Among my favorite things about living and shopping here in the Algarve are the markets and small produce shops you find in almost every town.
One of the most famous and striking markets is the municipal market of Loulé, with its fantastically dramatic art-nouveau building dating from 1908.
The plaque outside the market describes the design of the building as “in the eclectic revivalist style with neo-Arab inspiration.” With its turrets and red cupolas, it certainly is eye-catching.
Loulé Market is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday. The best time to visit is Saturday morning, when even more stalls are set up outside. It is worth getting there early, as many of the fresh food stalls pack up as soon as their produce is sold, and the best meats, fish, and vegetables are snapped up quickly.
The market is a delight for all of your senses. The high ceilings mean an abundance of light, and the walkways are filled with stall after stall of colorful produce, every inch of space filled. Red peppers hang alongside onions and garlic and long strands of chorizo… which dangle beside shelves of honey and jams, homemade sauces and spices… which are fronted by raffia baskets full of nuts and seeds…
Many stallholders offer samples, and each is quietly proud of their offerings.
The fruits and vegetables here are not suspiciously perfectly formed as produce in supermarkets can be these days but of all sizes and shapes and all locally grown. You’ll notice some unusual offerings, fruits and vegetables you won’t be able to identify and wouldn’t know what to do with if you bought them. That’s part of the fun.
One of the main sights (and smells) is the fresh fish section. Most of it is locally caught, though, depending on the time of year, some can be from farther afield… Norway, for example. All is labelled, and the stall-holders are knowledgeable and helpful, offering suggestions for how to cook the fish you’re buying to get the best flavor from it.
The stall-holders will gut and clean your fish for you at no extra charge, and they enjoy watching tourists gasp when a crab or mollusk breaks out of a display. Be warned: Not everything is ready to wrap!
Around the edges of the main market are independent artisan craft and gift shops. Shop here for handmade bags and purses, many made from the local cork, as well as traditional hand-stitched tablecloths and aprons and hand-thrown and painted pots and jugs depicting local scenes. It’s all a bargain.
Undoubtedly you’ll encounter the inimitable “legend of the Cock of Barcelos” figure, which pops up on everything from tea towels and fridge magnets to porcelain mugs and shopping bags.
The market is also the place to shop for fresh flowers and plants, which are an amazing value and not available in supermarkets as they are in other places in the world.
The Loulé market is as much a social event as a shopping opportunity. Locals have been shopping here for years and know everyone. They pass through slowly, catching up with friends as they go.
Nearly every town in the Algarve has its own local market. As a now fully established full-time expat in this part of the world, I heartily recommend them. What a refreshing change from shopping in a big, impersonal supermarket. There’s a friendly face behind the stall table waiting to serve you and give you advice and help if you need it, and you know that everything you are buying is fresh and local.
My weekly shop has gone from a chore back in the U.K. to a delight at the Loulé market.