Sightseeing Silves, Algarve

Sightseeing Silves, Algarve

The ancient capital of Portugal’s Algarve, Silves may sit inland 10km away from the golden beaches and rocky coastline, although don’t be fooled, this town packs a mighty punch.  Whether it is history, archeology, bird life, street art, walking or cycling, this Algarvian town has it all.  And Silves is definitely worth a diversion away from the sand between your toes.

Like so many coastal destinations, the real joy of a country’s culture and natural beauty can often be found just a little way inland. We found the same in Spain and France. And Portugal is no different. At one end of the Algarve you have the lure of Loulé and at the other Silves. Both will delight you and transport you back in time as you immerse yourself in just a little bit of Portuguese history.  

Our first visit to the Algarve was not blessed with joyous memories; in part I think this was just the space we were in 15 years ago, deep in the seat of our corporate merry-go-round. So revisiting of this part of the world seemed important to test out our past perceptions and reconnect with the country’s true values. 

As we approached Silves after a week along the Rocky Algarve, the hilly fortress and cathedral stood proud and providing a vista that we were sure would surprise and delight. Although as we drove over the bridge and along the outer rim road, there was definitely a deja-vous moment. Slowly memories popped in my mind as we moseyed past the Parça Al-Mutamid and flash backs of our previous visit tumbled back to me. We had been here before…. so what new adventures could we have all these years on? Well plenty I can tell you, so if you’re ready, let me tell you a bit about what you can experience in two or three days in this little gem of a town.

 

What to see in Silves

1. The Castle

Well as obvious as it might seem, the castle is an instant draw. What is it about castles and their ancient history that bring out the intrigued historian in us? With its renovated walls that surround a large part of Silves in a protective embrace, you instantly get the feeling of tales of old. Battles, slavery, and torture – who would have thought that this tiny town could have such a story to tell.  A story that takes us back as far as 8th century when the Moors were the dominant force building their fortress on Roman fortifications. Although it has had some renovation work through 20th century, the castle is the largest in the Algarve. For €2.80 you can enter the castle and walk around its walls and take in the panorama in front of you. Or simply keep the statue of King Sancho 1 company, slayer of the enemy in 1189 and admire the castle from the outside with its blossoming cherry tree and blue sky background giving instant photographic appeal.  

Check out our gallery below…

 

2. Sé de Silves

Whilst you are perusing the magnificence of the castle’s conquests, you cannot ignore its Gothic neighbour. Silves’ Cathedral requires some neck straining as you gaze to is tower pinnacle. It was built in 13th century and despite being damaged by the earthquake in 1755, it has been rebuilt keeping its Gothic features. It is now on the Portuguese National Register of Monuments list and is thought to be one of the most significant Cathedrals in the region. Reason enough to take some time to admire it.

3. Street Art

As you wander around this compact and bijou town, you will be impressed by its colourful facades. The streets are undoubtedly full of history which somehow still feels etched into their brickwork. Although a more modern feature stands out from the ancient tales; the street art. Now I must stress this isn’t graffiti, this is genuinely beautiful pieces of art. From the Firestation, to the Electricity boxes and the walls adjacent to the Parça Al‘Mutamid. They each have their own narrative to tell and demand to be admired. 

3. Roman Bridge, Parça Al’Mutamid and Artaska Café

With a town so steeped in Arabian legend, it seems hard to imagine the role the Romans had on the area well before they conquered Portugal. Although their legacy is still in tact by way of the Ponte Romana, which today is being restored. It is a grand feature of the town, spanning across the Arade River and creating a stunning vista along the river walkway. 

Immediately opposite there is a famous landmark, although not in the same guise as its historical cousins. The Café Art’aska is a huge building that whilst dishevelled in nature has a real vibe going on. On a Sunday night this is the place to hang out and listen to some jamming and even partake with your own penny whistle if that takes your fancy. Imagine on a warm summer’s night, strolling along the Arade with the rhythm of music floating through the air. And add to that the chatter of storks that fly above you, who also call this place home, and you will instantly notice the appeal of this ancient capital grow, slowly and surely.

A short walk up the road will bring you to the Parça Al’Mutamid. This long stretch of park is so characterful and colourful. With its palm and pomegranate trees, fountains with floating figurines that depict characters from Silves of yesteryear and Muslim buildings that transport you back to an Arabian night, it feels quite surreal. It was created as a tribute to the Lord of Seville, Al’ Mutadid who conquered the Silves in 1053 and his son Al’Mutamid who was put in charge of the town at the tender age of 12! It’s Islamic feel is evident everywhere and you can almost imagine that you are not in Portugal at all. 

Check out our gallery below.

 

What to do in Silves

Apart from the obvious walking tour around the town or may be the Archaeological Museum if that’s your thing (37.188967 -8.438888), there are a couple of other things to whilst you are in this area. 

1. Partake in a Port Experience 

You can’t come to Portugal and not dabble in a bit of Port. When I saw the advert for a Port Experience, I was in! This is part of the culture and it had to be done! Well that was my excuse anyway. Crazily we didn’t ask the price and being next to the castle we did give a momentary thought to the bill at the end, although hey! So they arrived at our table with three ample sized glasses of port to try; a Tawny, a White and a Rosé. And we ordered a fig cake, which is also a local delicacy. Figs are super important to the Portuguese economy. Well the Port was delightful and we enjoyed it enough to purchase a bottle of the Rosé which appealed to both our palettes. The whole experience, which whilst sat underneath the shade of the castle walls, listening to the storks go about their business, cost us €10.00. The bottle we took home was only €9.50.  One word of warning. If you’re going to order the fig cake, make sure you share it with someone otherwise the laxative effects the next morning could have you running for the loo. 

2. Take a walk up to the windmill

The walks in the area have huge potential for those who love a good ramble. It’s not far out of town before you find quiet roads, gently rolling hills and miles of hiking opportunities. To reach the windmill (37.203102 -8.435254) you wander through countryside strewn with lemons and orange groves bordered by wild flowers and herbs. At the right time of year, the smells are just amazing as the orange blossom tantalises your nostrils. It’s a bit of a steep hike up to the windmill, although the views from here are just amazing. From the town it’s only about 45 minute walk, although lovely none the less. 

3. Cycle to Arade Reservoir

Equally rewarding is the 12 mile return cycle ride that takes you through rural villages who survive on their agricultural trade up to the source of the Arade river. The reservoir offers gorgeous views of this water scape and to sit beneath the pine trees and take in the vista or cycle some more around the plentiful footpaths, will certainly while away an afternoon. 

 

Here’s our gallery…

 

Where to stay and eat 

1. Camping 

As we travel in our campervan, staying at Silves is easy. There’s two great little Aires, one either side of the town. Parque do Castelo is an excellent and well run Aire for €9.50 which includes EHU and free wifi. Showers are extra – 50c per person and washing machines €4. You are within walking distance of the town and the Windmill from here.

The second official Aire is beside the river on the other side of town (37.185115 -8.445415). I’m unsure of the prices or services.

If you wanted to go wild, then you can stay outside of Silves some 6 miles away, by the Arade Reservoir I mentioned earlier. There are two spots; one just beneath the reservoir (37.236863 -8.378789) and another at the top of the hill in a small parking area that has some views. Neither have services, although these are available in Silves for a small fee. 

2. Accommodation

If you are looking to stay in a hotel or Air BnB, then check out these options with Booking.com

3. Somewhere to eat

We love France’s style of Plat du Jour – often a canteen affair with basic food cooked well for a phenomenally cheap price. Well Portugal has these too. We were recommended to go to Casa Velha, which is opposite the Town Hall in Silves. They offer, every day a three-course meal for just €7.50, including wine/beer/port. Just asking for the ‘Camping Menu.’  Whilst the food is never going to be gourmet we thought the ambiance of the place and their service was great. Their fish dish was amazing – Portugal seriously knows how to do fish. 

Check out our gallery below.

 

Our conclusions on Silves

On our travels we continue to love heading inland to experience the heart of a country and its rural culture. It is here we find hidden gems that seem to only fall to the cutting room floor and not make the glossy magazines. We feel that way about Silves. Charming, characterful and full of charisma and most definitely worth the detour for a day or two. Walk the cobbled streets and listen to the chattering storks whilst knowing that somewhere, somehow Muslims, Roman and Christians placed their feet upon the same stones as you.  

 

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5 Algarve Coastal Hiking Trails

5 Algarve Coastal Hiking Trails

Portugal’s Algarve coastline is ready to astound you, appeal to your inner artist and challenge you in more ways than you can imagine. Join us as we hug Portugal’s coastal fringes in pursuit of visual experiences that are set to blow our tiny minds.

We’ve seen some stunning sights around Europe over our three years on the road, although none so evocative for me as the rich experience of the coast. There’s something that grabs me deep within when I hear the sound of the crashing waves pounding against the rocks, the seagulls’ cries as they skim above the brilliant blue seas and the contrasting colours of the sand against the ocean. It truly brings out the poet in me and I find a seaside fix almost a necessary dosage to my inner happiness.

So you can imagine my delight when we started to explore the craggy Algarve coastline. From a previous holiday 15 years ago we knew that the south west was pretty spectacular, although had no idea about the bits in between. It was like visiting Willy Wonker’s Chocolate factory. 

We have hiked the coast, taken a gazillion photos and exclaimed in sheer delight at the wondrous sights before our eyes. Mother Nature playing a starring role in her shaping of this most southerly coast of Europe. Here we share our thoughts on the routes we’ve taken from Algarve central at Armacão de Pera to Alvor. 

 

Portugal’s Coastal Geology

Now I don’t intend to complicate matters with the composition of this Algarve coastline. Let’s keep it simple! This coastal region is a predominantly limestone with karst features along this southerly edge, blended with rich mineral deposits. Whilst over thousands of years, the land has been battered by winds and waves that sweep in from the Atlantic Ocean, the Algarve coastline is also significantly shaped by seismic activity due to the Loulé fault that lies through the region.  There is also a fault line that lies off the coast and these have had and continue to play a huge part in the shaping of this coastal beauty.  The Lisbon earthquake was a massive event in 1755, although in 1969 the Algarve was hit particularly hard. Smaller events are noted and undoubtedly affect the coastline together with its weather buddy. (For information of Portugal seismic activity you can check out this website which gives up to date information.)

During the winter particularly the seas take on a personality that seems something like a tempestuous teenager. Enormous waves forming way out at sea, roll in tune with the fresh winds as they hammer their way to the coast. Crashing and thumping their full weight onto any shore and cliffs that happen to get in their way. This southerly coastline slowly buckles beneath its force and decades worth of natural forces slowly make their mark on the landscape. Leaving for us a stunning coastal perspective that puts one of its beaches in the Top 100 Best Beaches in the World. 

So geology lesson over, let’s place our focus on the beauty that these natural forces continue to carve for our delights. For this particular post, we explored what is known as the Rocky Algarve due to the craggy and gnarly limestone artwork that is evident here. Giant and sheer cliff faces defy access to those who wish to conquer the land and yet conversely the little bays, coves and caves that have formed thanks to the relentless pounding of the seas, is enough to have your heart melting. 

 

Our 5 Coastal Hikes

 

1. Armacão de Pera to Galé

Easy beach walking up to 6 miles return (approx)

Heading east to west, our first hiking recommendation is from Armacão de Pera. This is a tourist town just 50km west from Algarve’s capital Faro. From its peninsular at Galé, this arcing bay is wall to wall sand that can often look like a scene out of a Desert Monthly magazine. With mounds of sand moulded by the incessant winds that blow on-shore, camels are the only thing missing from this evocative painting. The town, whilst certainly a tourist hot spot, has its areas of authenticity; namely the fishermen’s huts from where they still launch their boats from the sandy shore as there is no harbour here in Armacão.  Beach walking is extensive around here and it is possible to reach Our Lady of the Rock fortress and peninsular, which offers great views back across the town. Although a little bit of road walking is necessary to reach it.

 

2. Alabandeira to Our Lady of the Rock

Medium difficulty – some clambering required. 75 mins duration and 4 miles return

We wilded overnight at the parking here for two nights. What an incredible spot with waves crashing to the twin beaches below. At low tide they are worth checking out. Just thirty seconds to the west you will find the most incredible archway that offers great views up and down the coast and it is especially beautiful at sunrise.

The walk to the east from the parking area took about an hour and fifteen, including photostops and using the orange dots that mark the way, you can deviate to the edge of the cliffs for some amazing views. There’s a number of blow holes that you can just about see into on tip toes and the cliff line and secret beaches are incredible. There is one point where you are required to climb down the cliff on a rough path, and then scale up the other side. At times the path is narrow and eroded, although unless you have vertigo is doable.

The destination is Our Lady of the Rock which is a peninsular on which a fortress was built to protect the area from pirates. A chapel was also built here, which was partially destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. The 16th century chapel stands today and has the most staggering views perched on this small peninsular at the mercy of the sea gods. And as such it is a monument of Public Interest Patrimony. 

The walk back will take you significantly less time without the indirect route and photos  – I made it back in 30 minutes. 

Click on the image below for our Gallery of Pictures.

3. Albandeira to Benagil Caves

Easy to medium difficulty, 5 miles return taking 2.5 hours 

Heading west from the car park area, you get a chance to savour the magnificent view of the archway, which like most things looks so different at various points in the day

The views will have you wowing pretty regularly and with a path that is continually bordered by wild juniper bushes sheltering all sorts of wildlife, you will be in for a natural world treat.

There is one part of the walk that has the feel of someone’s back garden, as the path becomes landscaped and walled with the most divine wild freesias creating a heady scent that boosts any weariness that you may be experiencing.

Just around the corner comes one of the main sections of the walk and a big bucket list tick if you are determined to visit every one of the 100 Best Beaches in the World – Praia de Marinha. Used on advertising for the Algarve, this beach can easily rub shoulders with the best that Malaysia and New Zealand can offer. Steep steps carry you down to the beach from the cliff top and at low tide you are able to walk to the famous M Rocks.    

Continuing on from there, you eventually reach the famous Algar de Benagil. This is the must see of the area and sadly during the winter season when the seas are rough getting entry into this sea cave by boat or canoe is a no go. Still being able to get a glimpse of it from the clifftop gives you a suitable tease for what might be beneath you feet and have you rushing back to see it in calmer seasons.

Click on the image below for our Gallery of Pictures.

 

4. Alvor to Portimão 

Easy to medium difficulty, 7 miles one way taking 2.5 hours

Alvor has a brown sign off the main roads – we like brown signs as it always means there’s something pretty to see. And Alvor is delightful. It has many features; the town, which is predominantly restaurants enticing tourists to sample their fare. Then there’s the harbour and fishing area, where the traditional Algarve fishermen’s sheds take the beach hut to a whole new level. With locals chilling or mending their nets, this is a bit of culture right before your eyes. Alvor also has its sandy beach, its peninsular and then…. Then there are the rock formations. Of all the sections of coast we saw this was our favourite as at low tide you could get down and personally with these naturally carved pieces of art. Arches, stacks, tunnels and cliffs that look like Leonardo has painted its intricate layers of gold, yellow and orange streaks. Set against the blue ocean and the green juniper shrubs, this place will wow you. I felt like a child at a fun fair – not knowing which way to turn and certainly not wanting to leave. 

Up on the cliff tops, you can then walk miles – sometimes slightly inland, sometimes hugging the edges of this precarious landmass that is surrendering slowly to the sea. Whilst the sea may ebb and flow from your view, you will still be captured by the fields of wild lupins and daisies. Hoopoes and finches flying around you as you meander around the coast towards Portimão. A stop for lunch at one of the beaches is a must surely? 

And as you see the skylines changing from the natural architecture of the cliffs to modern, high-rise tourist homes, the feel of the coast does change. Although I still found myself marvel at the show th coastal fringes displayed.

However you feel about tourist destinations, Praia de Rocha will certainly help you overcome any dislike you may have the towering giants looking for the picture postcard view. The beach stretches out for 1km with its curvaceous bay and golden sands inviting you to strip off your shoes and walking socks and get down and dirty on the beach. Allow the grains of sand to wedge between your toes and feel the warmth of the day’s sun on the souls of your feet. Or if you prefer there is a boardwalk you can promenade along instead.

At the end of the beach, the personality of the area changes to a high class marina with identical apartments lining the water’s edge. Across the water you see Ferragudo and yet another masterpiece in the Algarve coastal gallery.  At this stage we decided to organise a taxi back, using the Uber app. For €7.71 and 10 minutes we were soon home with our feet up and a refreshing cup of tea. 7 miles was more than enough for one day.

Click on the image below for our Gallery of Pictures.

 

5. Carvoeira to Ferragudo

Cycle route taken – 10 miles round trip 1.5 hours

After the miles we walked this week, Myles’ foot injury from two years ago came back to haunt him – so no more walking for a couple of weeks. Instead we took to our bikes instead to capture the Carvoeira coastline. 

From our campsite we cycled 10 minutes into the village, which is charming. Its one way cobbled street, lined with elegant shops leads down to a pedestrian area full of vibrant bars. The golden sand beaches just implore you to place your naked feet upon its velvet covering.

If a beer tempts you, then succumb and people watch – even in February there was plenty going on. We continued up the west side of the village to catch a glimpse from the vantage point. Taking the quiet roads we cycled through the very neat and very smart area on the outskirts of the village, home to millionaires we’re sure. 

The Arriba da Salgadeira peninsular is amazing with views east and west show-casing its magnificent cliff face and hidden bays carved out by the pounding seas.

Our final destination was the Torre do Lapa, which is a 17th century watchtower, protecting the locals from pirates. It is one of many similar structures located along the coast, which on in the event of danger would send out smoke or fire signals to the other towers so they could keep alert to the dangers. From here we were able to cycle the 3 miles back to to the campsite happy in the knowledge that we had seen a bit more of the coast, without putting any pressure on Myles’ injured foot.

 

Practical Tips for Hiking the Algarve safely

As with any type of hiking, a few basic rules and common sense apply. Although given the precarious geology in the area it is worth being a little more alert to the dangers than on some other coastal routes.

1. If hiking out of season watch for slippery rocks as whilst the days are warm even in January, the nights are cold and there is often a dew.

2. During winter hiking take plenty of layers. The winds along this exposed Atlantic coast can be harsh, so be prepared.

3. If hiking in the height of season take plenty of water. Whilst there are cafés on some of the routes, dehydration can be a big issue, so walk responsibly. 

4. You are walking in an area with seismic activity, so be mindful that tremors could happen at any time and create crevices in the rocks.

5. Keep away from the cliff edges – whilst it is tempting to get up close and personal, the cliff fringes are delicate. 

6. There are areas that have been cordoned off with wooden barriers. Observe them, they are there for a reason. In the Benagil area there are fines for anyone caught climbing over the fences.

7. Make sure you wear solid walking shoes and not the flipflops we saw so often! The cliffs are stoney and uneven, so caution is required. 

8. There are orange blobs and arrows to follow so you shouldn’t get lost, although I suggest taking your phone with the app maps.meFor walking this is far better than Google Maps as it shows footpaths and will guide you back should you loose your way.

9. As so often stressed in any nature walk, “Take only pictures and leave behind only footprints.”

 

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Loulé – Algarve Authenticity

Loulé – Algarve Authenticity

The Algarve’s inland gem, Loulé is set apart from its tourist coastline cousins and was our first reconnection with the region after 15 years. Would our disappointing memories from that package holiday be erased, replaced by a more mature travel perspective? And would Loulé be our first healer? We really hoped so.

Our entry to Portugal from Spain was 40 miles inland away from the Algarve’s Atlantic coastline. And whilst I had my heart set on revisiting the craggy cliffs and rock artistry from Portimão to Sagres, we consciously chose to avoid the full length of this southern most region.

Loulé would be the first dipping of our toes in the Algarve’s proverbial waters, and after a recommendation to visit, I hit the research jungle drums, to find out more. I was captured by the phrases “authentic Portuguese village”, “not a tourist destination”. Now that was my kind of place.

 

Mértola

Although before I launch into regaling you with our tales of this fine town, let me tease you with a little preamble. Inland Portugal was a soothing introduction to our uncertain return. Winding our way through the curvaceous lands towards the Alentejos region, Mértola and its Natural Park of Guadiana was our first station stop. This Islamic icon initiated our Portuguese history lesson. Mértola, perched high above the river that courses its way to the Atlantic, is a walled city that houses Arabic tension and Christian dominance from way back in 10th century.  It was a lovely place to check out for a couple of hours. Here’s a little taster in a gallery below. 

 

N2 – Portugal’s Answer to Route 66

As keen motorbikers back in the day, our route south towards Portimão was shaped by the lure of Portugal’s answer to the famous Route 66. The N2 was in spitting distance from Mértola and this route had our names written all over it. The N2 glides from Chaves in the north to Faro in the south of the country, covering some 450 miles, tip to toe. It is classed as the longest continuous road in Portugal, winding through 4 different mountain ranges and crossing through 29 different municipalities. We joined it at Almodovãr and soon found ourselves snaking through the oak forest landscape that was as curvaceous as Marilyn Monroe. I could see why this is a Mecca for motorbikes. Traffic, now diverted onto the toll motorways for quick access north and south, leaves this road quiet, free and magnificent to drive. With the cork industry evident thanks to the half naked oak trees lining the roads, we wound our way to Querença having had a rich hour’s drive on this ‘not to be missed’ route through Portugal’s beating heart.  Click below for our gallery.

 

 

Loulé, a town of authentic charm

So back to Loulé and the reason for writing today. We love the charm of authentic villages. Communities where the locals hang out for morning coffee, buy their fish from the daily market and gratefully sell their wares to any passing trade. Would Loulé satisfy our search for such genuine communities?

Our arrival to Loulé initially didn’t give us the image we had hoped for. Although we have come to appreciate that, just like a cracker, it is what is on the inside that really counts. We found ourselves a safe place to park (37.13815, -8.02614) just a few minutes walk from the southern gate of the city walls and got our Maps.me route at the ready. In my research I found a great blog from the Algarve Tourist that acted like our own personal guide, giving us all Loulé’s POI and their relevant coordinates. What a find that was, as wandering aimlessly irritates the pants off me.

Yet our self guided walking tour was anything other than aimless or irritating. It was a joy to experience its cultural diversity, seeing Portuguese and North African residents live in harmony together. To feel the vibe of locals going about their daily lives without the intrusion of coach tours was a privilege. I’m sure tourists exist in the summer, although Loulé seems unrelentless in its desire to stay true to its authentic roots. With its cobbled streets that entice you to explore the local artisans, brightly coloured houses holding centuries of history and small bars and cafés tucked away in corners, Loulé is charm personified.

The arrival of Arabs in 8th century gave Al-‘Ulya’ its first real identity as a fortified city and many of its features still remain today such as the Islamic Baths, the bell tower of St Clemente church and the Muslim cemetery in the park across from the tower.  Although from mid 1200’s until 19th century Loulé’s character altered hugely as economic crises in the country impacted on its development and Christian dominance took hold of its architectural and cultural evolution.  Finally today’s finely tuned community fuses diverse inhabitants who are set on making Loulé home, irrespective of history’s struggles.  Click below for our interactive Walking Tour of Loulé.

 

 

Our Top 10 Sights

1. St. Francis Catholic Church

Set on the modern fringes of the town, this 17th century church looks plain and easily missable, although there will be crowds of people around its doors, so you’ll know you have found the right place. Although it is the inside that is meant to the main attraction. Unfortunately we couldn’t get in on our visit. 

 

2. Walk down the elegant shopping street Rua 5 de Outubro

As you head across from the Church, take the Outubro street which takes you down the tantalising shopping centre. Unlike so many other cities or towns, this is a short lane full of smart boutiques and shops selling a huge range of cork products. Cafés line the streets and with the artistry on the cobbled floor, you will experience shopping like never before – and guess what? So few tourists too. 

 

3. Take a peak at the Conceição Chapel

Whilst perhaps plain on the outside, it is inside the the view will amaze you. Sadly you’re not allowed to take pictures, although with an Alter full of gold and the walls of intricate blue images, this tiny space is quite incredible.  Conceição is a big lesson in never judging a book by its cover. 

 

4. See the excavation works at the Islamic Baths

We were lucky on our visit as the major excavations of these ancient Baths had an open door for us to peak through. It is a major project uncovering the remains of the walls and they are unearthing a significant piece of history. Hopefully you will be lucky too.

 

5. Bicas Velhas Fountain and Castle

Just behind the Islamic Baths, you will find a fountain that dates back to 1887 and that supplied the local population with their water. Look out for the four spouts one of which was made from smelting one of the bells from the Mother Church.  

And around the corner, you will find the Castle fortress and its museum. Its origin dates back to 2nd century when the Roman’s had a presence here, then the Moors more specifically took control until 1249 when the Portuguese gained control from the Muslims. You can visit from Tuesday to Friday from 10.00am – 1.30pm and 2.00pm – 6.00pm and on a Saturday from 10.00am – 1.30pm and 2.00 – 4.30pm. There is an entry fee of €1.62.

 

6. “Espirito Santo” Convent

This 17th century building is iconic, if not for its history than for its 45ft Pine tree, which rises from the centrepiece of the building. Initially occupied by Franciscan Friars, the convent evolved into a shelter for unprotected women and yet it was only in 1711 that the Pope recognised it as a religious sanctuary. The earthquake of 1755 had a devastating effect on the convent and had to be rebuilt and today it is now the home of the Art Gallery. You can walk into the inner court and crane your neck skywards to see the enormous Pine tree even if the Art Museum is not your cup of tea. 

 

7. Câmara and Municipal indoor market

After walking through the alleyway to see the back of the Convent (take note of the best public toilets in the square here that I have even had to visit) you will come out to the main N270 road through the town. And you won’t miss it – the elegance of the Town Hall and the unmistakable pink facade of the indoor market. The market is on every day and offers you a range of fish stalls, at least 20 butchers around the outside and an array of other yummy goodies to tempt you. Although if you want a bigger market experience, then come to Loulé on a Saturday when the Farmers’ and Gypsy market become the places to hang out. Check out our gallery by clicking below.

 

8. Medieval cobbled streets 

As you meander your way from the market towards the Igreja de São Clemente, towards the south side of the town, take some time to wander your way through the narrow, cobbled streets where artisans have small shops and café bars sell their tapas the locals. Here atmosphere is intimate and warm as daily life just toodles on by without a care for the visitors passing by. 

 

 

9. Igreja de São Clemente

As you walk away from the market, the Bell Tower of the Church of San Clemente is your call, visible way above the reaches of the medieval houses. The square that the church calls home is full of interesting points and it is worth glancing upwards as you marvel at the bells that toll around Loulé’s rooflines. The church was built on a mosque and has survived three earthquakes so has many tales of survival and perseverance to tell. 

 

10. ‘Martim Farto’ Townhouse and Muslim Cemetery 

Opposite the church notice a very different style of house, which is thought to have been a noble-man’s dwelling constructed in 18th century. With Baroque style architecture the house holds an interesting story; Martim Farto a counsellor and representative from the King’s Court was said to be godfather to most of the children christened at the time. To the left of the building also check out the unique chimney, which is so different to those seen around the country.  Also you will see the cemetery that is now a public garden and that can be enjoyed by all in the town.

 

More to see…

Whilst Loulé as a town is worth seeing in its own right, there are some special times to come visit and experience a cultural uniqueness.

 

Carnival time

If you can time your visit around 3-5 March you will experience the flamboyant carnival that grips Portugal at this time of year. Loulé has a reputation for being one of the best in the Algarve. Just check before you go as the annual carnival dates do change according to Easter calendar.

 

Market day

If you want to explore Loulé in the relative privacy of your own company then go Monday to Friday, as Saturday the place changes personality – it’s market day. Not only do you have a Farmers’ Market there’s also a Gypsy Market too and people come far and wide to visit. So expect more crowds, although what an interesting experience that would be.

 

So Loulé? What’s our verdict?

A delightful and historic place to visit way from the coastal crowds, that hums to the sound of Islamic and Christian war-dances that have scarred the ancient landscape. And yet paradoxically, peace and harmony now reign through the quiet, cobbled streets. For such a small town it has a big personality which will charm you and we highly recommend a visit.

 

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