Nazaré – Portugal

One of the most popular seaside resorts in the Silver Coast/Costa de Prata in Portugal, Nazare has gotten a worldwide reputation for being a surfing Mecca. Tens of thousands of surfers from all over the world flock to the tiny seaside town every year, and it’s a sight to behold. The town is about 40% portuguese grandmothers in layers upon layers of petticoats and 60% sunburnt and tattooed worshippers at the shrine of Praia do Norte – the North Beach, a symbol of big wave surfing all over the world.

Surfing

Ok, yes, that’s what most people come here for, and for good reason.

In November 2011, Hawaii surfer Garrett McNamara surfed a world record-breaking wave: 78 feet (23.8 m), puttin Nazare firmly on the map. On the 17th of January 2018, Azorean surfer Hugo Vau claims to have surfed the most gigantic wave ever recorded in the history of Nazare – 115 feet or 35 m. The size has yet to be confirmed, but gasping onlookers seem to buy the claim, and it’s a pretty exciting hero story, so I like to think it’s true 🙂

Apparently the huge breaking waves are created by the underwater Nazaré Canyon. The canyon allows the waves that are incoming to “encourage” each other by constructive interference leading to truly monstrous outcomes closer to shore. Sadly, it’s not all far out surfing adventures and nature photography – in August 2012, an unexpected wave killed a 5 year old British girl and her grandfather that were just walking along Salgado Beach. The moral of the story is that nature is pretty but don’t fool yourself into thinking it plays nicely.

Where is it?

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See

We visited the town in November – apparently one of the best times to witness the epic beauty of the biggest swell in the world. Unfortunately we missed the record breaking waves by a week, but the swell was still impressive, with 10 foot waves and a permanent gaggle of surfers braving the cooling waters of the Atlantic.

One morning, we woke up to a beautiful, pillowy shroud of sea fog. It looked a bit like some post-apocalyptic scene from Blade Runner with the sun shining red through the mist. We had a few beers at our local tavern, the great but ambitiously named Sunset Boulevard, watching the comings and goings of beach life that included a lot of petticoats. The women in the village, traditionally the wives of fishermen, wear seven petticoats – or at least that’s what tradition dictates. The explanation for the seven petticoats are various, from seven virtues, to seven colours of the rainbow, and so on. The truth is probably more practical – more petticoats means that the women could stay warm while selling fish or waiting for their husbands to return, having to sit for hours in the blistering winds of the Atlantic. Nazare is also traditionally a highly devout catholic community, so modesty is prized and therefore, petticoats.

The fog lifted in the afternoon, but you could get above it by just walking up to the old town. The old town is perched on the top of a hill, with breathtaking views of the beaches and a refreshing independence from all that foggy action below. The square in the old centre is a hive of activity, with locals and tourists alike tanning and lounging outside the old cathedral building. Definitely a great place to relax with the added bonus of “getting the gram”.

Nazare is a place of stunning beauty, even in the absence of nature’s aquatic rage, and in November, it’s a balmy 17-23 degrees centigrade in the daytime (FYI – it gets arctic at night, though, so pack LAYERS).  

Eat

It’s a no brainer – eat seafood.

We found the charcoal grilled whole fish to be melt-in-your-mouth fantastic. You can’t really go wrong with fish in a place like Nazare and we didn’t stray from this golden rule too much. One exception is the ubiquitous Pastel de Nata – custard pie. It’s made from flakey filo pastry shells with a caramel soft custard centre. You can get them in any coffee shop and they’re the perfectly indulgent food to fuel all the wandering and awestruck gasping you’ll be doing in Nazare.

Here are a couple of places that knocked our socks off:

  • Taberna d’Adelia was recommended by a few locals, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s definitely more swanky than your corner fish’n’chips joint, but it’s well worth it to have an amazing meal with fish that was still wriggling around in a net just hours earlier.
  • Another great place for fish, at a bit of a lower price point is A Tasquinha. This is a cosy little place, with great staff and a house Vinho Verde that will make finding your AirBnb through the little side streets the adventure of a lifetime.
  • For a relaxing beer and amazingly friendly and helpful staff go to Sunset Boulevard. It’s a down to earth little sports bar with a covered outdoor area and great views. My recommendation is just lounging outside, having a beer and an existential chat listening to nature’s most majestic white noise machine – the Atlantic ocean.

Sleep

We stayed in a small Airbnb house which was just off the seafront. It was a traditional, narrow three story house with a staircase and a room on each floor. The bottom room was a small kitchen, the middle, a little lounge and the top was the bedroom. The challenge with narrow houses is usually narrow plumbing, so flush your heart out to keep the sewer fume demons at bay. Overall, the house was beautiful, but in all honesty, all you need is a comfortable place to sleep, as you probably won’t spend much time there anyway. Staring at nature, trying not to die surfing and taking 6000 photos of seagulls are more important.

There are tonnes of options for accommodation. You’ll find some sweet deals off season, but the main season is still affordable – have a peek at the booking options below.

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