The beginnings of Loulé are uncertain, some historians putting it as far back as 400BC, but others say it's origins are Roman. It is a fact that when the Arabs invaded the Algarve in 715, Loulé was already an important town. It has been a part of Portugal since 1249 after the Algarve was recaptured from the Moors and in 1291 King Dom Dinis established the Algarve's only medieval fair in Loulé, a sign of the wealth of the region.
Loulé is an interesting town some 16km to the north of Faro. The landmark church of Nossa Senhora da Piedade - a modern dome shaped building reminiscent of a space ship - can easily be seen on a hill, just to the west of the town, from the A22 motorway. It is a large town with all the usual amenities you would expect to find - a great selection of shops, numerous banks, art galleries, swimming pools and sports pavilion to name but a few!
Loulé is famous for it's Saturday morning gipsy market (at the end of Rua da nossa Senhora da Piedade). It also has a really good daily market in the Arabian style market hall on Praça da República (open every morning except Sunday).
Although it is quite a big town, all the areas that visitors will probably want to see are in a relatively compact area. It is a good idea to use a map as on a first visit (from experience!) it is easy to turn down the wrong street and walk a lot further than you may want to!
Entering Loulé from the south west there is a roundabout with a statue of 2 cyclists - turn to the left and the road will go past a Continente supermarket and on towards the Nossa Senhora da Piedade Church. The road to the right leads to the center and as it goes up the hill, just before traffic lights at the top, there is an archway through the old walls on the left which leads through to Largo da Matriz.
In the middle of this small square is the main church of Loulé, Igreja de S.Clemente and to the left of the square is a small, peaceful garden, Jardim dos Amuados (Garden of Sulks), which is an ancient Arab cemetery.
From the back of the church follow Rua Matriz, turn left and you will arrive at the market building - you can't miss it! Make sure you get here in a morning, while it's open as the selection of produce is excellent - there are all sorts of treats to tempt you apart from all the fresh fruit and veg!
A little further along the street from the castle is the Convent of Espírito Santo which also houses the municipal art gallery.
Apart from the historical points of interest, there are also lots of cafés and shops in the criss-crossing network of cobbled alleys and streets and plenty of places to sit in the sunshine and watch the world go by!
The main avenida (José da Costa Mealha) is a bustle of cars and people going about their daily business on either side of the central gardens with benches under the trees and kiosks for refreshments along it's length.
Loulé Carnival is one of the biggest Events in Loulé and is famous across the Algarve. It takes places in February (over 3 days, the 3rd day being Shrove Tuesday) and is a truly color full affair with music and dancing and general partying; reminiscent of Brasilian carnivals, when people come from all over the Algarve to watch the processions and join in with the party as everyone takes to the streets! The center of Loulé (Avenida José da Costa Mealha) is shut off for the carnival and it costs a few euros for entrance.
It is worth arriving early- the procession starts at 3.00pm- to find parking, especially if you haven't been to the town before.
At Easter time there is a religious 'Festival of the Sovereign Mother', patron saint of Loulé, which again attracts people from all over the country