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Unveiling the authentic traditions of Nazaré Portugal

Renowned for its giant waves and stunning beaches, the charming fishing village of Nazaré is much more than just thrilling surfing adventures and picturesque shores. Its history, folklore, and centuries-old traditions deeply rooted in the sea offer a captivating exploration waiting to unfold.

aerial view of the fishing village of Nazaré - Portugal

Traditions of Nazaré Portugal - fishing boats

Traditional wooden fishing boats stand proudly at the heart of Nazaré’s sandy beach, gazing out over the ocean.

Traditional fishing boats in Nazaré Portugal

These vibrant boats symbolise the village’s longstanding fishing heritage, which traces back centuries to the time of the Phoenicians.

Gone are the days when Nazaré’s fishermen braved perilous waters in these humble vessels that often succumbed to the rugged coastal conditions. Today, with the marina's safety and advancements in fishing practices, risks have diminished, and modern fishing boats are equipped for the task. However, the people of Nazaré hold their humble origins dear, honouring the courage and sacrifices of their ancestors.

Throughout the village, this legacy and pride still thrive, ensuring the rich maritime traditions endure.

A local favourite: traditional grilled sardines over a slice of Portuguese bread Nazaré’s
A local favourite: traditional grilled sardines over a slice of Portuguese bread Nazaré’s

The seven skirts of the Nazarene women

One of the most vibrant aspects of Nazaré’s authenticity lies in its traditional costumes, with the famous "sete saias" (seven skirts) taking centre stage.

As you stroll along the village’s cobblestone streets, you’ll notice the women of Nazaré wearing these skirts with great pride.

traditional costume of the Nazarene women

Among various biblical, mythical and magical explanations surrounding the number seven, locals often share that the skirts represent the seven virtues, the seven days of the week, the seven colours of the rainbow and, of course, the seven waves of the sea.

In the past, as they patiently awaited the return of their husbands and sons from the sea, the women would sit on the sand, vigilantly counting the waves. Each layer of their skirts served not only as a cover, protecting their heads and shoulders from the Atlantic breeze, but also as a means of tracking the necessary seven waves required for their loved ones’ safe return. The women understood that the boat would only reach shallow waters after seven calming waves.

Although the fishing community remains strong, today the women of Nazaré adorn these skirts more as a cherished tradition than a practical necessity, particularly during festive occasions when they proudly wear their finest seven skirts, intricately embroidered and adorned with lace at the hems.

Fish drying racks of Nazaré

As you wander along the waterfront of Nazaré Beach, you’ll encounter picturesque lines of fish-drying racks basking in the open air. This time-honoured tradition not only captivates the curiosity of tourists but also fills the locals with a sense of pride.

Traditional fish drying racks on Nazaré Beach
Traditional fish drying racks on Nazaré Beach

The “peixeiras” (fish sellers) diligently lay out their sun-dried fish each day, offering a delicacy highly cherished by both Portuguese and foreign visitors eager to taste its unique flavour. Among the array of naturally sun-dried fish are mackerel, sardines, marmots and octopus.

Passed down through generations, this ancestral practice originated from the necessity to ensure sustenance during the long and harsh winters when fishermen couldn't provide for their families. Sun drying the fish naturally became the sole means of preservation in the absence of refrigeration.

Honouring an ancient devotion to ‘Senhora da Nazaré

Nazaré also captivates with its rich tapestry of ancient superstitions, myths and legends. Among these captivating tales, one stands out: the legend of Our Lady of Nazaré.

According to legend, in 1182 D. Fuas Roupinho was hunting a deer in Sitio of Nazaré when he realized his horse was going to jump over the rocky cliffs and fall into the sea. Beneath his feet rested an image of Our Lady of Nazaré and he cried out for her help. Miraculously, his horse came to an abrupt halt, its front hooves suspended in mid-air — an awe-inspiring moment immortalized in the exquisite tiles adorning the interior of the Ermida da Memória chapel.

Beautiful tiles inside the Ermida da Memória chapel
Beautiful tiles inside the Ermida da Memória chapel

This sacred sanctuary, built over 800 years ago by D. Fuas, stands as a testament to the enduring power of faith and the extraordinary bond between the people of Nazaré and their beloved Lady.

Whether you find yourself enchanted by the miraculous or simply captivated by age-old legends, one thing remains undeniable: Nazaré is a place where magic and wonder coexist, creating a truly extraordinary atmosphere!

Vibrant colours are a hallmark of Nazaré’s time-honoured striped beach tents
Vibrant colours are a hallmark of Nazaré’s time-honoured striped beach tents


 “Nazaré is more than just a place, it’s a way of life, a treasure trove of beauty, culture, and community.

To live in Nazaré is to embrace the ocean’s power, the warmth of our people, and the richness of our traditions. It’s a life filled with adventure, a deep sense of belonging, and a true appreciation for the simple joys of life. As a proud Nazarene, I invite you all to experience the magic of Nazaré for yourselves, to feel the salt on your skin, the sand on your feet, the freshness of the ocean breeze, the rhythm of our traditions in your heart, and the warmth of our community as your own. Nazaré is not just a place it’s a love story waiting to be written in the hearts of all who visit. May the sea always sing its songs into your soul as it does in ours. Welcome to Nazaré!”

Denise Vieira - Project Manager Leisure Launch Group

Denise Vieira - Project Manager at Leisure Launch


Article originally published in Portugal The Simple Life Magazine, Edition #4


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