[NAZARÉ, PORTUGAL] — I’m not a surfer, obvs, but I’ve always been captivated by stories of Big Wave surfing, where weather-watching, nicely-tanned people drop everything and fly across the world to try to catch big swells.

I’m fascinated by waves. Even have read awesome books like The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean (which I highly recommend). And most recently, this awesome new book on waves and water: How to Read Water. (more highly recommended, so enlightening.)

One place that is almost always on the list is Nazaré on the west coast of Lisbon, where nearly every year there’s always some small article in the media with amazing pictures of  beastly waves crashing high above the heads of huddled masses on a lighthouse. I could never figure it out…

I obviously didn’t take this cool picture. Check out where it came from on this amazing YouTube page

So when I was looking at map of Portugal, figuring out how to break up the long drive from the Algarve to Porto, there it was on the map. Nazaré.  Staring at me. BLINK. BLINK. BLINK.  So I tuned the GPS and headed there.

Nazaré is absolutely famous in the Big Wave World. It has unique characteristics under the water that creates these amazing huge wave breaks certain times of the year. Here’s a great story from NPR on what makes Nazaré unique for big waves, it’s basically a big underwater canyon that shoots water like arrow towards land.

Check out this video this one from Red Bull.

Supposedly, the biggest wave ever surfed was done here a couple of years ago. A HUNDRED FOOT beast. I can’t even…

I knew that big record-breaking swells were seasonal. But I was there when I was there and thought what the hell and headed north.

I knew they may not be the biggest that time of year, but there’s gotta be some cool big waves, non?  It was spur of the moment. Did little research. Pulled off the autostrada and was instantly thrown into a busy town and picked my way through roundabouts to look for the big promontory I had burned into my retina. As I got closer, climbing up a hill to the point, I felt my heart beating a little harder in excitement.

So you can imagine my surprise when I got there and found this:

Absolutely. Quiet.

Mellow waves rolling up the big nose of the headlands. Gorgeous, but not the crashing surf I was anticipating. No big waves. Meh.

But what I found instead surprised me. Up there on a high hill, in a neighborhood called O Sitio, you look down over the beautiful little town of Nazaré on the sea with a beautiful, long, killer beach. It was late Spring, a cloudy day, some rain and a little cooler than I’d hoped. But still, just look at how amazing this place looks, it’s almost surreal looking as the sun came out:

O Sitio Portugal church
I was just there for a little bit, but O Sitio had its charms.
O Sitio bullring.
Even a bullring. Not sure if it was still active.

I was on a beeline for Porto, so couldn’t stay for long. Just got a chance to stop-and-shoot and move on. But part of my plan is to always go first to a new place, get a lay of the land and figure out where to come back. I will definitely be coming back here.



Here’s a surpassingly even recap of Nazaré from TripAdvisor.  A great overview from Visit Portugal. Another good overview from Travel in Portugal.

Last visited April 2015. 

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