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Portugal’s Nazaré: Barnacles, Petticoats, and Wild Waves

Nazaré, Portugal

The beach town of Nazaré provides a vivid look at Portuguese folk culture. Ladies clad in traditional seven-petticoat dresses dry their fish, folk dancers twirl, and barnacles are sold like clams. But beware some of the world’s biggest waves.

Complete Video Script

Portugal shares the Iberian Peninsula with its neighbor, Spain. Our travels take us through the heartland of Portugal. Saving the capital city of Lisbon for another episode, we explore Nazaré, Batalha, Coimbra, the Douro River Valley, and visit the city of Porto.

Our first stop? The fishing town of Nazaré. We’re here in May and the beach is all ours. While touristy in the summer, Nazaré offers a good look at how bits of traditional Portugal survive.

The community faces its sweeping beach. People stroll the promenade. Old timers enjoy the scene. Kids use the beach for a soccer field. And families catch some springtime sun — before the hordes of summer vacationers arrive.

Nazaré has a strong fishing heritage. While nothing like its heyday, fisherman still manage to harvest the sea. Working as a team as the sun drops, they set their nets with wisdom passed down from their grandfathers. The next morning, the women of the town prepare the day’s catch. Splayed and salted fish are put out on nets to dry under the midday sun. This simple way of preserving fish carries on, unchanged for generations. Locals claim they’re delicious… but I’d rather eat another salty treat: barnacles.

Rick: So, this is a barnacle?
Waiter: Yep.
Rick: How do you say that in Portuguese?
Waiter: Percebes.
Rick: Percebes. Can you show me the trick to opening it?
Waiter: You…
Rick: Ah. Mmm, it’s good! So where do these come from?
Waiter: From the rocks, from there.
Rick: Just from right over there, huh?
Waiter: Yeah.
Rick: Today?
Waiter: Yeah.
Rick: Really? Today. So it’s fresh. So, I break it, mm-kay, like so? Look at that. It’s beautiful. Mmm. How do you say “delicious?”
Waiter: Muito bom.
Rick: Muito bom. Percebes — muito bom.
Waiter: Good.
Rick: And with beer, perfect.
Teresa: Obrigado.
Rick: Bon appétit. Thank you.
Waiter: Thank you.
Rick: Obrigado.

Nazaré’s women are known for their traditional skirts, with many layers of petticoats to keep them warm…reminiscent of the old days, when they’d sit on the beach awaiting the return of their fishermen.

Rick: Bom dia. [Good day.]
Woman: Boa tarde! [Good afternoon!]
Rick: Boa tarde!

And this proud woman is eager to describe her outfit. The short skirts are made bulky by many petticoats. The aprons are embroidered by hand. The stockings are high and loud. Flamboyant jewelry is passed down from generation to generation. And, when the wind whips up, her shawl keeps her warm.

Woman: Si? [Yes?]
Rick: Nice!
Woman: Si? [speaks Portuguese]
Rick: Obrigado.
Woman: Obrigado.
Rick: Boa tarde.
Woman: Boa tarde.

Nazaré’s folk club keeps their traditions lively with music and dance. This troupe has been gathering crowds since the 1930s.

Nazaré’s sister town, Sítio, is perched high above on a bluff. A funicular connects the two, and it’s been saving locals a steep climb since 1889.

Sítio has its own vibe. The stony main square evokes a bygone age. Its wealth came from farming rather than fishing. And today the main economy is tourism.

From the edge of the bluff you can enjoy a commanding view. Nazaré and its golden beach stretch all the way to the new harbor. In the other direction, a wilder beach stretches far to the north. And when the surf’s up here…it’s really up.

This bluff is famous among surfers for some of the biggest waves in the world. When conditions align, they create monster waves a hundred feet high, as dare-devil surfers enjoy the ultimate ride.