May 4-5: Nazare
On our way south from Porto and the Duoro Valley, heading down towards the Algarve coast of southern Portugal, we stopped in Nazare, a seaside town famous for fishing and surfing, and then the following day, we stopped in for an hour to the medieval village of Obidos. Both were interesting yet very different places to visit for a day.
It was about a 3 hour drive with a stop for gas to get down to Nazare. In May, the town was relatively quiet and we had no problem finding a parking spot a few blocks from our apartment, but I can imagine in mid-summer, it must be very busy.
The beach in Nazare is wide and sandy and it has a few colourful wooden fishing boats on display, more for show than practical use now. But what truly makes this beach unique are the waves. Today it was relatively calm and the waves were only a metre or so high, but there are some amazing photos and videos on Youtube that show some of the world’s largest waves on this beach. I was chatting with a gnarly fisherman, who explained that the sea floor is stepped up along the north side of the beach and that is why the waves are so huge in this area. Needless to say, this area is popular with surfers.
We almost felt like we had stepped back in time a little when we saw people wearing traditional clothing, in particular, the older women with their shawls and their seven layered knee-length skirts – or maybe it’s one skirt with 6 petticoats, I’m not suite sure. Traditionally the women were the fishmongers, and they wore several skirts as they sat on the beach waiting for their husbands to come in, and they’d use the extra skirts to wrap up around their backs or keeps their legs warm. Some of these women can still be seen selling their wares at little stalls along the beach. Fishing may have been the original mainstay of the village, but clearly tourism and surfing now contribute more heavily.
You also see older women walking along the beach front or through the town streets, with signs indicating they will rent you a room. I remember seeing this on a Rick Steves show on Portugal, and he said they offered great deals in a real home setting. However, we already had a studio apartment booked through booking.com so we declined. Our apartment was small but well equipped and very clean. It actually felt like I was in an Ikea display. For only €45 ($68CAD), I think we had a great deal (although I’m sure the price is much higher in summer), and I would have been comfortable there for up to a week.
The day was showery and cool, and we didn’t have much time to do anything other than to find a restaurant, have dinner (the catch of the day of course), then head to bed. If we’d had another day, we could have taken the funicular to the top of the 300m rock (the Siteo) on the north end of the beach and see a great view of the town and beach.
I could easily spend a few days in this curious little fishing town. It really gave me an idea of what life was like here 100 or more years ago.
Just 30 minutes south of Nazare, Obidos is definitely worth a stop, if only for an hour or so. I never tire of visiting medieval walled towns and Obidos did not disappoint. We parked in the free lot next to the tourist centre and walked in, as you should do in all medieval villages.
As we entered the village, we passed through the main gate called the Porta da Vila. It is decorated with the blue and white tiles that you see all over Portugal. There was a young man playing guitar and singing in the corner as we entered and it really added to the traditional feeling of the village.
The cobblestone streets are narrow, the walls are white with red tile roofs (unlike the stone buildings in the medieval towns of France and Italy), and there is a pretty view at every turn. The outside wall itself is continuous around the village and you can walk its 1.5 km length if you aren’t afraid of heights. No handrails, and uneven footing means you have to wear proper shoes and be extremely careful. We only had time to climb the stairs to the top and take a few pictures but I would definitely do the walk if I had time.
Obidos is famous for its cherry liqueur called Ginja de Obidos and you can buy a small shot in a chocolate cup as you wander along the lanes. And if souvenirs are your thing, there are wall-to-wall shops lining the streets, as well as restaurants and bars.
We arrived just as several busloads of tourists unloaded and so we were briefly trapped in a slow-moving mob, but eventually we broke loose and were able to walk freely. If you really want to get a feel for a normally touristy medieval village, it’s often a good idea to stay one night and then go out on the streets in the evening, and again early in the morning before/after the busses arrive. Often you will have the place to yourself and you can immerse yourself in that amazing feeling of history and culture.
If you don’t have time for an overnight trip, a few hours is enough time to see Obidos and perhaps stop for a snack and a drink. It’s is an easy one hour drive or bus trip from Lisbon if you want to do a day trip, and in July, the village hosts a week-long medieval festival that might be fun.
We could have stayed longer but we were on our way to the Algarve and had a 4 hour drive ahead of us, and so after an hour, we were off!
Next up: Salema, Portugal and the Algarve