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12. Nazaré
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Today, Nazaré is synonymous of giant waves. Every year, between October and March, people flock to Praia do Norte to watch surfers from all over the world challenge the “Nazare Canyon,” which first entered the Guinness Book of Records in 2011 when American Garrett McNamara surfed a wave of 23.77 meters. The current record for the largest wave surfed, also here at Praia do Norte, belongs to German Sebastian Steudtner with 26.21 meters. And don’t think that women don’t venture out as well: Brazilian Maya Gabeira holds the record for the largest wave surfed by a woman (22.40 meters).The phenomenon is well-known and not for the faint of heart, even if entering the sea is not in the plans. The waves are impressive, the result of a rare geomorphological phenomenon. Basically, the “Canyon” is a submarine canyon – the largest in Europe, and one of the largest in the world, with about 200 kilometers long and five kilometers deep. “This phenomenon consists of a fault in the continental plate, which begins to define itself about 500 meters from the coast, and allows the wave energy to be channeled to Praia do Norte, almost without obstacles along the way, which explains the creation of considerably larger waves than the rest of the Portuguese coast,” reads the Praia do Norte website, where you can also always find wave forecasts. At Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo, there is the Interpretive Center of the Nazare Canyon for those who want to learn more about this event. But as a good fishing village, Nazaré has more charms. The beach that bathes the village, in a crescent shape, has one of the most popular sands in the West – and it is not an exaggeration to say that it is also one of the most beautiful. The rows of colorful striped stalls that have disappeared from Portuguese beaches remain a tradition, as do the fishmongers who still wear the traditional seven skirts and sun-dry various fish on wooden stakes, usually mackerel, batuques, sardines, petingas, shark, and octopus – an ancient technique born out of the need to preserve fish for days of scarcity. Following the promenade, Estindarte, as the fish-drying line is called in the town, is south of the beach, almost in front of the Nazaré Cultural Center. If you want to try it, don’t hesitate to buy it. However, don’t think that the cuisine of the area is made only of dried fish. On the contrary, fresh fish is king in any restaurant, whether grilled, in a cataplana, or in a beautiful fish stew. To digest, it is worth strolling through the picturesque streets and discovering the history of Nazaré at every corner. The climb to Sítio, at the top of the promontory, is mandatory. There is nothing that prepares us for the breathtaking panoramic view: the beach and the village just below, the Mira de Aire and Candeeiros mountain ranges in the background, the coast up to Peniche (on clear days, you can still see the Berlengas Island). The ideal way to go up is through the century-old elevator that connects the center of the village to its highest point – an experience in itself. At Sítio, there is the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, a reason for several pilgrimages. If you have time, going down Ladeira do Sítio, with a landscaped path, is always a way to appreciate the landscape.