Settling in - From Peniche to Nazare
We made the walk into Peniche on Saturday morning. When the tide is low it’s an easy 5km walk along a near-deserted beach with the ocean lapping at your feet. There are always some surfers out to watch as the beach passes around you. When the tide is in, there is still plenty of accessible beach, it's just a hell of a lot harder on the legs and may take closer to an hour of your time.
At the end of the beach, there is a little beach bar with breathtaking views out over the beach back towards Baleal and a resident ginger Tomcat made it all the better. It attracts all sorts of people; from weekend beachgoers from Lisbon to the elderly group of gentlemen sitting on a bench outside with a glass of port putting the world to rights.
Peniche is surrounded by an ancient wall and fortress constructed in 1558 and is a well-preserved example of a Portuguese fortified city. Although surfing has become a major revenue maker, fishing is still at its heart and soul. Just an FYI, as you enter the town it fishing heritage is made abundantly clear by a sardine and mackerel factory which makes it difficult to breathe for a short period of time as you pass. It has me thinking that perhaps that was actually the purpose of the wall.
As you follow the Island around there are small signs on the side of the road with a fish symbol, these lead to some truly spectacular vantage points and old fort installations. We picked our way past one of these and along the rocks, watching the divers taking advantage of the abnormally calm water, to a cafe called Bar do Quebrado, we had seen from the distance that sits astride a rocky outcrop. With a simplicity that was perfect, the no-frills decor and friendly service was a great start. The food though was truly delicious and kept with being so perfectly simple. We devoured the fresh cheese, warm bread and super fresh salad. We were truly treated with the grilled prawns marinated in the house sauce. We did miss out on the Octopus but it wasn’t quite ready yet, a rookie error from me forgetting things happen slightly later here.
We chatted with a British man who had been living in Peniche for 15 years who had a job on oil rigs month on month off. Between his gin and tonic and a pint, he recommended the harbour area, so that's where we headed. The harbour area is where all the action is; you can pick from a varied selection of restaurants, watch the fisherman come and go, dive into a bar or wander around the cobbled back streets taking it all in. Java house is well worth a look, built into the cliff wall inside has a steampunk vibe, this place definitely has the best gin menu around and a decent house white wine as well, just be aware it is slightly more expensive than many other places in the area.
Our first week has been filled with getting to know our home away from home, and it has been a mixed bag. Portugal as always is lovely but there is a certain isolation that we are both feeling, that comes with the distance from friends and such a seasonal town in winter. The adjustment of not working has also been a challenge. Work gives you a purpose and although it is not necessarily positive to be defined by this, part of us tends to lead our subconscious that way. The challenge now is linking purpose to something other than a job.
Nazare, for the past few years, has become the home of big wave surfing. Don't misunderstand big, these waves at 80-100ft during the season are monsters and Australian surfer Mick Corbett described the sport as a sort of modern-day Gladiator. When these guys get stuck on the inside it can kill you. Nazare owes it enormous swell to the Atlantic and the topography of the ocean floor. Unfortunately for us, the swell was only at a mere 4-5m when we visited Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo. The surf museum at the Fort costs 2 Euros for entry and worth it. The Fort, as you would expect is old and slightly damp. The water is so much a part of the stone walls that the colour is darker than it would have once been. The passages weave through rooms, filled with surfboards and bodyboards paying tribute to these truly amazing athletes who brave mother nature and the mountains of water which pummel into the Fort.
The town is split into two distinct halves, one at the base of the cliff and the other atop the cliff by the Fort I mentioned above. The two are linked by a cable car up the face of the cliff, winding walking path running alongside it and a road out the back of the town. We tried out the cable car but the path was a better way to see the scenery and a more enjoyable experience. We picked a cosy restaurant in the main square at the top of the cliff called PortoBello Restaurante, with delicious Octopus and seafood pasta paired with welcoming and friendly staff who remind you somewhat of a grandfather you want to hug. I would strongly recommend this place.
The town is pleasant to walk around earlier in the day, the streets are narrow and have an abundance of cobbled tiles as you would expect of Portugal, with the white houses with the occasional splash of colour stacked against each other.
Restaurants are dotted in little squares and along the foreshore. The peacefulness changes quickly in the afternoon with tourists buzzing in and the footpaths along the foreshore become crowded and difficult to walk along so I would recommend visiting earlier in the day if you want to avoid the crowds, especially on the weekend.