I’ve always lived by the sea, adoring the calculus curves and humbling power of waves. I had seen footage of the largest surfed waves in the world at a Portuguese fishing village called Nazaré, and was eager to include it on our tour of the Iberian Peninsula. It didn’t take much to get my foodie partner onboard, as she was on a personal pilgrimage to eat as many sardines as possible.
We arrived at the lovely old Hotel Ribamar with its yellow trimmed windows and wonky wooden staircase. Our bedroom looked directly out on the long beachfront promenade and shore break. It was the perfect place to heal after my tumble in the city of Porto. Above this Praia (beach) neighbourhood sits Sítio, the old village on the cliff. The two are connected by a funicular which was opened and blessed in 1889. Salt and Catholicism are everywhere.
The next morning we hiked up to Sítio and along the clifftop down to the precariously perched Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo. This 16th century stone building, now topped by a little red lighthouse, is the prime vantage point for witnessing a natural wonder of the world. Here an undersea canyon, more than five kilometres deep, abruptly shallows creating the potential for the giant waves. Alas there were’t any that day! It wasn’t quite the proverbial millpond, but the couple of overly optimistic surfers below were not having any luck. I was feeling swell though; just stoked to be in this magical place.
The museum inside the fort tells tales of camaraderie between the surfers from all over the world, and their support crews (jet ski riders, surf lifesavers, special inflatable wetsuit designers…). A profile of Portuguese surfer António Silva contains the quote “Climbers have Everest, Surfers have Nazaré”. Dangerous oceanic excursions are not new in this centuries-old fishing village. Many elderly women here still wear a traditional dress with seven colourful layers, hailing from times they waited on the cold beach for loved ones to return (or not) from the sea.
We were blessed with sardines though, and can highly recommend the Casa Pires – A Sardinha and Maria Do Mar restaurants.