What to do in Loulé?
The focal point of Loule is the Arabic inspired covered market, with stalls selling regional handicrafts, local produce and freshly caught fish. Surrounding the market are busy shopping streets, tree-lined plazas and a warren of alleys, which have barely altered since the medieval period. Within this delightful historic centre, is an ancient castle, the Gothic Igreja Matriz church and remnants of Loule's solid defenses.
Loule is a peaceful and unhurried town, but it comes alive on Saturday mornings, when two additional markets are held in the town. The farmer's market specializes in local produce, while gypsy market is a chaotic and lively affair.
Loule is one of the few destinations in the Algarve whose primary focus is not tourism; it is a town full of ordinary Portuguese going about their daily lives. It is a likeable town, which offers fascinating tourist attractions, a traditional Portuguese market and a delightful historic centre.
If you are based in one of the larger resort towns (Albufeira, Vilamoura or Quarteira), Loule is the ideal destination for a day trip, and to experience authentic Portugal. There are sufficient attractions to fill a half day of sightseeing, and the town can be easily travelled to using public transport.
Our advice is to visit Loule on Saturday mornings, when both the gypsy and farmers markets are held. Loule should be avoided on Sundays and Mondays. On Sundays, the covered market is closed, while on Mondays, most museums and government managed tourist attractions are closed for the day.
If you want a peaceful trip to Loule, consider visiting between Tuesday to Friday, as on Saturday the town will be crowded with coach loads of tourists heading to the markets.
The weekly market is an important aspect of Portuguese culture, and the Saturday market in Loule is the largest in the Algarve region. This market is widely touted as one of the best attractions of Loule, but if you go expecting the quintessential Portuguese market, you will be disappointed. If instead you want to experience the sights, sounds and aromas of a busy market, it can't be beaten.
The Saturday market is designed for the Portuguese, who are seeking a bargain and tasty street food! It is filled with stalls selling cheap clothes, random hardware items and gifts that range from craft, to old jumble.The market is held on the western side of the town (GPS: 37.14041, -8.03219), and is a 10-minute walk from the castle.
While at the market do not miss the main reason most Portuguese head to the market; to eat a Bifana sandwich (a fried pork cutlet in a papo seco bread roll, with mustard sauce - delicious)
Note: If you visit the gypsy market as part of an organised tour, do head into the town centre to see the more traditional covered market.
Loule was an important Moorish city (8-12 centuries), and remnants of this North African heritage can be seen throughout the town, including the excavations below the castle, the Saint Clemente bell tower, and the Torre da Vela.
The Mercado Municipal de Loulé
A market has been held in central Loule for over one hundred years, but the current market was constructed in 2007 and was inspired by North African designs (technically Neo-Arab styling). Inside the market, family-run stalls sell locally grown or sourced produce which include fish, foods, fabrics and gifts. The market is closed on Sundays.
Museu Municipal and Castelo de Loulé
The Municipal Museum is housed in the castle and contains a series of exhibits of Roman and Bronze Age artefacts discovered within the Loule region. The grounds of the museum have been excavated to reveal the Moorish ruins that the town was built upon.
Loule castle's origins are from the Moorish era, but the three towers and connecting battlements, which can be explored today, date from the 1260s, when the castle was strengthened under the command of Afonso III. The castle, along with most of the Algarve, was severely damaged by the 1755 earthquake. To best see the exterior of the castle head to the Praça Dom Afonso III, while from the top of the towers are wonderful views over Loule.
The medieval streets
Between the castle and the Igreja Matriz are a labyrinth of narrow cobbled alley and backstreets which follow the medieval layout of the town. These streets are filled with small workshops and artisan studios, where old craftsmen ply traditional family trades, including copper working, pottery, tile painting and furniture making. Above the small workshops are the family houses, which have been owned by the same families for generations. This section of Loule is best to explore by simply getting lost in it and wandering through the series of charming alleyways.
The Igreja Matriz (Igreja de Clemente)
The Igreja Matriz is a 13th-century gothic church that was converted from a mosque. The church has a plain whitewashed exterior, but the notable feature is the bell tower which was originally the minaret of the mosque. The church is often referred to the Igreja de Clemente, as Loule was captured from the Moors on the 23rd November (1249), the patron saint day of Saint Clemente. The church overlooks the pretty Amuados gardens, which was originally graveyard.
Nossa Senhora da Conceição
The simple exterior of the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Conceição does not reflect the beauty contained within. The interior of the small 18th-century chapel is adorned with wonderful Azulejos tile paintings while the altar is gilded with gold.
Convent of Espírito Santo
The town hall is set on the edge of the old Convent of Espírito Santo complex, which also house the municipal art gallery and a neoclassical cloister. In the centre of the convent is Loule's most notable feature, a single Araucaria (Norfolk Island Pine) tree. The 200-year-old tree which originates from Australia is 45m tall and dwarfs all other buildings in Loule.