Sail into the sun 'n' sand
Uday K. Chakraborty
Repose in languorous joy and experience divine bliss at Porec. Its blue-green lagoons and balmy Mediterranean ambience combine with the region's ancient charm to revive and rejuvenate.
A view of St Nikola Island from the Marina.
Long before Christ, the Illyrian tribes chose the hills around Porec as their place of settlement. And it was not coincidence that more than 2,000 years ago, Roman soldiers built their fortified colony, Parentium, here. It was even less accidental that on the coast near Porec, beautiful villas were erected — the villa rustica described by the Roman historian Kasider as the `jewels of a young girl's diadem'. The villas housed the patricians, who led the life of gods, surrounded by sea, sun, wine and olives.
That's the divine bliss and repose you can enjoy in Porec and in the blue-and-green lagoons that exist even today. The only invaders are the high-heeled tourists from all over Europe. What attracts them is the heady combination of natural beauty, clean waters of the deep blue sea, lush greenery, wonderful Mediterranean climate and the historical ambience.
Porec is the jewel in the touristy crown of the Istrian Peninsula, which is one of the spectacularly endowed regions of the Croatian Adriatic. Porec ushered in organised tourism during the turn of the 19th century. First, came the duchesses and dukes of Austria and, later, the building of the Hotel Riviera in 1910 set off tourism in full earnest.
Roman urban character survives in this Mediterranean town, especially in the names of its main streets — Decumanus and Cardo Maximus. Roman churches and houses, medieval walls and round towers, and the Gothic and baroque houses are all witness to the growth of Porec through the centuries.
The old city of Porec is a tourist magnet, with its historical monuments and stone-paved streets dating back to the Roman era. The Euphrasian Basilica is an early Christian cathedral. But some of the other monuments date back by two millennia. The Decumanus forms the heart of Porec. This historic Roman street with cobblestones polished over centuries, is now a lively shopping area abounding in boutiques, galleries, cafes and restaurants.
Against the historical backdrop of the old town, tourists wander about, leisurely taking in the sights. The Decumanus and the romantic, Romanesque sidestreets are a restorer's delight.
Venetian palaces and ruins of temples to the Roman gods, Neptune and Mars, rub shoulders with the old city walls and the pentagonal and round towers; the Barco Sincic palace beckons with its museum of local history. With its mosaics of precious stones and mother-of-pearl, the Euphrasius Basilica from the Byzantine period is easily the grand highlight of the old town. UNESCO declared the basilica and parts of the old town as world cultural heritage sites in 1997. The basilica's bell tower affords a magnificent view of the old town and its harbour.
Ancient Decumanus is also a perfect promenade during summer. Even if you haven't planned anything, the place has no dearth of entertainment — jazz in the ancient stone collection garden or a classical music concert in the basilica, summer cocktails on the ancient Marafor Square; even the massive crowds that swarm by make a charming spectacle. At times, the street's the stage for summer performances. The old city carries with it a distinctive charm because everything about it is both modern and ancient.
The harbour promenade, the Riva, is ideal for a relaxing stroll. There is always something going on here; you can either revel in the everyday sight of fishermen bringing in their catch or watch yachts swaying peacefully in the spacious marina harbour.
The Riva is where the tourist boats embark on their exploration of the Istrian Adriatic, taking in the idyllic fishing villages and spectacular islands. Small ferries make regular crossings to the island of St Nikola, home to one of the oldest lighthouses of the Adriatic. There is also a neoclassical villa and several beach resorts facing the magnificent old city of Porec from across the sea.
The 35-km long Riviera's varied coastline — with its peninsulas, fishing villages and islands — makes a perfect holiday setting.
In the afternoons, the cafes fill up with people while the harbour promenade becomes a hive of activity in the evenings. Here restaurants dish out local delicacies to go with the famous Malvazia white wine; artists and entertainers fascinate their audiences and you are certain to find the perfect souvenir at one of the many quaint market stalls.
While in Porec, don't miss out on the beauty of inland Istria, which abounds in small towns and medieval castles. This is a world where there are no roads — you either walk or ride a bike to your destination.
No less amazing is the Porec underworld, which comes to life in the Berendin Cave rich in stalactites and stalagmites.
But no matter where you go, you always return to the bay area to watch the sun gradually set against the backdrop of the panoramic sea and the old city.
How to get there: The nearest international airports are Zagreb, Vienna and Milan. One could also cross the Adriatic from Venice by fast ship and reach Porec in two hours. The nearest Euro rail station is Pula.
Visa regulations: If you already have a Schenegen visa, you can get your visa in a day's time. Otherwise it takes a little longer.
Where to stay: There are both high-end and budget hotels.
When to visit: The best period is during April, May, September and October. Avoid peak season during June and August.