Situated in the area of gently rolling hills that lies between the region’s beautiful southern coastline and the rural hamlets of the northern Caldeirão mountain range, the city of Loulé has a bustling market town feel to it that contrasts with the relaxed holiday atmosphere of its seaside resorts.
Loulé’s coastline is home to what is commonly referred to as the ‘Golden Triangle’, an area encompassing the luxurious resorts of Vale do Lobo, Quinta do Lago and Vilamoura, where golden beaches, elegant hotels, top golfing venues, a chic marina, a casino and a plethora of leisure and entertainment facilities have made it one of Europe’s premier holiday destinations.
Lying some 7.5 miles (12 km) 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 13th Century castle ramparts providing scenic views over the rooftops and a network of narrow, cobbled streets lined with skilled artisans who have lent Loulé its reputation as handicraft capital of the Algarve. Bright earthenware pots, wrought iron and copper ware, wooden toys, colourful blankets and intricate lace are amongst the many examples of the handicraft produced, all of which can also be admired at the weekly Saturday market. If your visit coincides with the annual crafts fair in July, you’ll be in for a treat as eye-catching handicraft, stalls selling the region’s mouth-watering gastronomy and plenty of music bring a festive atmosphere to the city’s streets.
Also in the historic centre, the 13th Century main parish church of St. Clement’s, the municipal museum and the nearby Jardim dos Amuados (Sulkers’ Garden) are all worth a visit before heading off to enjoy a taste of the famed, local gastronomy in one of the city’s many restaurants. Combining sea and mountain flavours, the succulent regional dishes range from Quarteira’s meaty sardines and varied shellfish to the hearty hare and pork specialities that come from the farming communities in the north.
Housed in an early 20th Century Moorish-inspired building, Loulé’s impressive food market hall 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.
The highlight of Loulé’s calendar is carnival. Famous throughout Portugal, the Loulé carnival celebrations bring three days of all-night 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 pilgrims and visitors to the city is the Easter festival of the Sovereign Mother.