Right in the heart of town there is a huge market (mercado) building that houses fish mongers, butcher shops, small bakeries, fruit and vegetable dealers, pottery shops, café’s, florists, and a variety of other services. Outside, local farmers arrive and set up stands selling an incredible array of local goods. Fresh fruits and vegetables in season. Home-made Piri-Piri sauce, fresh and dried herbs, breads, cakes, local honey and seasonal flowers are always available. Cheeses, presunto (local air cured hams), chorizo and other sausages are for sale as is salt fish, candy and bedding plants.
Whether you buy anything or not it is such fun to wander through the stalls, watching friends and family catch up on gossip, seeing what folks are buying, noticing what is fresh and in season this week. People are alive and engaged, weathered faces and hands ready with a smile, a nod, a willingness to show off what they have on offer. Nobody seems to mind having their picture taken.
I like to arrive early, stop at one of the local coffee shops and then saunter inside and outside of the market building while it is still fairly quiet. As the tour buses start to arrive around 10:30 or so, I have another coffee and then head off to explore other aspects of Loulé. That might mean walking half a block North from the main traffic circle and then heading East along a pedestrian mall to window shop in the many fashionable boutiques and shoe stores. I’ll head back to the main street and then back towards the mercado, continuing West about a block past it. By then there is usually a display set up on the sidewalk and into the courtyardand it is time for more shopping. I suspect there is a schedule somewhere, but I love not knowing what I’ll come across. One week it’ll be local artists selling their paintings, sculptures, cards and photographs. Another week it’ll be antique dealers, still another it’ll be crafts people offering jewelery, knick-knacks, knitted goods, etc. And sometimes it is local artisans selling breads, pastries, candies and other edibles. You just never know, which is a big part of its delight.
Eventually I’ll head towards the old castle, perhaps stopping in at the small chapel that might be open, standing agog, yet again, at how much elaborate design can be crammed into one tiny room. Sometimes the street will be lined with local folks selling lotions, potions, hand made soaps and other goodies. If not, it is fun to swing down this side streetscape exploring art galleries, the Moroccan Tea Shop and hanging around the 150 year old community water fountain to watch the locals come and fill up on fresh spring water. Finally it is around the backside of the castle, through a small archway and onto yet another pedestrian walkway lined with shops of all kinds as well as pastry shops and cafés.
By late morning a party atmosphere has developed. Everyone seems to be in a good mood. A few street musicians are out and adding to the ambience. It is a time to savour life, perhaps finding a nice patio on which to enjoy another coffee and from which to watch people be people getting on with life!
Finally when my legs are tired it is time to find a restaurant and settle in for a big Saturday lunch. If you pick the right place, you’ll find yourself amongst local families celebrating the end of the week. Be aware that the market closes down at 1 o’clock. Be aware also that most of the Algarve closes down at 1 o’clock. It can be difficult to find a restaurant that’s open. When you find one and have eaten your fill, be like the locals and head home for a wonderfully long siesta, letting yourself lie back and re-live the vibrancy of the morning before you eventually decide what to cook with all that great food you couldn’t resist buying!
Inside Loule Mercado
There is so much else to talk about. But that’ll be for another posting about Loulé!