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The town doesn’t contain the architectural treasures or grandiose monuments prevalent in other Portuguese towns, but it has an atmosphere of times gone by, contentment and traditions, which continue to thrive, which make it a special place to visit.
The wooden fishing boats still used today are very colourful and narrow with curved prows and beautifully decorated. On some prows you can still see a watchful eye painted – traditionally to detect the two most important things for a fisherman; shoals and storms.
Nazaré is split into three main districts – Praia (beach), Pederneira and Sitio. Located on a rocky promontory over 100m above the main part of the town, Sitio provides wonderful views over the bay and beach of Nazaré.
There is a funicular lift which facilitates travel from up on the cliffs (Sitio) down to Nazaré beach. In the main square in Sitio is a large church and small chapel clinging to the edge of the sheer drop, the Ermida da Memória, whose origins are closely connected to the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary.
The legend of Nazaré
One misty morning in 1182, a local nobleman Dom Fuas Roupinho was hunting on horseback. He was chasing a deer and he suddenly realised that he had in fact chased this deer to the very edge of the cliff. Just as he was about to fall to his death, he cried out to Our Lady of Nazaré who appeared before him and stopped his horse from falling off the cliff. In honour of this life-saving miracle, Roupinho ordered a chapel to be built. Over the years it has attracted many pilgrims and today visitors can still see the tale depicted in hand painted tiles and even the footprint of Roupinho’s horse engraved in a stone found in the crypt below the chapel.
Along the seafront of Nazaré main beach, you can still see fish drying in the sun and fishermen mending their boats and nets alongside sunbathing holidaymakers. Craft shops and cafes stretch the length of the seafront as well as restaurants serving a wide variety of food, including of course, locally caught fish. Caldeirada à Nazarena is a rich fish-based stew typical of the area, and fresh ingredients feature strongly on menus often offering the ‘catch of the day’.
Many of the women wear skirts with seven petticoats (one for each day of the week, for the seven colors of the rainbow, or…make up your own legend). While this tradition helps stoke the town's tourist trade, it's also just the way people live here.
In times gone by, women would sit on the beach waiting for their fishermen to sail home. To keep warm in the face of a cold sea wind while staying modestly covered, they'd wear several petticoats in order to fold layers around their backs and legs. Even today, older and more traditional women wear short skirts made bulky by several — but not seven — petticoats. The ensemble is completed with house slippers, an apron (embroidered by the wearer), a small woolen cape, headscarf, and flamboyant jewelry including chunky gold earrings (often passed down from generation to generation). It actually gives the town an exotic, time-passed feel.
From the cliff tops Sítio provides one of the most famous views of the Portuguese coast. It is a 318 metre rock face with a sheer drop to the sea. There are steps up to Sitio from the Praia or you can take the funicular.
At the top in the large open square, sits the Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré and the Ermida da Memória chapel, famous for the legend of the miracle that Our Lady made to prevent the horse of the nobleman, D. Fuas Roupinho, leaping over the precipice. True or not, the Suberco Belvedere shows the imprint left in the rock by one of the horse’s hooves that foggy morning in 1182.
Around and off the square there are plenty of restaurants, cafes and tourist shops to explore. From the main square in Sitio you can take the narrow road down to the Farol (Lighthouse) where all the films of the giant waves are taken from. There is a small museum inside the Farol well worth the €1 entrance fee. Views of both Praia do Norte and the main Praia and Nazaré town are spectacular as you make your way down the winding road to the Farol. During winter people travel from all over the world to experience the giant waves and watch the crazy surfers.
Mark and Pam left the UK in 2011 in a Land Rover defender with a roof tent... Looking for adventure! They ended up buying a farm and setting up an 'off grid' glamping site in Rural Portugal and then moved to Nazaré in 2017 where they renovated a house close to North Beach and now run a busy B&B click here to see Tipping Point Nazare