The largest resort in Istria - and, indeed, in Croatia – POREČ of those places that have been irredeemably spoiled by mass tourism - impossible to avoid. There's a huge influx of tourists here every su pying a total, it's claimed, of 35,000 beds in the town and around - a figure when you consider that Porečs true population is just 3000. hotels are mainly concentrated outside the town, in vast tourist settle Playa Laguna and Zelena Laguna to the south, and Pica] to the north, town's central core of stone houses and mazey side streets - now ove ice-cream parlours and tacky souvenir shops - doesn't offer much

the hordes. If Poreč is no longer the characterful Mediterranean town still expecting, however, it has a couple of points in its favour: the to Basilica of Euphrasius provides the town with at least one must-see tion, and its tourist facilities and transport links make it a convenient base which to visit the rest of the Istrian peninsula.

 

The Town and around

PoreCs star turn is the Basilica of Euphrasius (Eufrazijeva basilika; daily 7am-8pm), situated in the centre of the town just off Ljubljanska. This sixth-century Byzantine basilica has incandescent mosaics that are comparable with the celebrated examples at Ravenna, and is actually the centre of a religious complex, originally created by Bishop Euphrasius between 535 and 550, which includes a bishop's palace, atrium, baptistry and campanile. Entry is through the Atrium, an arcaded courtyard whose walls incorporate ancient bits of masonry, although it was heavily restored in the last century. On the west side of the atrium is the octagonal Baptistry (Baptisterijum), bare inside save for the entrance to the campanile, which you can ascend (daily 10am-6.30pm) for views of PoreCs red-brown roof tiles. On the north side is the Bishop's Palace (daily 10am-6.30pm), a seventeenth-century building harbouring a further – if less captivating – selection of mosaic fragments which once adorned the basilica floor.

The basilica itself was the last of a series of churches, the remains of which are still in evidence. Surviving stonework from the first, the Oratory of St Maur (named after the saint who is said to have lived in a house on the site), can be seen on the north side of the basilica. This was a secret place of worship when Christianity was still an underground religion, and fragments of mosaic show the sign of the fish, a clandestine Christian symbol of the time. Inside the basilica, the mosaic floor of a later, less secretive church has been carefully revealed through gaps in the existing basilica floor.The present-day basilica is a rather bare structure, everything focusing on the apse with its superb late thirteenth-century ciborium and, behind this, the mosaics, which have a Byzantine solemnity quite different from the geometric late Roman designs. They're studded with semi-precious gems, encrusted with mother-of-pearl and punctuated throughout by Euphrasius' personal monogram – he was, it's said, a notoriously vain man. The central part of the composition shows the Virgin enthroned with Child, flanked by St Maur, a worldly-looking Euphrasius holding a model of his church and, next to him, his brother. Underneath are scenes of the Annunciation and Visitation, the latter surprisingly realistic, with the imaginative addition of a doltish, eavesdropping servant.

 

The rest of the town

After you've seen the basilica, the rest of Porec can seem rather a let down, though it's a pleasant enough place to stroll around, with a handful of buildings to aim for, many of them spread along Dekumanska. At its eastern end stands a Venetian tower from 1448, now used as a venue for art exhibitions. Not far from the basilica at Dekumanska 9, the District Museum (Zavicajni muzej; summer daily 10am–noon & 6-10pm; winter Mon–Fri 10am–noon & 4-6pm), housed in the Baroque Siničić Palace, displays archeological finds (mainly Greek and Roman) from the surrounding area, including various Roman tombstones, one of which depicts a patrician standing at the base of an olive tree – local olives were famed throughout Italy during antiquity. Upstairs, rooms are decorated with portraits of the family of Rinaldi Carli –Venetian ambassador to Constantinople in the late 1600s – dressed in Ottoman garb. Walk south towards the end of the peninsula and you'll find the distinctive thirteenth-century building with an unusual projecting wooden balcony known as the Romanesque House (Romanička kuća) – it's now another venue for art shows (mid–June to mid–Sept: daily l0am–noon & 6-10pm). Just beyond here, Trg Marafor occupies the site of the Roman forum and still preserves remains of temples to Mars and Neptune. Little is known about these, and they're now not much more than heaps of rubble.

The beaches around the old town, such as they are, are generally crowded and unpleasant, and it's better to take a boat from the harbour (daily 7arn-1 1 pm; every 30min) to the island of Sveti Nikola, though this too gets busy with sunbathers from its pricey hotel. Alternatively, staying on the mainland, walk south beyond the marina, where pathways head along a rocky coastline shaded by gnarled pines to reach several rocky coves; you'll eventually end up at Zelena Laguna, where there are concreted bathing areas.

 

The Baredine Cave

One of the most popular excursions from Poreč is to the Baredine Cave Uama Baredine; daily: Jul-Aug 9.30am-7pm; May, June & Sept 10am-5pm; April & Oct 10am-4pm), a-series of limestone caverns 7km northeast of town just off the road to Vignjan - it's well signed if you're driving. During a 45-minute tour, guides will lead you through five exquisite chambers of dangling stalagtites and limestone curtains, and will also delight in telling you the legend of thirteenth-century lovers Gabriel and Milka, who got lost down here and died looking for each other.You'll probably also get to see a couple of captive specimens of the Proteus anguineus, a kind of salamander which is indigenous to the karst caves of Croatia and Slovenia, and looks like a pale-bodied worm with legs.


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