Situated amidst the gently rolling hills of the countryside the city of Loulé has a bustling market town feel to it that contrasts with the relaxed holiday atmosphere of its luxurious seaside resorts.
Each Saturday it is home to the Algarve's biggest and most popular Gipsy Market where you can buy practically anything from clothes and shoes to handcrafted goods and ironware to linen and towels. Loulé’s impressive food market, housed in an early 20th Century Moorish-inspired building, is one of the city’s most famous landmarks and a delight to browse around. Its colourful stalls brimming with fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, cheeses and regional sweets are excellent for stocking up on the local produce.
At only some 12km from the coast, the city of Loulé has retained its age-old charm whilst developing into the commercial hub of the region. The historic town centre is a delight to explore with its castle and the municipal museum, the 13th Century main parish church of St. Clement’s, the nearby Jardim dos Amuados (Sulkers’ Garden) and a network of narrow, cobbled streets lined with skilled artisans who have lent Loulé its reputation as handicraft capital of the Algarve.
If you are lucky enough to be in the Algarve around February, Loulé carnival is the best in the region and the oldest of Portugal! Three days of partying as processions of brightly coloured floats parade down the streets in a frenzy of glitter, feathers and lavish costumes as samba rhythms ring through the air. A more solemn event that also draws many visitors and pilgrims to the city is the Easter festival of the Sovereign Mother (Mãe Soberana).
The presence of mankind in Loulé County dates back to the Ancient Palaeolithic. In the following millennia, the incursion of peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean intensified, and with the arrival of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians the first factories on the seafront were founded, promoting fishing, prospecting for metallurgy and commercial activity. From the middle of the 2nd-century BC, the Romans developed the canning industry, agriculture and mining of copper and iron (Roman ruins of Cerro da Vila in Vilamoura and Milreu in Estói).
With the arrival of Muslims in the 8th century, the medieval city Al’-Ulya (Loulé) is born, belonging to the Kingdom of Niebla, under the command of Taifa Ibne Mafom. Due to its importance at regional level, the Islamic city of Al’-Ulya was divided into two distinct areas: the Alcáçova, for troops and military authorities and the Medina, an urban area, the latter still visible.
The Castle of Loulé was originally built during the Islamic occupation, which began in 715 and lasted until the late 13th-Century. Al’-Ulya was taken over by Christian forces in 1249 as part of a military campaign by D. Afonso III to liberate the Algarve from Islamic rule. The Earthquake of 1755 destroyed much of the castle, along with several buildings in Loulé. Numerous restoration works were carried out and in 1924 the castle was declared as National Monument. Part of the walls were destroyed by an earthquake in 1969 and since then the castle and a number of churches belong to the Portuguese Institute of Architectural Heritage. Again, restoration works were carried out with the plan to include a museum and library. In 1995 the archaeological museum of Loulé was inaugurated. Both castle and museum are certainly worth a visit!
Away from the coast the County of Loulé represents a very attractive part of the region with countryside and villages that offer unspoilt traditional Algarve, all within easy reach from the comfort of your holiday villa.
Being the Algarve’s largest County, it is divided into 9 civil parishes. There is Alte, with its natural water sources ‘Fonte Grande and Fonte Pequena’, the idyllic garden with 19th-century tile panels with poems and, alongside, the river ‘beach’(or large natural pool - open during the summer). 1st May is hugely celebrated here with folklore groups performances from all over the country and numerous food and handicraft stalls. Between Benafim and Salir there is ‘Rocha da Pena’, a rocky outcrop, 479m high with an excellent walking trail and breathtakingly beautiful views. Salir with its castle and quaint little Querença are perfect examples of typical Algarvian countryside villages and in Tôr there is the ‘Quinta da Tôr’ a local winery with wine tasting and tour. Tucked away in the hills and almost bordering the Alentejo (province above the Algarve), is Ameixial. The village hosts a yearly Walking Festival and therefore presents a variety of interesting walking trails, history and nature combined. Two of Loulé’s civil parishes are situated on the coast, they are Quarteira (see Vilamoura) and Almancil (see Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo).
Outside Loulé County, but nearby, there is Santa Bárbara de Nexe with its 15th-century church, São Brás de Alportel, famous for its cork craft and Estói, with its Roman Ruins (Milreu), its lovely village square and the magnificent Estói Palace which is certainly worth a visit, enjoy a cool drink on the terrace and admire the views!
Affinity Villas offers many more destinations for Algarve villa holidays including Tavira, Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo, Vilamoura, Silves, Porches, Carvoeiro, Ferragudo, Alvor and Luz.
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