Getting to Know Loule Municipality
Savour the atmosphere of a traditional Algarvean village of white houses and modest gardens.
With its origins in the 16th century, this church has undergone subsequent alterations. The façade has a simply decorated Manueline doorway (16th century), and the side entrance is from the same period. The main and side chapels hate carved and gilded retables (18th century). Among the statues to be seen, a 16th century Virgin and Child and a 17th century Nossa Senhora da Assunção (Our Lady of the Assumption) deserve particular mention.
In the square in front of the church stands an interesting cross mounted on a limestone boulder.
Fonte Benémola Classified Site
A river runs through this peaceful stretch of countryside. On its banks grow a number of plant and tree species seldom found in the Algarve - willow, ash and "folbado" (a small bush) - as well as oleander, poplar and tamarisks. The slopes of the valley are covered with vegetation typical of the Barrocal (the intermediate zone between the coast and the hills of the interior), including rosemary, thyme, cistus, wild olive, oak and carob. The local fauna includes otters, a wide variety of birds and a few colonies of bats There are nature trails for walkers. Within the park area number of caves containing archaeological remains. On the approach road is the Cerro dos Negros viewpoint, which looks out over a broad sweep of coastline and ocean.
The white houses of the village are scattered higgledy-piggledy on the hillside around the ruins of the castle. Its narrow streets are an alluring mix of bright flowerpots, whitewashed walls and peace and quiet.
Although of little architectural interest, this church does contain one small treasure: an illuminated papal bull on parchment dated 1550. It also boasts carved and gilded 18th century retables and statues from the 17th and 18th centuries.
The fact that it does not have an “alcáçova” (citadel) suggests that the castle was built in the 12th/13th centuries to defend the peasants who worked in the fields from Christian attack. Captured by the Knights of the Order of Santiago (St. James) after the fall of Tavira, it was here that the master of the order, D. Paio Peres Correia, awaited the arrival of the army of King Afonso III before going on to seize Faro (1249-1250).
Its walls are built of “taipa” and are one of only a few surviving examples of Moorish fortifications in Portugal. Archaeological excavations have uncovered a Moorish residential area and confirm that part of Salir is built on the site of the old fortification.
The castle is an excellent vantage point. To the north it looks out over the vast ranges of the Serra, while seaward the view is of more gentle, verdant hills.
“Taipa” As a Building Material
A building method dating from pre-historic times, “taipa” was used by the Moors to build fortifications, like Salir castle, and houses. “Taipa” houses were still being built in the region until only a few decades ago. Among other advantages, “taipa” is cheap and provides excellent insulation. Consisting of a mixture of sand, gravel and clay - to which lime was added to make it stronger when the structure in question was for military purposes - “taipa” was poured into moulds and then beaten down vigorously with mallets. Once each layer was dry the operation was repeated until the desired height was reached.
Rocha da Pena Classified Site
A limestone massif with steeply scarped sides, Rocha da Pena rises to a height of 479 m (1600 feet).There is a panoramic view from its summit which takes in the sea.
The fascination of Rocha da Pena lies chiefly in its natural and archaeological heritage, however. Its caves and the double wall of stone that marks the course of ancient defences indicate human settlement from the Neolithic period to the time of the Moorish occupation. In addition to a some Portuguese endemic species, the vegetation includes arbutus-berry trees, pepper trees, oaks, wild rosemary, juniper, cistus and a few wild orchids, among other species.
The animal species present include colonies of owls, Bonelli's and royal eagles among other birds, bats and small carnivores such as genets, foxes and mongooses.
Also of interest at Rocba da Pena are two old windmills and the picturesque village of Penina, where there is a house with an attractive chimney built in 1821.
There are nature trails for visitors.
Some consider Alte, which has existed since the period of the Roman occupation, to be the village most typical of the Algarve. With their whitewashed houses, Windows and façades edged with colourful borders, ornate chimneys and pervasive air of tranquillity, the streets of Alte's historic centre have retained much of their original charm. The area around the church is a delightful snapshot of the real Algarve.
Built in the 13th century by the wife of the second lord of Alte to give thanks for his safe return from the eighth crusade to the Holy Land, the church has been modified on a number of occasions since, above all in the 16th and 18th centuries.
The interior consists of three naves, with short, squat columns dressed with brick to bear the weight of the structure. The chancel has a Manueline triumphal arch that is partially hidden by wooden mouldings. The vaulted ceiling is painted and has decorated keystones. The walls and vaults are clad in 18th century tiles.
The chapel of São Sebastião (St. Sebastian) contains some notable polychrome tiles made in Seville, which date from the end of the 16th century. The carved altarpieces in the chapels of Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Our Lady of the Rosary) and São Francisco (St. Francis), which display the coat of arms of the Counts of Alte, are good examples of 18th century art.
Among the statues in the church and the sacristy, three in particular merit particular mention: a 17th century Santa Teresa (St. Theresa), a Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Our Lady of the Rosary) and a Santa Margarida (St. Margaret) full of movement and life, from the 18th century. The two fonts are in the Manueline style (16th century).
Chapel of São Luís (St. Louis)
Built at the beginning of the 15th century, it was subsequently altered until it attained its current appearance, that of a country church in the taste of the 18th century. The interior is plain: its most curious feature is a series of four paintings in a popular idiom depicting the life of St. Louis (18th century).
Fonte Pequena and Fonte Grande
For centuries these two springs were a meeting place for the women of the village who would fill their water pitchers and do their washing. Tables and stone benches have now been installed, in the cool shade of the overarching trees, making this an ideal spot for having a picnic or just relaxing.
Ribeira de Alte and its Mills
The waters of the Fonte Pequena and Fonte Grande, which are the source of the Alte river, once turned the wheels of the village's nine mills. Some of these have since disappeared, fallen into ruins or been adapted to perform other functions. The Moinho da Abóboda mill, which is known to date back at least as far as the 13th century, is still to be seen, as are the 17th century works to divert the river and the channel that brought the water to the mills. There is also a small waterfall on the Alte river, 24 m (80 feet) high, known as Queda do Vigário (Vicar's Falls).
Attractions around Alte
If Alte is the most typical Algarvean village, the area around it also has attractions that justify a visit: the Águas Frias mill, on the Arade river, which is still used to grind flour; the Malha Ferro mini-museum which houses a small collection of agricultural implements and traditional domestic objects; the chimneys of Monte Brito and Esteval dos Mouros with their intricate lacework decoration; the viewpoint at Rocha de Soídos, undercut by a gaping cave; the abandoned village of Rocha Amarela, forgotten and forlorn among the hills; the copper mines of Atalaia, Cascalbeira, Sarradas and Cerca da Mina which were worked in prehistoric times; and the many old windmills that are still to be seen on the horizon, dotting the hill tops.
The chapel and the area that surrounds it, which includes an art gallery housed in carefully restored old buildings, retain much of the character and charm of the Algarve of centuries past.
Chapel of São Lourenço dos Matos (St. Lawrence of the Woods)
The occurrence of a miracle in 1722 when the locals were searching for water prompted the construction of the chapel. The architecture is baroque, with an elegant cupola and tiled panels set over the main entrance and to the rear of the main chapel.
The tiles on the walls, ceiling vaults and cupola were made in Lisbon m 1730 and recount the life of São Lourenço (St. Lawrence). Together they form one of the most outstanding decorative ensembles in Portugal and earn the chapel a unique place in art history. Particularly worth of note is the harmonious way the tiles fit in with the carved and gilded retable on the main altar and the decorative detail on the triumphal arch and at the base of the cupola.
There is a good collection of 17th and 18th century statues in the church, the sacristy - which also houses a fine chest with carved decoration - and the annex.
Nearby, in São João da Venda, the old church retains a number of Manueline features (16th century) in its denticulate exterior and the vaulting over the main altar, as well as a retable with paintings from the end of the same century.
Barranco do Velho
A beautiful church, built in 1944 in the Algarvean rustic style, looks out from the top of a hill. The churchyard is one of the most marvellous viewpoints in the Algarve and from it can be seen an endless vista of hills covered with cork oaks, stretching away almost as far as Loulé, Salir and Alte.In the nearby ranges of hills are to be found picturesque thatched stone houses, round in shape, that are used as barns these days but which recall the dwellings of the peoples who lived in the region in prehistoric times.
An Archaeological Itinerary
For those with an interest in prehistoric civilisation, there are several sites dating back to the Megalithic period that merit a visit: the dolmen at Cerro das Pedras and the fallen menhir at Alagoas, which is made of limestone that must have been brought a considerable distance, both of which are in the vicinity of Salir; and the dolmens at Beringel and Pedra do Alagar (Ameixial).
The mosaics visible in some of its apartments and the structure of its baths make the rural "villa" at Cerro da Vila (3rd century) the region's most eloquent testimony to the period of Roman occupation. The site was inhabited from the 1st to the 9th centuries, into the period of Moorish rule. Other Roman structures include be bridge at Tor, over the pretty Algibre river, which has five arches and sturdy piers, the bridge at Barão, over the Quartaire river, which has only four arches, and, near Loulé, the Álamos bridge, which is a more modest affair, with just two arches.
Near the coast, the remains of "ceteiras" - tanks used to salt fish - at the Loulé Velho archaeological site provide further confirmation of the intense fishing and fish-preserving industry that existed for centuries in the Algarve under the Romans.
From the Sandy Shoreline to the Caldeirão Hills
First come long beaches strewn with the tanned bodies of dedicated sun-worshippers. Behind them are fields that are almost flat, shaded by pines and fruit trees. Then the landscape rises into the gently rolling hills of the Barrocal, covered with fig trees, almond trees, carob trees and lush vegetable gardens. This is the place to take in the charm of houses trimmed with coloured borders in villages like Boliqueime, with its white church standing at the top of a hill, or the banks of the Algibre river, spattered with the pale pink of oleander flowers.
The hills of the Serra do Caldeirão are not high - the loftiest peak reaches an altitude of some 600 m (2000 feet) - but they nonetheless dominate the region occupied by Loulé municipality, each hilltop opening up new horizons, fresh vistas appearing around every corner. Hidden away on their slopes and in their valleys are tiny picturesque hamlets and, here and there, large cloches in which oranges, figs, almonds, corn and beans are grown. For the most part, however, cork oaks, strawberry trees, cistus bushes, gorse and rosemary predominate, lending their perfume to the pure country air.
The wide open spaces of the Serra are also home to birds of prey, song birds, foxes, wild boars and rabbits, which provide another reason to explore the wild natural beauty of this, a side of the Algarve that is frequently overlooked.
From copperware to Colourful Horse Tack
Many of the craft traditions of the Algarve are kept alive in Loulé where it is still possible to find objects made of copper, iron, wood and brass using techniques forgotten by all but a few, pottery and earthenware, rags and sackcloth.
Crafts are to be found more or less everywhere in Loulé municipality. In many villages the women still plait the leaves of dwarf palms to make hats, baskets, mats and other useful items. In Almancil and Quatro Estradas there are potteries which make brightly glazed earthenware vessels and utensils to designs both old and modern. The old wooden looms are still used to weave colourful blankets. “Esparto”, a kind of coarse grass that once occupied the labour of hundreds of women, is still made into mats, baskets and ornaments in Sarradas and Salir, and is exhibited in the Casa da Memória in Alte, which includes a ceramics workshop as well as a small museum. In Torre they make wooden toys, and in Cerro seamstresses make costumes inspired by those of yesteryear.
Flavours of the Sea and Serra
Fresh fish is among the culinary attractions of Quarteira, a place of fishermen. Grilled sardines and other types of fish are justly renowned. The maritime influence is equally evident in such traditional recipes as baby horse-mackerel in a tomato sauce, squid served in their ink, bread soup with “conquilhas” clams, cream of shrimp soup and rice with octopus.
In Loulé, on the other hand, it is the produce of the interior that pervades the local cooking, with dozens of recipes involving variations on peas, chick peas, maize and beans of various kinds. Special occasions are an excuse for more extravagant dishes: hare in white wine, “galinha cerejada” (Loulé style chicken, fried until golden after having been boiled) or fried pork flavoured with garlic, bay leaves, pepper, cloves, paprika and lemon. The area has its fair share of local cakes and puddings too, many of which involve substantial quantities of eggs, sugar and almonds. In Boliqueime “folar” and “mexericos” are the specialities to ask for, while Alte does a nice line in “cavacas” and “esquecidos”.
From the hills of the “serra” comes delicious honey tasting of woodland flowers, goats cheese and brandy distilled from the fruit of the strawberry trees that grow wild amid the scrub on the slopes.
Last but not least there is the production of liqueurs, sweets and jams made from a variety of local products ranging from fruits to aromatic herbs which come from Querença and Benafim.