Nazaré: How this Portuguese city became a surfer's dream
A wall of water 30 metres high looms against the horizon. A daunting day and wild forces of nature await.
But that's exactly what Garrett McNamara has been waiting for his whole life. The surfing legend comes out of the monster wave, at tremendous speed ...
... putting Nazaré on the map around the world.
American surfer Garrett McNamara rode the giant 30-metre wave in Praia do Norte back in 2013. By comparison, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is 26 metres high, and the Lincoln Monument in Washington towers 30 metres above the ground.
Garrett came out of this monster wave by the now famous coastal city in Portugal with precision and control. The wild stunt not only drew attention to the surfing legend himself, but also created a great deal of curiosity about the picturesque town of Nazaré.
Today, the small fishing village is as much of a favourite vacation spot for extreme surfers from around the world as for tourists who want to experience colourful boats, vibrant markets, fresh seafood, and majestic scenery.
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Surfing the world's biggest wave
In the documentary series, we follow big wave surfer Garrett McNamara's journey from his native Hawaii to Nazaré, with the goal of surfing a 100-foot wave. But the trip was about more than just taming wild waves, and we see how he brings his family and gets an entire coastal town engaged in his passion and goals.
From being a relatively quiet city, with just 15,000 inhabitants, Garrett has made Nazaré a destination for extreme sports enthusiasts, and an attraction for spectators who want to see the incredible surfing talents in action.
Why Nazaré has wild waves
But we have to start with why the coastal strip off Nazaré creates these giant waves. There is a geological phenomenon there whereby an underwater gorge and underwater channels collect and amplify the energy from the ocean, which produces an explosion of powerful waves. It's certainly not for beginners.
"Nazaré Canyon is an exciting phenomenon with an extreme depth of 5,000 metres and an extension of 230 kilometres. This is the reason for the incredible waves that attract the best surfers from all over the world," Marli Monteiro, general manager of Turismo de Portugal, told Picolo.com.
Surfing Nazaré Canyon is not for just anyone. As Garrett shows in the HBO Max series, it takes extensive experience and meticulous preparation in terms of the tides and weather conditions to test yourself in the big waves. In addition to being completely dependent on safety preparedness. A whole team of professional surfers, jet skiers, and rescue crews are typically on hand to ensure the safety of those surfing the big waves at Nazaré Canyon.
But if you're not as brave as the world's best surfers.... What should you do in Nazaré? There's actually quite a lot to do - both for families, activity-seekers, and couples. Turismo de Portugal's Marli guides Picolo.com through the city.
Here are the top seven things to do in Nazaré:
1. Pedra do Guilhim
Pedra do Guilhim is the name of the rock formations that rise out of the sea just outside the centre of Nazaré. It's a famous landmark and the site of a lighthouse. This is also where all the action happens in Nazaré... If you've seen the TV series featuring Garrett, you recognize the clip where all the photographers and security people stand with headphones and look out over the ocean and the giant waves.
This is where you go to spot surfers and experience the forces of nature up close.
Another place for views and nature experiences is Sítio, where the toughest come on foot and those who don't feel like the hike come by funicular.
"The Nazaré Funicular connects the beach with Sítio, which is a majestic headland where you have a fantastic view of Nazaré and the Atlantic Ocean. Locals use the funicular as urban transport, and it is also very popular with tourists. About 1 million passengers take it annually," says Marli.
Sítio is a place where you can experience authentic Portuguese culture, enjoy the beautiful surroundings, and immerse yourself in the city's rich history. Here, you'll also see the Ermida da Memória Chapel, dedicated to "Our Lady of Nazaré", symbolising the city's faith. The chapel is a popular pilgrimage site for visitors seeking spiritual reflection – as well as those who wish to enjoy breath-taking views of Nazaré Bay.
You can't visit Nazaré without making time for its beaches, whether it's for sunbathing or surfing – and it's perfect for beginners, families, and the experienced alike. The most famous beach is Praia do Norte and it was here that Garrett defeated the monster 30-metre-high wave. The beach is therefore for experienced surfers, since the waves in Praia do Norte are known to be extremely powerful. Praia da Vila is a charming beach located in the centre of town and is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Here you enjoy the sun, swim and do beach activities.
If you're looking for peace and quiet, head to Praia do Sul, south of the city. An idyllic beach where you can swim in the crystal clear Atlantic Ocean.
4. The market in Nazaré
The market of Nazaré is located in the centre of the city by the street Avenida Vieira Guimarães, close to the historic district and Praia da Nazaré.
Prepare all your senses, as you can smell fresh fish, vegetables, fruit, and delicious cheeses here. You can also shop for handicrafts, clothes, and souvenirs.
Nazaré has a long tradition of dried fish, and the most common stockfish you'll find are horse mackerel, spiny dogfish, octopus, and sardines. If you want to experience authentic culture, where the fishmongers dry and sell the fish, head south of the beach in the city centre, where you will find Estindarte – which is the name of the rack used to dry the fish.
When you are in Nazaré, you should of course eat shellfish and seafood - you will find a wide selection of restaurants for every taste and budget in the city, as well as traditional Portuguese dishes and international culinary experiences. Not to mention cafés!
6. Nazaré Surfer Wall
You can't escape the feeling of being in a surf town in Nazaré. Regardless of whether you're in the waves or not, you should check out the Nazaré Surfer Wall at Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo. The fortress was built in the 1500s and has historically protected the city from pirates and attacks from the sea.
Today, the building is known from the HBO Max series 100 Foot Wave and is used as a vantage point for watching surfers. The Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo also serves as a museum. In addition, you can find a surf wall with artwork, photography, and surfboards used by famous surfers. Surfer Wall features boards from Pedro Scooby, Sebastian Steudtner, Garrett McNamara, Maya Gabeira, Andrew Cotton, Carlos Burle, and Mike Stewart, among others.
7. Miradouro do Suberco lookout point
Cliffs plunge into the sea while waves crash against the coast. If you're going to take a selfie, this is the place to go, with spectacular views at an altitude of 110 metres. Here, you can look out across the mighty Atlantic coast and all of delightful, picturesque Nazaré.
Book your flight, find a hotel here, pack your sunscreen, and get ready for saltwater hair!
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