothers, runs El Celler de Can Roca, a Girona eatery that was this year named the best restaurant in the world.

Better than Noma in Denmark. Better than the Fat Duck in England.

Jordi handles the sweets at the fine-dining establishment but the little icecream shop on the cobbled street in downtown Girona is his chance to have fun.

And it does look like fun. The interior of Rocambolesc is whimsy personified, a fantasy chocolate factory with red-and-white-striped pipes coming down from the ceiling, and giant soft-serve machines loaded with buttons and levers and dials that probably measure nothing more than Jordi's sense of humour. I half expect these contraptions to blow steam.

Today there's not a single customer in the shop, just an attendant behind the counter who smiles as I push through the door.

Rocambolesc serves six flavours of ice-cream a day, all of which are made at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant nearby and brought over by bicycle.

If you don't speak Spanish it will be difficult to figure out what's on offer but that's redundant today, because I've spied chocolate.

It's dutifully scooped into a cup and the attendant indicates the tubs of toppings I have to choose from: crackly bits of popping candy, chocolate chips, hunks of cookie dough, sprinkles. I wave my arm. "Todos," I say. Everything.

He piles it all on, finishes with a drizzle of oozy chocolate topping, and I'm sent out the door and onto the cobbled street.

My ice-cream looks incredible.

A woman walking past fixes her eyes on to it like a fighter plane achieving missile lock. She's so engrossed in my snack that she walks straight into a pole and bangs her knee. Chuckles all round.

I had been planning to go somewhere special to eat my pilgrimage-worthy ice-cream but this thing deserves to be eaten now. Right now.

The first bite is amazing, all of these competing chocolatey flavours blending together, from the ice-cream to the cookie dough to the warm topping to the little electric zaps of popping candy.

The next bite is equally as good. And the next. And the next. In fact, within a minute or two I realise I've devoured the whole thing. Oops.

My next pilgrimage, however, is only a short one: straight back into the shop.

The writer funded his own travel.