The inhabitants of Portugal's most famous fishing village live in a unique, tradition-bound world. Many residents have never left their village, except perhaps to make the pilgrimage to nearby Fátima. The people remain insular, even as their village blossoms into a big summer resort with Portugal's most dramatic beach.
The big attractions in Nazaré are the people and their fabled boats. The villagers' clothes are patchwork quilts of sun-faded colors. The rugged men don rough woolen shirts and trousers, patched in kaleidoscopic rainbow hues resembling tartan, as well as long woolen stocking caps, in the dangling ends of which they keep their prized possessions - a favorite pipe or a crucifix. The women walk about mostly barefoot wearing embroidered, handmade blouses and pleated skirts of patched tartan woolens.
The fishing boats are Phoenician in design: slender, elongated, and boldly colored. On the high, knifelike prows, you'll often see crudely shaped eyes painted on the vessels - eyes supposedly imbued with the magical power to search the deep for fish and to avert storms. Even so, the boats sport lanterns for the dangerous job of fishing after dark. During the gusty days of winter or at high tide, the boats are hauled into a modern harbor, close to the village center.
Nazaré consists of two sections: the fishing quarter and the Sítio, the almost exclusively residential upper town. Near the beach you'll find handcraft shops, markets, restaurants, hotels, and boardinghouses. The main square opens directly onto the sea, and narrow streets lead to the smaller squares, evoking a medina in a Moorish village. At the farthest point from the cliff and square are the vegetable and fish markets, where auctions are held.
Jutting out over the sea, the promontory of the Sítio is a sheer drop to the ocean and the beach below. It's accessible by either a funicular or a goat-steep cobblestone pathway. The Virgin Mary supposedly appeared here in 1182: A young horseback-riding nobleman, Faus Roupinho, was pursuing a wild deer near the precipice, which was shrouded in mist. The fog lifted suddenly to reveal the Virgin and the chasm below. In honor of this miracle, the nobleman built the Chapel of Memory. Today, near the spot, you can go inside the 18th-century structure honoring the event. The tiny chapel is known for its azulejos, or hand-painted tiles, that cover its facade, roof, and interior. Many of the tiles depict the legend of Fraus Roupinho. A staircase leads down into a small crypt, and here, in a recess, is what is said to be the hoof-print left by Roupinho's horse as it came to a screeching halt at the edge of the cliff, saving its rider's life. The panoramic view of Nazaré and the Atlantic coast is one of the great seascapes in Estremadura.