Just outside the pretty seaside town of Nazare in Centro de Portugal, 90 minutes north of Lisbon, surfer Garrett McNamara released the tow rope of the jet ski which had just delivered him to the crest of a massive Atlantic Ocean wave. Within 24 hours of that moment, McNamara’s name had gone viral, and the town of Nazaré was on the lips of both surfers and non-surfers alike right around the world.

McNamara had just set the world record for the largest wave ever ridden (tow-in), at an astounding height of 78ft, and in doing so his almost impossible achievement placed Nazaré firmly on the map. There is a famous photograph of that historic moment, taken from the cliff top above Nazaré, of a minuscule human being riding a surfboard on a wave, which dwarfs the lighthouse in the foreground and engulfs the entire frame of the photograph. It is nothing short of miraculous that a man could do such a thing.

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It was winter when McNamara achieved the almost impossible, a huge Atlantic storm has forced the ocean eastwards towards the coast of Portugal and more importantly channelling it directly into the vast underwater canyon which serves to create such massive swells. But standing on the rooftop of the Forte de Sao Miguel Arcanjo on a summer’s day, at the site of the surfer’s record-breaking moment, the sea is benign, it’s waves rolling on to the long white beaches to the north and the south, like playful puppies at their master’s feet.

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To the south, the half-moon-shaped beach is full of holidaymakers, their colourful beach-tents appearing like a carnival has come to town. Down there too will be happy, carefree people aimlessly wandering the promenade, discovering delightful backstreet restaurants serving petiscos (Portuguese Tapas in case you didn’t know) delivered fresh from the sea. There will also be the women, dressed in black, selling their wares, tables full of sea-dried fish, octopus, horse mackerel, pollack, ling and a dozen other species so loved by the Portuguese. There are teams of youths playing beach volleyball and handball, children building sandcastles, and the sound of music floating from a myriad of cafes, restaurants, and bars. This is summer town.

Emanuele Siracusa - Centro de Portugal - Oeste - Peniche Molhe Leste Surf-10The beach to the north is less populated, the waves are larger, more feisty, less forgiving than their southern neighbours. This is the realm of the surfer and all along the stretching sandy beach, men and women dressed in colourful wetsuits stand, boards upright in the sand beside them, watching the sea and waiting. McNamara once told me – yes, I was lucky enough to have met the man – that the sea was where he felt most at home, it embraced him and made him feel alive. But for those who don’t possess his nerves of steel, there are more leisurely pursuits to enjoy in this beautiful part of Portugal.

Emanuele Siracusa - Centro de Portugal - Lourinha-7Stretching between Nazaré and Praia do Osso da Baleia (close to Figueira da Foz) a cycle path runs for over 65km allowing visitors to navigate the coastline at ease along dedicated paths running through pine forests and along the sand dunes; discovering hidden coves and beaches, delicious seafood restaurants, holiday towns, para-sailing and surf schools, and water parks just like the Norpark Aquapark close to the generously pretty holiday town of Praia de Paredes de Vitória.

Legend of Nazaré

Close to Praia de Paredes de Vitória, you may also discover one of Nazaré’s most important legends. In a small pine forest enclosure, close to the Aquapark, you might stumble upon a herd of long-antlered deer lounging by a water-hole in the shade of the tall pines. At first, it seems like an odd discovery, deer by the beach. But on closer examination of a billboard by the perimeter fence, you will discover why their presence is of such importance to the area.

IMG_3801_1On a foggy morning in the year 1182, the mayor of Porto de Mos, Dom Fuas Roupinho was hunting on horseback. During his morning ride, he spotted a deer in the mist and began the chase. Having chased the deer up a steep incline the fog gathered density, at the crest of the hill the animal leapt into the void of a deep abyss. The mayor’s horse was powerless to stop so suddenly, Dom Fuas Roupinho knew his life was in imminent peril. In a fit of emotion, the mayor cried out in the fog to the Blessed Virgin, “Our Lady, help me!”

The mayor’s horse stopped immediately in its tracks and the lucky huntsman was able to back his horse away to safety. It is said that the horse’s hoofmarks are still ingrained in the rocks somewhere on the hillside. After the incident, Faus Roupinho went to a local grotto to pray and give thanks. He ordered his workmen to build a Capela da Memoria – a chapel of remembrance – on the site. While building the new chapel his workers discovered a box containing the relics of Saint Bras and Saint Bartholomew, along with the reliquary the workers also discovered a scroll explaining the story the history of the statue of Our Lady of Nazareth which had been rescued from the Holy Land and brought to the region many years before.

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In 1377 King Ferdinand I ordered the building of the Santuario de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré on a hilltop overlooking the town. Pilgrims came from far and wide, so many in fact that the church has undergone many refurbishments and additions over the centuries. Inside the ornate and gilded apse of the church stands the statue of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, still drawing pilgrims and receiving their prayers. Throughout the town of Nazaré, on the facades of homes and public buildings, the image of a man clinging to back of a rearing horse, a deer leaping from the edge of a cliff, and the figure of Our Lady of Nazaré hovering in the air above them, is enshrined in folk memory through plaques of ornately painted ceramic tiles.

In modern times the tale of the mayor may seem impossible to those without faith, but so also may the tale of a man riding an immense wave on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, and surviving to tell the story. Come to Nazaré and decide for yourself.

This  Nazare in Centro de Portugal post is a part of a series of  11 posts I wrote based on my journey to the Oeste Region in July 2016. Please find the links o the other articles bellow:

Oeste in Centro de Portugal

Peniche in Centro de Portugal

Berlengas Islands in Centro de Portugal

Obidos in Centro de Portugal

Alcobaça in Centro de Portugal

Tomar in Centro de Portugal

Batalha in Centro de Portugal

Areias do Seixo Hotel

Disclaimer: 

This Nazare in Centro de Portugal post was written by my inspiring friend Brendan Harding as part of my ongoing collaboration with the Centro de Portugal Tourism Board. All opinions are my own. Photo credits to Emanuele Siracusa.