The Estremadura town of Nazaré hugs the western Atlantic coast, a traditional Portuguese fishing village turned popular summer resort and surfer’s paradise. The long sweep of sandy beach is backed by a long esplanade and a cute white-washed, red-roofed town.
The protected harbor at the south end of Nazaré’s beach springs into life when the day’s catch comes in; fish such as lobster, sardines and mackerel are laid out to dry in the sun along the harbor walls and then sold from market stalls run by women swathed in the area’s traditional headscarves and seven layers of skirt. The waterfront bars and restaurants rightly have an excellent reputation for the spanking fresh seafood served daily; the fish stew caldeirada is a local specialty.
To the north of the coastal village, a funicular trundles 360 feet (110 m) up and down between the golden beach and the cliff-top Promontório do Sítio, famed for its far-reaching sea views and landmark shrines. Legend dictates that a statue of the Virgin Mary, brought back here from Nazareth in the fourth century, was found on the cliffs in the 18th century; the Baroque church of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré commemorates its re-discovery. Close by, the Ermida dá Memoria is crusted with sparkling blue azulejo tiles and celebrates a sighting of the Virgin Mary, whose timely appearance prevented a 12th-century aristocrat from riding his horse over the cliffs in thick fog.
Nazaré lept to international attention when Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara surfed a record-breaking wave on May 11, 2012; the height of the wave was estimated at 78 feet (23.75 m) from peak to trough. McNamara’s claim to have surfed an even bigger wave here in January 2013 is awaiting verification.