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See the big waves in Nazare
Nazare was put on the map most famously in 2011 when Garrett McNamara surfed a 30m (100ft) wave and broke the world record. Ever since then the sleepy beach town grew in tourism as curiosity seekers came to see the big waves at the Praia do Norte. (North Beach)
Nazaré (pronounced Nuh-zehr) is a 2-hour drive north of Lisbon situated along the Costa de Prata (Silver Coast). The big waves happen in the winter, usually January or February when it’s cold jacket-wearing weather. I was there in April 2022. It was sunny but the temperature was cool in the 60s like typical spring beach weather.
What else can you see in Nazaré?
My bus tour arrived on the Sítio headland. This section of land juts out high above the beautiful curved coastline of Nazare, is breathtaking. The rocky cliff juxtaposed with the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean makes for stunning views. You can see the entire town of Nazare with the clay red tiled roofs spanning the beachfront below.
Up on the Sitio is the Chapel of Our Lady of Nazaré, a shrine dedicated to saving the life of a Knight in 1182. Legend has it that this Knight was hunting a deer in dense fog. As he chased the deer it ran over the steep rocky cliff falling to its death. The Knight’s horse reared up as a spectre of the Nossa Senhora da Nazare suddenly appeared, preventing the Knight and his horse from reaching the same fate as the deer. The chapel houses a small, black wooden statue, commonly known as the Black Madonna.
The Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo (St. Michael the Archangel)
At the tip of the headland, sits the Farol Lighthouse and Fort now turned into a Surf Museum. It’s about a 15-minute walk from the chapel down a dirt road to where the surf contests are held. On the way, I spied this bizarre 20 ft. statue with a deer head on a human body holding a surfboard. A couple of Portuguese artists collaborated to create this artwork named Veado to honor the legendary surfers inspired by the legend of the knight.
Walking back up the hill, you can also make a stop for snacks as sold by the local Portugese women adorned in traditional costume of multi-layered petticoat skirts. You can also ride the Ascensor da Nazaré (Funicular) down to the beach town below. Since I was on a bus tour, I didn’t get that chance but aim to come back someday and try it.
Main beach, Praia da Nazaré
The big bus navigated the narrow winding streets down to the main part of Nazare so that we could stop and have lunch. To me, it was reminiscent of a tourist beach town, in some ways similar to Huntington Beach, California where I once lived. Traditional Portuguese fishing boats are stacked neatly on this wide, clean beach ready for when fishing season comes.
I made a casual stroll along the sidewalk promenade to see the shops, cafes, and restaurants stopping to have a portuguese sandwich. It wasn’t too busy as I sat gazing at the waves in the distance. I imagine it gets very crowded in summertime. A great beach for both locals and tourists alike.
Great location, beaches, food, weather, and legends
I was only in Nazare for a few hours but got this glimpse of what it could be like to stay here longer. There are many Airbnbs and hotels in the area. Nazare is just one of many coastal beach towns with a surf community. But it’s the only one that gets the huge waves due to the deep sea canyon that lies just off the coast of Nazare.
We left on our way to the next nearby historical town of Batalha. Fatima is also nearby but further inland from Nazare. Both share the same micro-climate. Cool and breezy and sunny with fluffy white clouds. Maybe that has something to do with why there are so many celestial apparitions that appear to humans in this region of Portugal. Even if you don’t see anything in the sky, you can always find waves at Nazare.