Holy surf and other must-see attractions

You may have heard of Nazaré before, particularly if you happen to be a surf fan traveling to Portugal: it was in that area, more specifically at Praia do Norte, that Garrett McNamara broke the world record of the biggest wave ever surfed (30 meters), turning Nazaré into a mythical place for every aspiring big-waves surfer. However, even if you don’t partake in the enthusiasm surrounding this popular sport, the village of Nazaré is still one of the must-see places in Portugal. Read on and discover how this seaside and sheltered village has been a place of notoriety throughout the centuries and why you should include it in your travel package to Portugal.

About a 1.5 hours drive north of Lisbon, Nazaré has been part of Portugal’s religious history since 1182. In that year a Christian knight, Fuas Roupinho, lost control of his horse while chasing a deer near a cliff. It was a misty and foggy day, and the horse almost jumped over a sea cliff. The legend says that the knight escaped certain death because of his devotion to the Virgin Mary. He prayed for his life to be saved and so it was. His horse retreated and both avoided a fall of 100 meters unto certain death.

Piously inspired by his experience, Fuas Roupinho decided to build a Chapel in honor of the Virgin Mary on the top of the same cliff where he had a close brush with the afterlife. This Chapel, which became known as Chapel of Memory, became one of the main pilgrimage places in Portugal, particularly during the Age of Discoveries. Nazaré’s popularity as a holy place only declined in the 20th century, being replaced by Fátima. Over the centuries, the lonely Chapel was surrounded by a sanctuary (created in 1377 by King Fernando I) and from 1889 onwards, pilgrims and travelers could reach the top of the cliff by funicular: 15 minutes to climb 318 meters, with a 42% slope. Not a bad experience to try during your holidays in Portugal.

For those who would rather enjoy more maritime pleasures, Nazaré boasts an extremely long sand beach, with strong waves, perfect for practicing your swimming and of course, your surf and bodyboard moves. But there is still more to the beach than may meet your modern eye: it is not uncommon to see fishermen’s boats resting on the sand while they open their catch of sardines in half and put it on a vertical net to dry. Alternatively, try to spot some local women still wearing the traditional costume of the region: seven knee-length skirts, made of black wool and white cotton, perfectly juxtaposed.

That’s plenty of reasons to take a detour to Nazaré during your vacations in Portugal.

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