When the Moors arrived in Loulé in 715, it was already an important town. A mere 534 years later, Loulé was reconquered by the Christians in 1249, in the reign of Dom Afonso III. In 1291, the king Dom Dinis set up a fair in Loulé, making it the region’s main trading centre.
This hillside town, actually it was made a city in 1988, is well worth a visit. It is situated about 6km north of the A22, more or less due north of Quarteira and Faro. There are at least four roads that lead to Loulé from the south. If travelling along the A22 then come off at junction 12 to get to Loulé using the new N396 Variante. Travelling the N125 we used the N396 to reach Loulé. This is the original N396 road which links with the Variante shortly before Loulé and conveniently, brings you into the south western outskirts. If using this route in go straight on at the roundabout with a Continente hypermarket on the left hand corner, then turn right at the next roundabout into Rua Engenheiro Duarte Pacheco. After about 200m take the left turn. A short way along this road is a free parking area on your left. It is on firm open ground, not hard surfaced, but close to the castle and old town centre. In fact, most of the points of interest are within this area.
Loulé Castle and many other historic edifices can be found by going back on foot to where you turned into the car parking street and turning left uphill. Cross over two turnings to the left and you will see parts of the old town walls and just after the Arab Watchtower on your left is an archway through the medieval walls, the Porta de Faro, with a useful signboard indicating other points of interest. From this point Loulé Castle is about 350m due north on Rua D. Paio Peres Correia and the municipal indoor market is less than 200m northeast. This big indoor market, located in a noticeable red and white painted building, is situated on the Praça da Republica. It caters for fresh fruit & vegetables, fish, meat, cheeses, wines and some pottery and is open every day except Sundays. The vendors that are there every day are on the inside of the Market and the local fruit and veg. growers who go there just on Saturdays are around the outside.
There is also a weekly open-air market in Loulé, every Saturday morning, which is situated on the northwestern edge of town, at the lower end of the Rua de Nossa Senhora da Piedade. To visit this, turn left out of the parking area mentioned earlier and head northwest for about 1000m, either on foot (which we did), or by car. Remember that, on a Saturday, parking around the market may be a little difficult to find. Most of the market stalls offer handbags, watches, clothing, sunglasses, footwear and some artisanal work.
The pedestrianised streets and others in the proximity of the markets, on a Saturday, are almost log-jammed. One feels in need of a large container of olive oil and a crowbar to be able to progress from one street to the next. Weekdays are definitely less crowded and these streets offer plenty to interest one.
Loulé Castle houses the archeological museum and another permanent exhibition, that of the Traditional Kitchen in the Alcayde’s House and just a little further down the same street is the Convento do Espirito Santo, that contains the Municipal art gallery. Both are well worth a visit and the museums are well laid out. Opening times are: Mon. – Fri. 9:00am to 5:30pm, Sats. & national holidays are from 10:00am to 2:00pm.
All in all, plenty here to occupy one for a day or more. After two visits we found it to be one of the most appealing places we have visited in Portugal and we intend returning shortly.
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