Nazaré has grown in me over time. Living about an hour from this fishing village, it’s not uncommon to return there, especially when the winter swells arrive and, with them, the big wave surfers.
But Nazaré is much more than its waves. It is tradition, it is the soul of the sea.
When the initiative #EuFicoEmPortugal (#IStayInPortugal), from ABVP – Portuguese Travel Bloggers Association, appeared and invited me to discover some of the most unique places in the country, I hurried to add Nazaré to the list. But I didn’t stop there. After all, the coastline of the Center of Portugal is one of the most beautiful areas of the Portuguese territory, and there’s still so much to show and explore.
To the land known for the women in the seven skirts, I added São Martinho do Porto and Foz do Arelho, and it’s through all these places that we will travel on this itinerary.
The Beaches and Nazaré
– Légua Beach
– Vale Furado Beach
– Paredes de Vitória Beach
– Polvoeira Beach
– Água de Madeiros Beach
– North Beach
– Sítio da Nazaré
– São Miguel Arcanjo Fort
– Nazaré Beach
From Pederneira to Lagoa de Óbidos
– São Martinho do Porto
– Foz do Arelho’s walkways
– Foz do Arelho Beach
– Lagoa de Óbidos
Everything you can see and do in Nazaré and surroundings
Day 1 – Morning : The beaches
Anyone who knows me knows that the beaches and the sea have a special spot in my heart. So it’s not surprising that my weekend in the Nazaré area started very early on the surrounding beaches.
I didn’t want to limit myself to Praia do Norte (North Beach), now internationally famous (see Box below), but go up a little bit on the map to show you some of the region’s pearls.
Along the coast, towards São Pedro de Moel, some beaches are surprising for their length and calm. Even on hot, midsummer days, it’s always possible to spread the towel and enjoy great tranquility. Not to mention that they have some of the best waves in the West region for surfing and bodyboarding.
From Légua beach, with its green slope and a fisherman’s paradise, to Vale Furado beach, next to a high cliff that challenges the tireless to descend to the sand. I had never been to either one, and they were beautiful surprises.
But my favorites are the beaches of Paredes de Vitória, Polvoeira and Água de Madeiros.
Paredes de Vitória beach is one of the most visited. The sand stretches as far as the eye can see, so social distance can easily be achieved here.
Then comes Polvoeira beach, and my suggestion is that you follow the wooden walkways that run along the top of the cliffs from Paredes de Vitória to Polvoeira. It’s so pleasant!
Arriving at Polvoeira, you’ll see a beautiful bay surrounded by vegetation, and on the right side of the beach, the sea is almost always calmer and allows you to go swimming.
Did you know that…
…the rock at the far left of Polvoeira beach is known among surfers as the “lion’s head”?
Finally, Água de Madeiros. It was here that I spent most of my beach time this weekend, just like several surfers and fishermen who didn’t budge the time I was there!
The entrance to the beach is lovely, as it receives visitors with a stream that flows into it and a series of rock formations. Then, turn right and enjoy the vast seashore that extends to São Pedro de Moel.
In the past, this was a small village full of holiday homes, but now it seemed more deserted. I came across only two residents who soon got into conversation.“What are you doing there?” I asked one of them that was leaning over a stove. “Lunch! I’m grilling quails! Do you want to join us?” That reminded me that it was lunchtime.
Praia do Norte (North Beach)
I left the visit to Praia do Norte for last because it almost needs no introduction. After all, it was here that the Guinness world record for the biggest wave ever surfed.
The feat first fell to Garrett McNamara, in 2012, with a wave of 23 meters. This mark was surpassed in 2017, by Rodrigo Koxa, who surfed a wave of more than 24 meters in this same place.
But what makes Praia do Norte so favorable to this phenomenon? The so-called “Nazaré Canyon,” a fault in the continental plate about 170 km long and 5 km deep, which channels the Atlantic swells straight to this beach. It’s a rare geomorphological phenomenon, the largest in Europe and one of the world’s biggest.
Despite this and even if you are not a fan of this type of sport, Praia do Norte is still an excellent option for sunbathing in a very peaceful environment.
Day 1 – Afternoon : Nazaré
The afternoon was entirely dedicated to Nazaré. And there’s so much to see in this village!
Starting with Sítio, of course. This is one of the most tourist spots in the area, with many monuments and stories to learn.
I started by visiting the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré. So many times that I have been to Sítio and never had the opportunity to enter it. This time I wouldn’t miss it! And I’m glad I went in because the church is stunning.
From the gilt carving to the various altars, passing through tile work. I didn’t know where to look, such was the beauty of this place.
The Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, dating from the end of the 16th century, was once a relevant place for Catholic pilgrimage. Today its doors are open to all who want to visit it.
Leaving the sanctuary and passing through the centenary bandstand, I arrived at the Ermida da Memória. This small chapel was built here by D. Fuas Roupinho, in 1182, after the “miracle of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré.”
Unfortunately, of all the times I was here, the chapel was closed. But it’s said that its interior is covered with tiles from the 19th century. However, even from the outside, there are several details that you can find, such as the tile panel representing the royal shield over the door entrance.
Next to the Ermida da Memória and the Cruzeiro is the Suberco Viewpoint from where it’s possible to have an unbelievable view over the whole of Nazaré. Unmissable!
The Legend of Our Lady of Nazareth
D. Fuas Roupinho, mayor of the Porto de Mós castle, on a foggy morning in 1182, was chasing a deer on horseback when he was surprised by the abyss of the Sítio da Nazaré promontory. On the verge of a fatal fall, D. Fuas shouted, “Our Lady, save me!”… and then the miracle occurred. The horse stopped at the edge of the hill, thus avoiding certain death. It’s said that there is still the mark of the D. Fuas horse’s hoof engraved on the stone.
From the Ermida da Memória to the Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo, it’s about 15 minutes on foot. It’s one of the local ex-libris, mainly due to the fame of North beach’s giant waves. As it has become one of the favorite places for visitors, it’s only accessible on foot.
Because I visited Nazaré in the afternoon, the place was packed with people, and I didn’t go there since I knew it from other adventures. But if you’ve never been to Nazaré, I recommend the visit.
The São Miguel Arcanjo Fort, built in the 19th century, survived the French Invasions and Liberal Fights. Today it’s one of the main elements of guidance for men who go to the sea and has become the Interpretative Center of the Nazaré Canyon, with a Surfer Wall and several temporary exhibitions.
From the top of Nazaré, I decided to go down to the village center next to the beach. I could have used the lift, which travels every 15 minutes between the upper and lower areas of the village. However, I decided to walk, as there’s an access that takes us down there.
This path allowed me to have another view of the community, through the typical streets and crossing with the locals.
The curious thing about the people of Nazaré is that, although they appear tough, they are super friendly and helpful. I asked a Nazarene to tell me if he knew a shop that I was said to have the best crepes in the area, and he went out of his way to personally accompany me to the door of the establishment. Not many people have this attitude nowadays.
Near the beach, I walked to the front of the cultural center (old fish auction house) to find on the beach an exhibition of the people and traditions of Nazaré.
There are some old boats and their stories, as well as the “paneiros,” used for the drying of the fish. You can also see some stalls and women dressed in the traditional costume of the seven skirts selling that fish.
The story of the 7 skirts
The origin and explanation of the seven skirts worn by Nazarene women are not conclusive, and there are several theses.
“The people say that they represent the seven virtues; the seven days of the week; the seven colors of the rainbow; the seven waves of the sea, among other biblical, mythical and magical attributions involving the number seven. (…) However, at one point, everyone seems to agree: the various skirts (seven or not) of the woman from Nazaré are always related to sea life.
There was a habit for Nazarenes to wait for their husbands and children to return from fishing on the beach, sitting on the sand, spending many hours there watching. They used the various skirts to cover themselves, the top ones to protect the head and shoulders from the cold and the salt air and the rest to cover the legs, thus being always ‘composed'”, can be read on the website of the Municipality of Nazaré.
Nazaré is, in fact, a town rich in history and experiences and, I confess, maybe just one afternoon was not enough to enjoy this land.
But with the day ending, it was time to go and rest my feet and get ready for the next day.
The discoveries of São Martinho do Porto and Foz do Arelho
Day 2 – Morning : Pederneira and São Martinho do Porto
Before leaving Nazaré and because I hadn’t been able to do it the day before, I didn’t want to go without seeing Pederneira. This was my first time here!
I didn’t know anything about Pederneira until I started researching for this trip. A 10-minute drive from Sítio da Nazaré, the town once became one of the most populous in the region. Mainly because, in past times, the sea reached that hill. With the drop in water level and the descent of fishermen to the lower areas, which gave rise to Nazaré as we know it today, Pederneira seems to have been forgotten.
Today, we can see the old council hall, next to the main town church, and the Misericórdia Church, which is next to a fantastic viewpoint from which I had a completely different perspective of the village Nazaré.
With this visit to Pederneira, I said goodbye to the land of the women in the seven skirts and traveled to another great seaside resort in the Center of Portugal: São Martinho do Porto.
As I have seen it called, the “Seashell of the West” takes the best advantage of geography. The village grew up around a bay, in the shape of a shell, of course, which becomes the perfect place to go swimming, with its extensive sand and calm waters.
São Martinho do Porto’s beach is what attracts the vast majority of visitors, but if there was one thing this trip showed me, it’s that around the obvious are some notable discoveries.
I set my GPS to the São Martinho do Porto pier as it seemed like an ideal place to visit and even put my SUP (stand-up paddle) in the water. What I never imagined is that it would lead me to other exciting sites.The first is the Cruzeiro de São Martinho do Porto, which is at the top of the hill north of the beach and offers a spectacular view over the bay. Then I could see a trail leading to a small lighthouse, right at the edge of the hill. Challenge accepted! I took the entrance to that same dirt path, already on the descent to the pier, and went on foot to where the two ends of land don’t touch, which marks the opening that allows seawater to enter the bay. An unbelievable spectacle!
At the beginning of this trip, I thought I would have little to see and show from São Martinho do Porto since I believed it was just a beautiful beach. Still, this location in the Center of Portugal was really a surprise, and I hope to return soon to visit the other end of the bay. Who knows what secrets it keeps.
Day 2 – Afternoon : From Foz do Arelho to Lagoa de Óbidos
From São Martinho do Porto to the last destination of this tour: Foz do Arelho.
But before arriving at the village, I wanted to go to the walkways that exist there. Protecting the cliffs from the degradation made by the constant presence of cars and people, a set of wooden walkways and observation platforms were built in this location. They allow us to enjoy that natural space while preserving this fantastic environment.
This structure is not long, having only taken me about 30 minutes (round trip) to go through them, but the view from there, either to the sea or to Foz do Arelho beach is stunning.
That same beach was my next stop, but, I confess, I didn’t stay long. I suggest that you don’t make this visit on a sunny Sunday afternoon, as I did, because you will find Foz do Arelho full of people!
However, it is understandable. That beach is extensive and takes full advantage of two worlds: the sea and the calm waters of the Óbidos Lagoon.
It was to the Óbidos Lagoon that I “ran away” to enjoy the beautiful end of the day.
With a total area of approximately 7 km, it’s not difficult to find a quieter spot next to the lagoon if you move away from the area near the sea.
Either way, I promise to return to Foz do Arelho for a deeper and more peaceful visit to the village.
Visiting Nazaré and its beaches in-depth and discovering a São Martinho do Porto that I didn’t know were the ex-libris of this trip.
The region touches the wild, with its vast beaches, the rugged slopes and cliffs, the stories of the sea, and the strength of the waves and their people.
All in all, I will go back soon, and I hope that this itinerary, these tips, and curiosities, will sharpen your interest to pack your back and travel to these lands of the Center of Portugal.
What did you think of this plan? Have any questions? Do you already know this area well? Be sure to share your opinion in the comments box below.
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