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After years of advertising itself as the most picturesque seaside town in Portugal, NAZARÉ has more or less destroyed itself. In summer, the crowds are far too heavy for the place to cope with and the enduring characteristics are not so much “gentle traditions” as trinket stalls and identikit fish restaurants with a touch of hard-edged hustle. While elderly local women still don traditional headscarves and embroidered aprons, their immense trays of fish have been replaced by cheap souvenirs and signs touting rooms; and the sardine boats long ago dropped anchor in a new harbour, fifteen minutes’ walk from the town. However, as long as you don’t expect a cosy village, and are steeled for peak-season crowds, Nazaré is highly enjoyable, with all the restaurants, facilities and knockabout cheer of a busy resort. It’s not just summer either that rocks: New Year’s Eve on Nazaré beach is one of the biggest parties in Portugal, while the annual Carnaval parades are intensely rumbustious all-night affairs.

The long sweep of the seafront promenade is backed by a tight warren of narrow alleys and streets filled with houses advertising quartos and simple restaurants, with the occasional small square letting in the light.The main beach – a grand, tent-studded expanse of clean sand – packs in bathers tightly in summer, with further beaches stretching north beyond the headland.

The original settlement was actually at Sítio, 110m up the rock face above the north end of the present town and thus safe from pirate raids. Legend tells of a twelfth-century knight, Dom Fuas Roupinho, who, while out hunting, was led up the cliff by a deer.The deer dived into the void and Dom Fuas was saved from following by the timely vision of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, in whose name a church was subsequently built.You can reach Sítio and the church by taking the funicular from town, which rumbles up to a miradouro at the top.The main church square is ringed by souvenir shops and patrolled by formidable varinhas (fishwives) touting huge mounds of dried fruit and nuts.The views down to the town and beach are sensational, while following the waymarked footpath signs from the square takes you out to the farol (lighthouse). It’s the first section of a thirteen- kilometre circular trail that connects the town to Sítio (via funicular) by way of beach and pine forest.

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