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Loulé, 16km northwest of Faro along a good road, is a vibrant and typically Algarvean market town set in almond-covered foothills. It is an ancient town, but only remnants of its once Roman, later Moorish castle walls remain. The castle walls are in the central area which is best known among visitors for its craftsmen, its old-world charm and its keenness to party.

As you stroll around the narrow, cobbled streets, you will come across dimly-lit workshops. Peer in through the gloom and you will find artisans beating copper, stitching leather or selling wrought-iron, cane furniture, basketwork or embroidered goods.

Visit Loulé at "Carnaval" time, usually February, and you won't see much gloom. The merrymaking doesn't quite rival that in Rio de Janeiro, but people from all over the Algarve converge on the town for a couple of days of float and fancy-dress parades, general high-spirits, youthful high jinks and sometimes unfunny practical jokes involving fireworks or paint. If you intend to attend, wear old clothes.

Carnival comes before Lent. A much more sober pageant is held annually at Easter. A heavy and elaborate image of the Virgin Mary, a version known as "Mãe Soberana" (the Sovereign Mother), is carried in procession from the hilltop Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Piedade, about 1km outside the town, to the Parish Church on Easter Sunday The return procession, a much bigger and more festive occasion, takes place two weeks later.

A handicrafts fair is held each August, but just about every morning, certainly on Saturdays, Loulé exudes a fair-like atmosphere in the Moorish-looking municipal market, built at the beginning of the century.



Villas in Loule