This Authentic Portuguese Town Is Full Of Surprises
Twinkling lights, the smell of warm earth and olive trees. I love arriving at night in an unfamiliar place. It allows the senses to absorb the newness and creates extra excitement when you draw open the blinds in the morning. As I rubbed my eyes open and looked out over the rolling hills of the Algarve, covered in gnarly old olive trees, palm trees, and lemon trees still laden with fruit, there was no disappointment.
I’m in Loulé, a town of some 71,000 people, about 20 minutes’ drive north-west of Faro, the main airport city in the Algarve region of Portugal.
Pronounced “Lo-leh,” this medium-sized town feels authentically Portuguese. It has a superbly-stocked local produce market, a small castle, and cobbled streets, yet the town is no more than a 30-minute drive from the busy resorts of the Algarve coast.
Loulé’s visitors are well served by small shops selling the usual embroidered tablecloths, cork hats and shoes, and colorful pottery. But it also feels like a working town where normal day-to-day life goes on. There’s a cinema, small theater, schools, hardware stores, supermarkets, bars and cafés, and an attractive sports complex, including indoor and outdoor pools.
In the town center is the impressive covered market. Built in the 19th century, the market resembles an Arabic villa with red-cap towers at each of its four corners. The market is open Monday to Saturday, and vendors sell local produce, fish, meat, bread, wine, and sticky fig and nut treats. On the outer edge of the market are a couple of pottery shops that are well worth a visit. Here you’ll find gorgeous bowls and plates starting at 2.50 euros. This covered local market shouldn’t be confused with Loulé’s so-called “gypsy market,” which takes place every Saturday. I’m told by my expat friend that busloads of tourists come in for “a load of cheap tat.”
Property prices in the town and immediate surroundings vary considerably, based on the usual criteria of size, number of bedrooms, facilities, and land. A three-bed property in need of complete renovation, on 2,100 square meters of land, is on the market for 150,000 euros; a three-bed modern villa on 226 square meters is 170,000 euros; a three-bed, two-bath modern apartment is 175,000 euros.
Go just outside the town by a couple of kilometers, and the property changes to individual villas tucked into the rolling hills. Some are old-style needing renovations (a three-bed, 133-square-meter villa with 6,540 square meters of land is 234,000 euros), and others have been fully renovated and modernized but retain the look of a typical villa—for example, a 100-square-meter villa, three kilometers from Loulé, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room with fireplace, terraces and pool (8×4 meters), a garage, and 645 square meters of land is on the market for 280,000 euros.
And Loulé has a “twin”—the beach town of Quarteira, just 10 kilometers away. Quarteira is within walking distance of the tourist golf town of Vale de Lobo, which attracts thousands of visitors every year, but for some reason, it appeals more to Portuguese visitors. The beach and boardwalk are cleaned every morning throughout the year, keeping the golden sand attractive and inviting. Along the boardwalk are little eateries (close enough to the sand to wriggle your toes in it), exercise stations—where all shapes and sizes either gently or manically work out—backed by vacation apartments, none more than 10 stories high. A continental breakfast for three on the beachfront, including fresh breads, local honey, freshly-squeezed orange juice, and coffee costs us just 8 euros.
A two-bed, two-bath rooftop apartment on the first line from the beach is 290,000 euros. Go back a line from the sea, yet keeping a sea view, and you can find one- to two-bedroom apartments from 120,000 euros. If you prefer more facilities but want to keep the price tag below US$170,000, you need to move a five-minute drive away from the coast where a two-bed, two-bath apartment in the Al Sakia development—with pools, gym, tennis courts, and cafés—is listed at 150,000 euros.
The sea here is clean and the waves come rolling in from the Atlantic, attracting surfers. In summer, average water temperature is a refreshing 71°F.
Portugal is experiencing a boom in tourism, with revenue from tourist-related activities up by 8.6% in 2015 compared to 2014. Tour operators are already predicting that 2016 will show an even higher percentage of increase, according to Statistics Portugal.
Major villa and resort operators are investing in the region, and the airport at Faro is being overhauled and renovated (and renamed Delgado after Humberto Delgado, the aviation pioneer and campaigner against the Salazar dictatorship) to cater to an expected increase from 6 million to 8 million passengers by Spring 2017.
One of the main reasons for the boom is that Brits, the Dutch, Spanish, and Germans are flocking back after the financial crisis. Affordable dining is one of the big attractions here. Apart from our bargain breakfast, four of us dined at a mid- to up-market restaurant where we shared two large starters, each had a main course, two had a dessert, and we all enjoyed two excellent bottles of Prosecco and two large bottles of mineral water…all for 99 euros (about US$110).
As an investment location or a part-time retirement option, this area strongly deserves your consideration.