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Nazaré is a town ripe with fishing traditions and animated by mammoth waves


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On Centro de Portugal’s Atlantic coast rests the colourful fishing town Nazaré, less than two hours north of Portugal’s capital Lisbon and only a stone’s throw from surfing hotspots such as Peniche and Santa Cruz.

History and tradition is woven into the fabrics of the town which holds an exclusive appeal as a home away from home, ripe with ancestral fishing traditions, enchanting legends, and, most impressively, stage to the ocean’s most monumental performance, mammoth 80-foot waves.

Nazaré is home to 15,000 people who endeavour to keep the town’s traditions alive. While navigating the town’s steep, cobbled streets, it is not unusual to encounter locals going about their daily chores in traditional rainbow-coloured skirts complete with seven petticoats. The costume derives from times when the town’s women would dress in several layers, folded over their heads, backs and legs, to protect themselves from the cold while awaiting the arrival of the fishermen.

Further towards the ocean, the Praia neighbourhood, once fully submerged, is now the bedrock for local fish sellers who lay carapau (horse mackerel) and other locally caught fish to dry in the sun’s rays.

A signifier and celebration of local heritage, Nazaré’s so-called fish museum epitomizes Centro de Portugal’s exquisite gastronomy which, in addition to the dried fish, includes specialities such as “caldeiradas” or fish stews and shellfish.

In the Praia district, local fish-sellers lay out their daily catch to dry in the sun
Credit: Katie Treharne

Nowadays buzzing with holiday-goers from across the globe, enticed by “Naza”’s wild surf, great climate, and vibrant atmosphere, the town’s streets are filled with the murmur of coffee shops throughout the day, and, in the evenings, the rumble of the busy terraces.

The town’s funicular, once windowless but now equipped to transport luggage, pets, and the disabled, climbs the steep hill to the Sitio, the town’s highest point.

Nazaré’s funicular, a convenient mode of transport to the Sitio district
Credit: Katie Treharne

Overlooking the clay rooves and twinkling ocean, the Sitio district is home to Nazaré’s historical centre. Way above the townhouses and sandy beaches, a small 19th-century chapel is erected in commemoration of Our Lady of Nazaré’s mercy towards knight D. Faus Roupinho in the 12th century, whom she saved from tumbling to certain death from the cliff-edge whilst hunting in thick fog.

Further along the cliffs stands proudly the Fort of St. Miguel Arcanjo, built in 1577 by King Sebastian to protect the Portuguese coast from invasion by Algerian, Morrocan, Dutch and Norman pirates.

Nowadays, this historical military monument is busy with tourists, or in the winter, housed by teams who use the outpost to scour the sea for incoming swells and communicate with surfers braving Nazaré’s big waves.

The wave that put Nazaré on the map: On November 1st 2011 at the ZON North Canon Show, 44-year-old Garrett McNamara surfs a then record-breaking 78-feet wave

Every year, between late October and February, people from around the globe flock to Nazaré to witness professional surfers and thrill-seekers tackle Nazaré’s world-renowned mammoth waves.

On November 8th 2017, the Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Kôxa surfed a hair-raising 24,38-meter (7998.69 feet) wave, knocking Garrett McNamara out of the top spot in the Guinness World Records for the biggest wave surfed.

Nazaré’s record-breaking waves have a wow-factor that entices visitors to return year after year, and, now, the mechanics of the big waves are no longer a mystery.

The shaping process is underway in SPO Surfboards Factory which manufactures surfboards designed to wrestle with Nazaré’s big waves
Credit: Katie Treharne

Beneath the ocean, a huge underwater canyon measuring 5,000 meters deep and 230 kilometres long combines with the arrival of a strong swell to cause the gigantic waves. The abrupt difference in depth towards the shore creates a dramatic increase in the wave’s height, also encouraged by factors such as littoral draft and positive interference between the wave travelling from the canyon and the wave propagating across the northern continental shelf.

These factors combined produce the Nazaré effect.

Nazaré Sufer Wall, located in the Fort of St. Miguel Arcanjo
Credit: Katie Treharne

Those who conquer Nazaré’s big waves may donate their surfboard to the Nazaré Surfer Wall, a permanent exhibition created in 2016 by the City Hall to commemorate their achievement and celebrate the natural phenomenon which has placed Nazaré on the map, not only as a holiday destination and authentic fishing-town, but as a stage to the ocean’s most spectacular performance and candy to thrill-seeking surfing professionals.

Credit: Katie Treharne // Design by The National Student

Credits to Centro de Portugal Tourism Board – – and TAP Air Portugal. TAP Air Portugal flies directly from London City Airport, Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester to Lisbon up to 12 times a day. Prices start at £43 one way including all taxes and surcharges. For further information, visit or call 0345 601 0932.

Lead image - Credit: Katie Treharne

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