Colorful Nazaré is huddled on the western, Atlantic coast of Portugal, 60 miles (100 km) north of Lisbon in Estremadura. Essentially a traditional fishing village with wide, sandy beaches, the town leapt to universal attention when a world-record wave was surfed here in 2012.
A town of two halves, Nazaré’s harbor buzzes with action when the day’s catch comes in, once on highly decorative wooden boats but more often today on motorboats chugging against the tide. Fish are laid out to dry in the sun along the harbour walls, with market stalls run by women swathed in traditional headscarves and shawls. Rightly so, Nazaré’s bars and restaurants have an excellent reputation for fresh seafood served daily. Further north, brightly shaded cottages lean together along the beaches, which fill in summer with ranks of beach tents for hire by tourists.
Looming 360 feet (110 meters) above the golden beach is the cliff-top Promontório do Sítio, famed for its far-reaching sea views and its fertile farming land. Legend dictates among the local Portuguese that a statue of the Virgin Mary, brought back here from Nazareth—hence the name of Nazaré—in the fourth century, was finally found on the cliffs the 18th century. A funicular trundles up and down the cliffs for a visit to the soft stone, Baroque church of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré that commemorates finding the statue, as well as for sunset walks along the formidable clifftops.
Long a favorite Portuguese destination for water sports including wind surfing, kayaking, and dinghy sailing, in the last couple of years Nazaré has attracted a crowd of extreme surfers who use helicopters to tow-in on the massive waves formed over an underwater canyon just offshore. It was here on May 11, 2012, that Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara surfed his record-breaking wave; it was estimated at 78 feet (23.75 meters) from peak to trough. Nowadays you’re likely to bump into big names from the surfing world along Sítio’s windswept cliffs as they stare out to sea waiting for the next record-breaking set of waves. Awaiting confirmation is McNamara’s claim to have surfed an even bigger wave here in January 2013.
Contributed by Sasha Heseltine