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Simply Sintra: magic and mystery on Portugal’s Atlantic coast

Sintra is often described as a Disneyland for grown-ups, but spend time exploring the surrounding beaches, seafood restaurants and woodlands, and you’ll find there’s much more to this historic town, writes Isabel Choat

The best ones are right under the rocks,” said Nuno Aramac, before slipping under the water like a seal. The two of us had swum to the base of a cliff where we were collecting goose barnacles. I say “we”, it was actually Nuno who was doing all the work, scraping away at the rocks with a chisel-like tool, ducking and diving then popping back up waving a handful of strange sea creatures and grinning. I was clinging to a barnacle- encrusted rock, wondering how much further the tide would come in before he decided he had enough to make it worth his while driving to Lisbon to sell the catch to one of the city’s chichi seafood restaurants.

The spectacular stretch of Atlantic coast just north of Lisbon, with its rugged cliffs, crashing waves and near-empty stretches of sandy beach is famed for two things: surfing and seafood. The most-prized of the latter is the goose barnacle, beloved of food writers. “One of the most beautiful foods on the planet,” wrote Guardian food blogger Charlie Skelton, “the bright enamelled head with its ruby lips sits atop a snakeskin sleeve which pulls away to reveal a glossy, lucent finger of flesh, marbled and grey at the neck, bright orange at the tip.”

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