North Beach (Praia do Norte) in Nazaré, Portugal (Photo by Sona Schmidt-Harris)
World Famous for Surfing
It is better to be metaphorically swept away in Nazaré than literally. This now iconic Portuguese town on the Atlantic coast became world-famous when Garrett McNamara surfed a 24-meter (78.7 foot) wave in 2011. The subject of the HBO documentary 100-foot Wave, Nazaré has garnered even more fame.
Nazaré is one of the destinations in the Tudor Surf Contest held every year at various locations around the world between November 15th and March 31st. The Nazaré contest is not announced until 72 hours before the competition to ensure maximum waves and ideal conditions.
The dramatic cliffs of Nazaré (Photo by Sona Schmidt-Harris)
I went to Nazaré hoping to see the monster waves for which it is famous. The waves were certainly bigger than on most shores but not "monster" size. I discovered that “monster” waves only appear two or three times a month during the winter. However, on this February day the sky was blue, the beaches nearly empty, and shades of azure and green spread before me more spectacularly than I ever expected.
I got to see some surfers practicing. The cliffs and shore are so perilous that surfers must be picked up by jet skis. The brave adventurers dotted the undulating waves as they anticipated the big ones.
Nazaré surfers practicing near the North Shore, (Praia do Norte) (Video by Sona Schmidt-Harris)
While the waves were high, it did not appear that someone was bound to die; however, appearances were deceiving. Just one month prior, the first surfer was killed at Nazaré—a Brazilian woman--a tragic reminder of its awesome power.
Consider Touring Nazare in February
One of the advantages of taking a tour in February is the greatly reduced tourist numbers. It was only me, the guide Nuno, and a Canadian couple—Morris and Debbie—both retired and wonderful travel companions.
When we arrived in Nazaré, we first gazed at South Beach (Praia do Sul), which I learned was the least tumultuous beach. Blue skies, blue ocean, white froth, and a curved shoreline were nearly desolate of people.
Praia do Sul (South Beach) in Nazaré, Portugal (Photo by Sona Schmidt-Harris)
Despite South Beach being gentler, many sailors died there upon approach—it was very difficult from the open sea. Nazaré is still a fishing town, so a harbor was created to allow ships a better voyage to the waterfront.
An Homage to Portuguese Wine
It was time to stop for lunch. We ate atop a cliff overlooking the town and part of South Beach. Debbie and I had the sea bass which was mild and wonderfully done. A warning to Americans, however; the Portuguese often do not debone their fish. You kind of have to figure it out as you eat.
Portuguese wine - refined, distinctive, and affordable (Photo by Sona Schmidt-Harris)
The sun warmed the patio—I even got a weak tan above my socks. Our table was a colorful homage to Portuguese wine—I with vinho verde (green wine) grown in the Douro Valley, Debbie with vinho branco (white wine), and Morris with vinho tinto (red wine).
We took our sweet time at lunch and savored both the food and conversation before meeting in the main square with Nuno.
The North Beach (Praia do Norte)
We walked in the winter sun down a hill straddling North and South beaches. Along the way were merchants selling t-shirts from trailers, outdoor places for beer, and an ethereal type playing out-of-this world music trying to sell his art.
We soon came to the archway/sign, “TUDOR – NAZARÉ / Tow Surfing Challenge / Portugal 2022-2023.”
It was sort of like a no-man’s land walking down the hill—like come at your own risk either to be dazzled by beauty or dashed by waves. At the base of the hill, was the famous Fort de São Miguel Arcanjo, where most photos of the monster waves are taken. It cost two euros to enter, and I suppose I could have paid the fee, but the North Beach beckoned with its rhythmic, gorgeous waves, and magnetic auditory glory. I wandered closer to the beach.
We stood for a long time watching the waves—not in silence—but with repeated oohs and ahhs, and heightened contentment that the three of us had been so “smart” to take this tour.
When we came to the Tudor / Nazaré sign, it was sort of like a no-man’s land walking down the hill—like come at your own risk either to be dazzled by beauty or dashed by waves (Photo by Sona Schmidt-Harris)
A Place of Pilgrimage
Before the reported miracles of Fatima, Nazaré was the most important pilgrimage destination in Portugal.
The story purports that in 1182 Dom Fuas Roupinho was hunting a deer when he came upon the edge of a perilous cliff in the fog. He prayed to the Virgin Mary that he would not fall over the cliff. The horse stopped right on the precipice. The location became known as the Bico do Milagre (Point of the Miracle). Reportedly, underneath the cliff where this vision occurred, someone found a statue of Mary that had been placed there long ago; this was considered proof that Mary did indeed appear and assist Dom Fuas.
To honor the apparition, a small chapel was constructed where the vision occurred.
Inside the chapel commemorating Bico do Milagre (Point of the Miracle) (Photo by Sona Schmidt-Harris)
Chapel commemorating Bico do Milagre (Point of the Miracle) (Photo by Sona Schmidt-Harris)
Vasco da Gama
Overlooking the sweeping view of South Beach next to the chapel, is a monument where it is said Vasco da Gama prayed and invoked God for help before sailing for India. It is easy to see why he would choose such a place to invoke divine intervention—a reported miracle, a rough sea, and a grand heaven and earth below for inspiration and blessing. It must have been quite a moment.
Monument to Vasco da Gama (Photo by Sona Schmidt-Harris)
Whether you’re seeking the miracle of monster waves, surfers brave enough to navigate them, breathtaking views, a reported vision, or the place where a world-famous explorer knelt for divine intervention, Nazaré offers this and more.
The miracles never cease.
The town has a sense of humor and combined the deer from the legend of Bico do Milagre (Point of the Miracle) with a surfer in this whimsical statue on the pathway to North Beach (Praia do Norte).