Loulé Market is one of the most visited places in the city, attracting hundreds of visitors every day looking for products from the region. In fact, it is in the markets that we can get a taste of the Algarve gastronomy.
Open since 27 June 1908, the market was quite different from what it is today. At the time, the idea was to build a market for fish, one of the most important products of the region, but also to sell fruit, vegetables, etc.
More than 100 years have passed, and the market has undergone a number of changes. We no longer have anyone who can tell us what it was like 100 years ago - but most of those who work there have generations of experience in receiving the residents of Loulé, and are able to talk about one of the municipality's most important places.
Fruits and vegetables
On arrival, we meet Raquel Jesus in a fruit shop called "Pomar Algarvio". This fruit shop belongs to her parents, who have a small farm. At the market, she sells the fruit that her parents produce as well as other vegetables from other local farmers.
According to Raquel, as the vegetables and fruits that are sold in the markets are from small producers, even if they don't have the organic label, they end up having much less pesticides than the big productions that arrive in the large supermarkets. Not to mention the taste. Raquel says that the fruit from the market is much better than the supermarket fruits.
As for tourists, although they bring a lot of life to the market, they are not Raquel's main customers. "If they are hungry, they might buy a piece of fruit, or they might buy a souvenir to give to their relatives, but they don't buy products in large quantities," she said.
Isabel Pires, owner of Adega do Zé, has been in the market since 2011 with her husband. She started by selling dried cod, but quickly adjusted according to needs. She began to realise that the flow of tourists was high, but that the tourists didn't buy dried cod, nor did they know what to do with it, so they decided to start selling other products.
Nowadays, Isabel's sells a bit of everything. Wines from the region, liqueurs, honey, piri-piri, among others. According to her, the busiest day is Saturday and the worst is Monday, because that's the day when there's no fresh fish, but she opens the shop anyway. "Some foreigners don't like the smell of fish and prefer to come on Mondays," she added.
Although she has focused a lot on products that foreigners appreciate, Isabel never forgets the locals. "We can never forget the focus of the market, which are the locals, because without them the market loses its essence and tourists come in search of that essence," she said.
One of the more searched for foods when going to a market is fish. In Loulé Market the fish stalls are located at the end of the market, so to go to buy fish you have to go through all the other areas of the market. At the fish stalls we meet Donatila Nascimento who has been working here for 30 years.
"Some foreigners come here, but usually just to look and take pictures. They don't buy. This is very bad, as nothing or very little is sold," she said as she packed up her fish to leave. Time was running out. It was 1pm and although the market is open until 5pm, many of the workers leave at lunchtime because these people start work very early in the morning.
According to the fishmonger, most of her customers are elderly locals. "The younger ones don't like fish, they prefer meat. Also, even the older ones, with the increase in prices, find it expensive and end up not having the money to buy it," she added.
As for the most sold fish, the sardine is the queen of the summer, but the horse mackerel does very well the rest of the year. According to her, to buy good quality sardines, buyers should go to the market in June, July and August.
However, Loulé market attracts clients not only for the food, but also for the wonderful architecture. But architecture as we know it today wasn't always like this, Maria Albertina Nascimento, owner of the Bertina café in the market, told us about the changes that had been taking place in the market.
More than once, Loulé market has undergone renovation work. "Loulé market underwent its first renovations in the 80s, and about 15 years ago, they also carried out the work that resulted in what we see today", explained Maria Albertina, who has worked at Loulé market for more than 40 years.
As an example, there are now restaurants in the market centre, but this is recent. "Here (in the market centre) there were crafts, there were also events, such as the chocolate fair, which attracted many visitors," she said. But since two years ago, instead of craftsmen, we have restaurants that serve meals such as hamburgers.
When asked how business is going, Maria Albertina said: "We are in the low season, but when summer comes we will feel an increase in sales. It's like this every year", she said.
In common, all the owners share the same views on the lack of parking. From those who say it makes some people not seek the market, to those who regret that some customers have to buy less quantity so they don't have to walk far with heavy bags to their cars - all agree that the parking should be free near the market.