Loule - Excursions and Places of interest
Information updated 13 Apr 2015
Natural areas of beauty
Rio Formosa Nature Reserve
The 170 square kilometres of saltwater lagoons, islands and marshes of the Ria Formosa estuary is a breathtakingly beautiful area, teeming with migrating birds, dozens of species of fish and unique flora and fauna. The reserve’s easily accessible pathways and boardwalks make this a fabulous place for walking, cycling and birdwatching and there are numerous guided boat trips on offer. You can even hire a kayak and paddle your way around the canals and lagoons. Viewing points and bird hides are strategically placed to make the most of the views and to spot rare birds in their natural habitat. You could spend several days here but be sure to include at least one visit during your stay.
It may be best known for its international airport but the city of Faro, just half an hour’s drive from Loulé, is well worth a visit. Its charming old town is located to the east of Faro marina. The city’s Se Cathedral, quite unassuming on the outside, is surprisingly ornate inside, with gilded carving, traditional azulejos (tiles) and impressive works of art, and you can get a wonderful view of the city by climbing the steps up the cathedral tower. A mainly pedestrianised shopping area consists of dozens of cobbled streets and squares with plenty of cafés and restaurants. For a little retail therapy head to the Forum Algarve shopping mall on the main EN125 road from the Faro airport area; it has a wonderful choice of stores built around an open air square.
The old town
Now quite a cosmopolitan market town, Loulé retains plenty of its historical roots, with the winding cobbled streets of the old town now bursting with cafés, bars, restaurants and shops. There are some beautiful old churches here and the daily market is particularly worth a visit for its array of fresh produce, crafts, basket weaving and copper goods.
Churches / Cathedrals
Church, Santa Barbara de Nexe
A truly historic village just 15 minutes’ drive from Loulé, Santa Barbara de Nexe is built on the site of a bronze-age hill fort subsequently used by the Phoenicians and the Romans. The local landmark nowadays is the charming 400-year-old whitewashed church, understandably the focus of many artists’ paintings with its strikingly tall bell tower dominating the countryside. It’s well worth a peek inside to admire the various architectural and decorative styles used through the centuries, including examples of the area’s famous azulejos (tiles) depicting historical and religious scenes. You’ll find 16th century renaissance art alongside 17th century statues and 18th century carvings and a beautiful triumphal arch with a panel above depicting Saint Barbara being crowned by angels.
Just down the road from the market is the 13th century Loulé Castle, built on a site dating from the 10th century. Its three remaining stone towers have been well preserved and integrated into the town buildings and you can walk along the battlements and enjoy superb views across the west of town.
Other Places of interest
Milreu Roman Ruins
A short drive south from the nearby village of Estoi on the Faro road you’ll find one of Portugal’s most important archaological sites, the ruins of a grand Roman villa dating from the 1st century AD. Beautifully excavated, the villa’s luxurious origins are clear, with a central courtyard surrounded by columns, a series of rooms dedicated to bathing and even underground heating. Large sections of intricate fish mosaics are still intact and there is evidence of the villa’s later use as a church and then a Muslim burial site. The ruins are well worth a visit for anyone with a fascination for Roman history.