Inside MAR Shopping Algarve

By Vaughan Willmore

It’s the biggest and, for many people, the best shopping complex in southern Portugal, but how much do we really know about MAR Shopping Algarve? Vaughan Willmore speaks to Ana Antunes, manager of the mammoth Loulé-based complex.

One of the most striking aspects about speaking to Ana Antunes and her staff is how they view MAR Shopping Algarve (MAR) as so much more than a shopping complex. The emphasis throughout our interview is on how MAR is a ‘meeting place’ and somewhere people enjoy themselves, either by shopping, relaxing, eating, or socialising.

Ana Antunes

This ‘meeting place’ ethos is embedded in the organisation as demonstrated by Ana’s job title – Meeting Place Manager. It’s also evident in the child and dog-friendly policy and its vast array of opportunities to sit back and enjoy the environment. Crucially in this day and age, it offers the opportunity to have a little fun either by playing crazy golf or taking a look at the dog park (Woof Land). Additionally, for our more active family members, there’s the joy of dancing through the fun water fountains and experiencing the thrill of the climbing frames.

MAR opened its doors on the 26 October 2017, joining the neighbouring IKEA store that opened seven months earlier. Was the opening of IKEA key to the opening of MAR itself? As I discovered from speaking to Ana, the two businesses are inextricably linked. They both fall under the ownership of the Netherlands-based Ingka Group, who have another forty-six such meeting places throughout the world, welcoming 369 million customers every year.

Ana took on the role of Meeting Place Manager a year before MAR opened, describing it as “a unique opportunity for seeing the project from leaving the paper to being built, to opening its doors for the first time, and to where we are today.”

One of the most favourable aspects of MAR is how it’s helped create different employment opportunities in the Algarve. As Ana explained, “We’re providing long-term employment opportunities that are less dependent on seasonal tourism. Some of them are international brands providing specialised training for their staff. Since we are located between Loulé and Faro, for many people in the Algarve it’s a very accessible place to work.”

Ana describes her role as being about building one team with staff and partner outlets, motivating and equipping them to fulfil their potential and enjoy their work. As with many other people, the pandemic was a difficult time for Ana and her staff, who missed the buzz of opening each morning and welcoming thousands of visitors. Ana tells me, “The place is usually so full of life, with children running in the outdoor leisure areas and people socialising in the centre itself. Then, all of a sudden, everything stopped. It was so upsetting. We did notice however, in the first lockdown, something unusual: a bird’s nest in what is usually a very crowded leisure area. It was an authentic sensation of hope for the future, and of how life will always find a way to adapt to the new reality.”

Ana and I talked at length about the sustainability agenda. MAR is, after all, a place that many people travel to by car and along with its partner outlets requires massive amounts of energy and water to operate. Ana explained, “We share with IKEA the goal of creating a better life for people, and we believe that every day is better if it is lived in a more sustainable way. After all, how can people and communities be happy if our planet isn’t?”

Ana is proud that MAR achieved BREEAM certification, BREEAM being a long-established method of assessing, rating and certifying a building’s environmental sustainability. The design of the complex allows rainwater to be collected for use in the toilets. There are eco-friendly water-saving taps and LED lighting throughout the complex. The need for lighting is reduced by combining interior design with natural daylight, as is evident in the food mall and other areas. There are charging stations for electric vehicles and all organic waste is composted.

With Christmas on the horizon, a 20% increase in footfall is anticipated. In keeping with the theme of MAR being a meeting place, Santa Claus has already taken up home and will stay until Christmas Eve, after which he will need to quickly depart so he can travel the world delivering gifts. There will be children’s activities and a small ice rink during the Christmas period and decorations throughout the centre, with snowfall on the weekends. Santa’s grotto will stay until 6 January.

It was certainly an education speaking with Ana and learning more about MAR Shopping Algarve. It provided me with a better perspective of how integrated all the businesses are and the opportunity to reflect on my own visits. It is far more than a shopping centre alone, instead being a really enjoyable place to relax, socialise and have fun.


  • 200 million euros to build
  • 3,000 new direct / indirect jobs created
  • 82,000 m2, housing MAR, IKEA, and Designer Outlet Algarve
  • 5,000 m2 of outdoor leisure area
  • 1,500 staff
  • 110 retail outlets
  • 3,500 car parking spaces

MAR Shopping Algarve is open every day from 10:00 to 23:00 During the Christmas period it will be open from 09:00, closing on 24 and 31 December at 18:00.

+351 289 247 842

Algarve Avenue, IKEA Industrial Complex, 8135-182 Almancil


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