If you have ever seen truly spectacular footage of a surfer riding a monster wave, chances are those images come from a tiny town in Portugal’s Oeste region. Nazaré, some 90 minutes north of Lisbon, has for many years cultivated the image of a popular beach town, little noticed outside of Portugal. That changed when surfing enthusiasts found out that the natural conditions here cause some of the highest waves on the planet. Since then, Nazaré has become a mecca for daredevil surfers and for even more spectators, clinging to the formerly quiet town in the winter months, when conditions are most conducive to monster waves.

One doesn’t have to be a fan of breakneck water artistics to appreciate Nazaré, though. The main attraction for most of the year is the white, crescent-shaped beach that draws many visitors. Equally important for the town are the time-honored local fishermen’s traditions. Saturdays are a good time to become a witness of the old procedure, in which the day’s catch is brought ashore and there immediately sold by the fishermen’s wives, often clad in traditional garments.

Admittedly, the surfers’ waveriding show is more spectacular than that. Most visitors gather at the small lighttower above the waves. Another good place to view the risky maneuvers is from atop the Sitio mountain, towering some 300 meters above sea level. Active visitors can hike up the mountain, others may prefer the tramway leading up to the top. There is a small church up there, the location of an ancient legend that is told in a nearby museum.

But in the end, it’s neither local folklore nor the pretty beach that made a name for Nazaré, but a canyon of up to 5 kilometers of depth that’s located on the oceanground off the coast. That canyon is the geological reason for the monster waves that have always crashed ashore here, but have only recently become a trademark.