With my mother visiting through December, we decided to book a weekend getaway, so that we could show her a little bit more of Portugal. Hoping that we might be able to show her the giant waves, we opted to use Nazaré as our base for the weekend and booked an apartment for two nights. A rental car ensured that we could travel in comfort.
We drove down from Gaia, reaching Nazaré mid-afternoon on Friday. After checking into the apartment, we drove along the seafront and stopped to witness the age-old tradition of sun drying fish, that is an established feature of Nazaré. There is even a small museum (Museu do Peixe Seco da Nazaré) dedicated this craft, which provided a means to preserve the local catch of fish for later sale and consumption, in the days before electricity and refrigeration. Nowadays, the racks of salted fish and octopus drying in the sun are also a tourist attraction.
A group of ladies, in traditional clothing, were seated behind small wooden boxes selling dried fish that had already been prepared. The dried fish can either be eaten in its dry state, or it can be cooked. I bought a small bag of dried sardines and tried them, but I’m not a fan.
Behind the ladies, racks upon racks were propped up along the beach, each of them loaded with fish or octopus. Reportedly, the drying process can take up to three days to complete, so the racks are taken down and covered securely overnight, before being set up again the following day. It was certainly an interesting process to see.
Alongside the fish drying racks, there are some brightly coloured traditional fishing boats that were crying out to be photographed.
Just four days earlier, we were watching the Nazaré Tow Surf Challenge on TV, as the jet skis towed the surfers onto some big waves. But we knew from the forecast that those big waves were no longer here. Nevertheless, we headed up to the lighthouse and the north beach, so see the area where the big waves occur. Even without the giant waves, the elevated position provides a wonderful overview of the town and the main beach.
The following morning, we hopped in the car and drove further south to the medieval walled town of Óbidos, with its castle perched on top of the hill. The old town is completely surrounded by a defensive wall and its narrow, cobbled roads seem to have remained unchanged for centuries. Together with the white houses and shops, they give the town a real old-world feel.
Most of the shop doors throughout the old town were decorated for Christmas, giving the place a different feel compared to the last time that we visited. The grounds of the castle had been converted to a Christmas Village, with an admission fee to access (we didn’t visit).
Bacalhôa Buddha Eden
After a pleasant lunch in Óbidos, we drove for about 20 minutes to reach Bacalhôa Buddha Eden, for a visit that would be the highlight of the day.
Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal is one of the largest and most innovative wine companies in Portugal and has wineries in the most important regions of Portugal: Alentejo, Setúbal Peninsula, Lisbon, Bairrada, Dão and Douro. Under its major shareholder, Commander José Berardo, Bacalhôa has initiated a project at several of its farms, under the theme “Art, Wine, Passion” which sees diverse artistic exhibitions, from painting to sculpture, incorporated into the wineries. We have previously visited two of these locations, in Setúbal and the Aliança Underground Museum in Sangalhos.
The Bacalhôa Buddha Eden covers 35 hectares of the Quinta dos Loridos winery and is reported to be the largest ‘Eastern Garden’ in Europe. The garden was created in protest, as a reaction to the Afghan Taliban’s destruction of the 6th century Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001. It is estimated that more than 6,000 tons of marble and granite were used in the construction of this site. And, whilst it features an assortment of Buddhas, the collection of art on display is more eclectic. Selected pieces of modern and contemporary sculpture, from the Berardo Collection, can be found scattered throughout the property. A significant chunk of the property is dedicated to African art, and that was where I found the greatest enjoyment during our visit.
We started our visit at the picturesque and tranquil koi pond, surrounded by palm trees. The koi fish were easily seen in the clear water, as they approached the shore line.
As we moved beyond the pond, we found ourselves immersed in the African sculpture garden, that features many abstract stone sculptures by the Shona people of Zimbabwe. I have a particular fondness for Shona sculptures and have a small collection of my own, so this was a real treat for me. Some of the artwork is displayed along a narrow footpath, that winds through a growth of bamboo, so that a new piece comes into view around every bend. Some larger pieces line a cobbled footpath, interspersed with palm trees.
The African theme continues in an adjacent section, where there are small herds of life-sized metal sculptures of African animals. The elephants and giraffe were particularly impressive, along with rhinos, buffalo, hyenas, hippos, crocodiles and others. There were even small troops of monkeys and baboons sitting on rocks. All very impressive and a joy to behold!
As we moved closer to the main lake, there were large dancing monkey skeletons, oversized African warriors and large birds.
As we crossed the bridge over the lake, we left behind the African section and moved towards the Asian part of the gardens. As we did so, we found the first group of terracotta soldiers – replicas of the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, that were buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC. These replicas have been painted blue, presumably for artistic reasons. Additional ranks of these blue soldiers line the hillsides around the lake.
Moving towards the centre of the facility, we enjoyed the beautiful view of a lake with a bridge and pagoda. From there, we could gaze past Chinese guardian lions towards the staircases that lead up to a large reclining Buddha, along with smiling golden Buddhas, Buddha heads and other Buddhist statues.
By this point, it was time to make use of the passes that we had for the little train that runs around part of the grounds. We’d paid the extra €4 each for them when we entered, but the train doesn’t run around the African section that had taken up most of our time to that point. At 86 years old, my mom had done remarkably well to walk as far as we had. Now we could sit back in the train, as we explored the remainder of the gardens.
The train drives around the lake and then climbs up the hill, behind the reclining Buddha, before circling back down the hill and finishing up at the entrance/exit of the facility. There are about four stops along the way, where the driver pauses for a few minutes to allow passengers to get out and take some photos. The ride around the park takes approximately 30 minutes to complete. It was a convenient way to finish up our tour.
We paid a visit to the wine shop on our way out, and then made our way back to Nazaré, with a full day of sightseeing under our belts.
On Sunday morning, we departed Nazaré and headed towards home, but we finished the weekend getaway with a final stop in the coastal fishing town of Costa Nova, so that my mom could see the striped cottages on the seafront.
We had a nice lunch at the Bronze restaurant, located on the beach, and then headed for home.
It turned out to be an enjoyable weekend and we got to show my mom a bit more of Portugal.