Loule is an old town on a hill near the coast with a quaint old center, strange and wonderful folk celebrations and many monuments such as churches and castles. This is in stark contrast to the tourist infrastructure along the coast, which cannot be found anywhere in the Algarve. Vilamoura is Europe’s largest tourist complex, with access to 10 beaches, more golf courses than professionals and a swish marina where hundreds of luxury yachts float in the water.
When it comes to sea, sand and all the little things that sweeten a holiday in the sun, Vilamoura has you covered. Loule is its older sister and there is culture and history there.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Lore:
1. Vilamoura Pier
Vilamoura’s Marina is a very upscale place to mingle, stroll by the water, shop and dine, it’s new and touristy, but everything is better.
The natural harbour is an ancient lagoon filled with luxury yachts and surrounded by amenities and hotels.
Marvel at these boats with an ice cream or a cold drink, or lose weight on the bar terrace or enjoy arroz de marisco in one of the restaurants.
This is truly your first port of call if you want to book a cruise, nature safari or jet ski adventure.
2. Lou Lai Castle
Although today it looks like a typical medieval fortress, the story of Loule Castle begins more than 2,000 years ago.
At the time it was a Castro, a Bronze Age defensive settlement, and then a trading post for the Phoenicians and Carthaginians.
Later the Romans were in charge, then the Visigoths, and the Moors took over the fort in 715, when the fort began to take on its present appearance.
Inside there is a branch of the Municipal Museum, which reconstructs the medieval kitchen of the castle and displays various findings from the archaeological excavations.
Of course, you can’t miss the chance to climb the 14th and 15th century battlements and set your sights on the town like a medieval watchman.
3. Cerro Davila
In the modern development of the Vilamoura Pier is a fascinating Roman archaeological site.
It was the southwestern outpost of the vast Roman commercial network.
There are remnants of a garum factory that made fermented fish sauce, a staple of the Roman diet.
You can also find dye vats, baths and the ground floors of several regal residences.
These still have some painted stuccoes and multicolored mosaics, and there are also artifacts such as ceramics, mosaic fragments, and interior decorations in the site’s small museum.
4. Mercado de Loule
Loule’s market hall is both an indispensable everyday facility and a beautiful monument that might be mistaken for a Moorish palace from the outside.
Originally constructed in 1908, the structure features leaf arches and towers with oriental domes on the exterior.
These give way to a huge metal and glass hall with rows of stalls along a central aisle several hundred meters long.
Get there early to stock up on fresh produce and fine arts and crafts, while there’s also a separate space for fish and seafood caught hours earlier.
5. Falecia Beach
On either side of Vilamoura Pier are miles of sandy beaches with silky golden sands.
Closest to the west is the blue-flagged Praia da Falésia, which is surrounded by red cliffs and stretches for 5.5 kilometers.
During the fall and winter, these rocks are eroded by wind and rain to feed the sand on the beach, and it’s not uncommon to see small dunes at the base of the cliffs.
As for the water, it has moderate currents for swimming as there are no hidden rocks in the waves.
6. Igreja de São Lourenço de Almancil
If you want to discover an authentic Portuguese church, head to the Almacil parish in Loule, where there are jaw-dropping examples from the 1600s.
It is a baroque monument, with the typical decorative scrolls on the pediment outside, but of interest are the awesome tiles.
These monochrome glazes were painted by Oliveria Bernades, one of the master tile masters of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The tiles tell the life of St. Lawrence and fill every surface of the interior, save for the floor and the gilded altarpiece, which was sculpted by another Algarve master, Manuel Martins.
7. Loule Old Center
Loule’s compact core is little different from Vilamoura and its upscale tourist area.
As we can see from the castle, Loulé has been settled for over 3,000 years, and the center has the hidden squares and narrow alleys of a proper medieval town.
As in the historic center of the Algarve, each house is painted white and covered with ceramic roof tiles.
There are also signs of the old city walls of Loulé, such as the stone arches leading to the main church of Largo da Matriz.
There are no signs of it today, but Jardim dos Amuados, with its palm trees and neat flower beds, was a Moorish cemetery 1,000 years ago.
8. Capela de Nossa Senhora da Conceição
One of the attractions of the old town is this lovely 17th century chapel next to the castle.
It used to be located at the northwest entrance of Lule, which appeared in the 1640s after Portugal re-declared its independence from Spain.
King John IV issued a decree consecrating Portugal’s Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Conception of the Virgin) and ordered the construction of chapels and chapels for her at the entrance to the town.
If you know the biblical story, you can decipher the lovely blue and white tiled panels, while the altar is luxurious woodwork and gilding, a signature Portuguese baroque.
9. Praia da Vilamoura
Praia da Falésia is the choice for seclusion and pure nature.
But families and people who want easier access to services should opt for Praia da Vilamoura on the east side of the marina.
The sand on this beach is lighter in tone but soft in texture, and in summer you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas, or pamper yourself in the “Purobeach” area with massages, waiter service and a huge four-poster canopy for extra luxury and privacy bed.
If you’re partying in town, there’s a party area with DJs and live music.
Golf-hungry tourists are better off bringing their clubs when they come to this part of the Algarve.
The benefit of being in the largest tourist complex in Europe is that you will have no less than five golf courses in your backyard.
These are the Vila Sol courses with 27 holes connected to the resort, Millennium Golf Course, Victoria Golf Course, Laguna Golf Course and finally Pinhal Golf Course.
There is no greater concentration of golf clubs throughout the Algarve, and there are different options every weekday.
If you extend your radius to the entire city of Loule, you can choose from more than ten in 15 minutes.
11. Nova Cortisa
At the top, 15 minutes from the town of Loulé, is a factory attraction that cuts into the heart of the Algarve’s cork business.
It’s an experience that will change your perception of the product and what cork can do as a material.
It all comes from the spongy bark of the cork oak tree, and you’ll learn how it’s processed and shaped for any number of appliances, from wine corks to notice boards, floors, shoes and other fashion accessories.
There is an in-depth understanding of the biology of cork oaks and plenty of opportunities to touch the cork at every stage of the process.
12. Trilho da Fonte Benémola
While most of your attention is on the coast, you shouldn’t overlook nature walks in the arid highlands north of Loule either.
Fonte Benémola is actually an oasis in a dusty landscape of pine bushes and cork oak.
Regardless of the season, the natural spring water that nourishes this greenery flows at the same steady rate, bringing freshness to this small valley even in July and August.
Sheltered spots by the water have orchids, wild herbs and picnic tables.
Regular stops on the trail have information boards that tell you about the human and natural history of spring and the variety of animals that inhabit here.
Passing Fonte Benémola is the peaceful rural town of Salir, perched on top of a hill.
Like Loule, it was a pre-Roman Celtic settlement, but its most important period was in the 12th century, when it was guarded by a Moorish castle during the Almohad Caliphate.
It was a strategic trophy in the Algarve, and strongholds like this ensured that the region was not recaptured by the Portuguese kings until the end of the 13th century.
The castle is in ruins, but there are several authentic Moorish walls and towers enigmatic, and a new local museum explains what you’re looking at.
14. Annual Events
Usually at the end of February, if you’re enjoying the winter sun in the Algarve, Loulé’s Carnival is worth a detour.
It’s a three-day extravaganza that ends on Shrove Tuesday and includes flamboyant and eccentric gowns, floats with irreverent political satire and a transatlantic vibe that blends Portuguese heritage and Brazilian samba flavors.
Then there’s Noite Branca at the end of August.
You wouldn’t think this annual celebration is only ten years old, in terms of the number of people taking to the streets.
Everyone dressed in white, filling the town center with more imaginative outfits for parties and parades.
15. Outdoor Activities
Once you leave the coastal community, Loulé has a lot of natural beauty that is completely untouched by tourism.
On the eastern edge is a wetland that becomes the huge Ria Formosa lagoon, which can be visited by special boat from Faro, 15 minutes away.
On land, you can take high-intensity nature observations along rocky riverbeds in a 4×4.
A more peaceful way to get back into the wilderness is to take a horseback trip through one of the stables and equestrian centres around Vilamoura.
Finally, if your eyes are on the sea, Vilamoura Marina has several companies, such as Algarve Seafaris, that are sailing out to the Atlantic in search of dolphins.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Lule, Portugal
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