Loulé.. São Brás.. Tavira.. Olhão - another great Algarve day out
This fairly 'easy' circuit took my husband Nev and I from Loulé to Olhão via São Brás de Alportel and
Sometimes it's better to be less 'greedy' when planning a day out sightseeing in the Algarve. That way, you spend less time in the hire car and see more of what the region has to offer the
This was a great day out and we enjoyed it immensely. It included some quaint back road sections, wonderful scenery, sights of great historic and cultural interest and some sense of the real
Algarve behind the "touristy" facade.
And this time, for a change, we decided not to start off the day at the São Brás de Alportel pousada. Instead, we headed for Loulé, just north of our apartment
A favourite town of mine, we passed Loulé quite a few times during our last holiday, usually on our way elsewhere.
But, this time, we stopped in at Loulé on a blazing hot day and cooled down by strolling round the narrow, shady streets in the old town centre and through the covered market. Nev was
tempted to buy a brimmed hat from a stall in the market, but decided against it. A bad decision, as the peeling, sunburned tips of his ears let him know, later on in our Algarve vacation.
Loulé town is always good to visit. It's
probably the Algarve's second biggest town and, with lots of shops, restaurants and cafés and quaint narrow streets to explore, there's plenty there for the most demanding visitor.
While wending your way through some of the narrow streets, you can catch some great vistas of green expanses rolling down to the sea at the most unlikely moments.
There's plenty of on- and off-street parking (and compared to the UK, it's very reasonably priced, some of it free).
Some of the roads in the centre are lined with trees and shaded benches where you can rest and cool off, and the old part of town has sufficient quaint cobbled alleys and odd-looking buildings to
please a couple of rubber-necking tourists like us...
Loulé's covered market should be on any visitor's itinerary. It offers a glimpse into the old Algarve (except now sprinkled with tourists and holidaymakers, of course). And I like to visit
the areas where the artisans work. It's things like that which single out some places in our mass-produced world, making them special and different.
And we even availed ourselves of a visit to the town's hipermercado (a supermarket with pretensions) known as 'Modelo'. In its defence, it stocked many things that our local
'Alisuper' didn't offer and, as a bonus, from its car park there was a spectacular view over the valley to the hilltop, space-age church the locals call "Mãe Soberana" (Sovereign
(While at the Modelo car park, we saw an overenthusiastic local driver almost 'total' his own car and that of an unsuspecting elderly person during a completely unnecessary skid-turn on the dusty
tarmac surface. Otherwise, to be fair, most of the driving we observed this time seemed to have improved - or perhaps we've just 'mellowed' enough to accept it.)
Sad to relate, we just missed the festival fortnight of celebrations in Loulé. (It had concluded the night before, while we were getting to know our apartment and the Almancil
The annual celebration had started on Sunday 13th of April when the image of the Virgin was carried down into Loulé.
It begins at the hilltop church (actually named Nossa Senhora da Piedade).
And it ends two Sundays later with the image's return to Mãe Soberana, in a lengthy procession followed by a candlelight vigil and celebratory fireworks.
Mãe Soberana can be reached by car from the road that runs west out of Loulé. There's a sizeable car park right at the top of the hill.
Of course, Nev and I, ever the hardy tourists, decided to park in a dusty patch by the main road and clamber up the extremely uneven cobbles of the walled lane that scales the east of the hill.
(You can see part of the winding lane to the right of the photograph above).
It was a hot morning and the going was rough, as they say in horse racing circles. But, halfway up, the breeze kicked in, which made the climb more tolerable.
The church is fascinating and quite different from anything you'll see in Portugal (or elsewhere!). From its hilltop it affords wonderful views out over the sea and inland over Loulé and the rolling hills behind.
There's a small sanctuary chapel that has been around for some 500 years, and is currently undergoing restoration. But the main church was built very recently and is an astonishing sight.
It is a huge white dome, visible from miles around, and looks more like an observatory! (Only the cross on top and the adjacent chapel give the game away). Even on a very hot day, the prevailing
breezes make it a good spot to cool off, while you soak up some of the spirituality of the place. Such a vast expanse of white against a clear blue Algarvean sky can quite take your breath away, so
Nev, dwarfed by the walls of the sanctuary chapel.
The lady who proved to be the restoration expert (she was just starting work on brushing up the murals) was most helpful and informative, and told us about the festival we had just missed. This
explained all the posters we'd seen around on our travels.
During our walkabout, we saw plenty of evidence of the fireworks, and lots of candle wax about the place, but it wasn't much consolation for having missed the big event!
When we made our way back down the cobbled lane, the heat was shimmering off the cobbles, and only the cactus patch behind the whitewashed wall at the bottom of the hill looked comfortable. Our
car's interior was scorching hot and we set off with all the windows wound down, while we headed for an old favourite...
São Brás Pousada
Only 12 or so kilometres (8 miles) from Loulé, the pousada (as I've mentioned elsewhere) does a terrific full breakfast that will build you up for the day (assuming you get there early enough, of course). If the weather's great (which it
usually is) you can eat out on the terrace and admire the panoramic views over the surrounding countryside.
The pousada is one of a string of state-run hotels, usually located in wonderful surroundings, with friendly, knowledgeable, multilingual staff.
We both relaxed once we reached the winding cobbled drive up to the pousada. The fig trees along each side don't offer much shade, but are like rows of welcoming sentries. This time, we were using
the facilities just as a journey-breaker and I was keen to cool off in the lounge area with a thirst-quenching tea (while Nev had a coffee).
Our rusty Portuguese was just about good enough to cope with this situation, but the staff were good-natured about our attempts.
Although once we'd rested I was keen to be 'off and running', I couldn't resist a quick visit to the terrace. Those views are spectacular, and couldn't fail to lift my spirits! There were lots of
martins wheeling about in mid-air collecting insects to take back to the nests they had tucked under the eaves of the pousada.
If you look hard at the centre of the sky in this picture, you can see one of them. (Well, they do fly quickly!)
Back in our trusty hire car, we threaded our way down dusty roads through the usual chaotic traffic until we saw the sign for the IP1 motorway.
It's a great time-saver, the IP1 motorway, if you want to get from central Algarve to the east (or vice-versa). Not thrilling for the driver, but passengers can enjoy some fine vistas as they bowl
This town is definitely one of my very favourite places in the Algarve. I can't put my finger on why, but I feel good once I reach the outskirts of the town. It must be pleasurable anticipation, I
The place is steeped in history, of course,
and unlike many countries you might visit, in the Algarve they appreciate and venerate the past.
I'm always amused by the 'Roman bridge'. It's such a loose use of the term. Yes, the Romans did put a bridge up just at that position, but there can't be much, if anything, left of the original.
Certainly, what's there now is as Roman as I am.
Dodgy descriptions aside, that's a part of the town that I love, so I made sure we enjoyed a leisurely stroll around while we were there. The pace of life in Tavira is so laid-back that it's
positively calming. I swear; even the driving seems to take place in slow-mo!
Mostly, I like to be by the river. That's not difficult, fortunately, as there are shaded gardens with bench seating and lots of riverside cafes and restaurants where you can feast your eyes as
well as your stomach!
The histories of most places include violence and heroism, of course, and Tavira proudly displays this tiled plaque, which commemorates the bravery and selflessness of the locals who defended the
'Roman' bridge back in 1383 - 1385!
Some of the back streets have that faded ambience that I cherish. No different to derelict areas in the UK, I suppose, except that the decay looks warm and dry!
And we enjoyed a stroll around the Igreza da Santa Maria do Castelo and its surrounding cobbled streets when the flowers are blooming. What a delight it was this year...
We took in lots more of the sights, that I'll have to tell you about elsewhere, because next we set off in our little Fiat and headed down the coast road for...
Not somewhere I'd visited often, this is very much a working port. For every 'leisure craft' that you see, there are probably four working boats. The port-side road is dominated by the large,
modern buildings of the fish market and the adjacent food market.
While there, we ventured onto the 'pier' to take some photographs of the market buildings with some of the town in the background.
I can only report that the smell through which we hurried confirmed that the town's prosperity is based very much on fish-processing! It was worth it, though, since I like to do new things during
every holiday. My advice would be to put a clothes peg on your nose until you get back to terra firma, if you too fancy strolling out onto the pier.
Once inland of the water, a different aspect of Olhão presents itself. The old buildings are interesting, some with tiled facades and elaborate wrought-iron balustrades.
We had a sit-down snack in the square, in the shade of some trees, after we'd satisfied our sightseeing urges, and just watched the local life wash all around us.
The pace of life in such Algarvean places appeals to me. Cars are
parked higgledy-piggledy, people wander here and there, and the old folk, often in traditional dark clothing, sit about and observe.
And of course, everywhere there are Heinz-variety dogs, owners nowhere in sight, just padding about the place. Even though nowadays it's impossible to get away from mobile phones, you can almost
imagine that you're back in the early part of the 20th Century.
We were pretty tired out from the journey and the day's heat, so we agreed it was time to head back to Almancil to eat, rest and plan the next day.
We hit the IP1 going west and just cruised along at about 55 mph, being overtaken by every other vehicle headed our way. The sun slanting through the windscreen made driving tricky - and we were
in no hurry to join Portugal's appalling accident statistics.
Turning off at the Loulé Sul sign, we kept our tired eyes peeled for the road south to Almancil...
One other little feature that we 'enjoyed' quite a few times on our trips down the Almancil-Loulé road was a railway crossing. It did have stop lights, actually, but for some reason we both
found it a pretty hair-raising experience every time we had to negotiate it.
There was a huge bump up and then down again as you exited, but that generally didn't make the local drivers slow down much. (It would make me want a full suspension test before I'd consider
buying a second-hand car in the Almancil area, though).
So, there you have it...
Another great day out, enjoying the sights and sounds of the wonderful Algarve. You should try it yourself, and soon. (You know you deserve it).
I will definitely be making plans to return to Loulé as soon as I can. Watch out for me rooting around in Loulé's covered market!
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