WHEN it comes to pretty seaside villages, Fife’s East Neuk is in a league of its own.

Anstruther is the biggest of them, boasting an abundance of the quintessential features – ancient harbours, cute cottages, good beaches and fantastic fish suppers - folk come from far and wide to experience.

Indeed, visitors to Anster, as it is known locally, actually get two villages for the price of one, since Cellardyke - one of less well known East Neuk names – all but merges with its bigger neighbour.

The area is steeped in history but there are plenty of contemporary attractions, too, including boutique shopping, Michelin-starred eating, a vibrant arts scene and lots to keep the kids happy.

Historic Highlights

Anstruther is thought to date back to the early 12th century. Split into “easter” and “wester” sides by the Dreel Burn, it was a thriving fishing port until the mid-1900s and supported associated industries such as tanning, boatbuilding and fish-curing.

In 1588, writer James Melville recorded a graphic account in his diary of a ship from the Spanish Armada arriving with 270 sailors aboard - local legend has it that many of the Spaniards stayed on due to the warmth of the local hospitality.

These days tourism and culture are the main employers. Well-kent local faces include former Radio One DJ Edith Bowman and musician King Creosote, aka Kenny Anderson.

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What to do

On arrival, get your bearings with a harbourside walk from Anstruther to Cellardyke, stopping off along the way at the Scottish Fisheries Museum (scotfishmuseum.org). Now in its 50th year, this wonderful museum tells the story of “boats, fish and folk” though an array of vessels, artworks and personal testimonies. Kids love the hands-on exhibits featuring dressing up, bunk beds and puzzles, and until June there’s also a exhibition on Anstruther’s connection to the global tea trade.

Just across the way on Middle Pier is Anstruther Lifeboat Station, established in 1865 at the request of local fishermen, which has two active boats, the Kingdom of Fife and the Akira. Still run by committed volunteers, it welcomes visitors.

Catherine Watson has some fantastic insider recommendations for things to do in her vibrant home town.

“The short but rewarding walk between Anstruther and Pittenweem takes in sandy Billow Ness beach,” she says. “Make sure to stop for a shot on the swings and a nose around the rock pools. You can also see the remnants of the old tidal bathing pool where my dad learned to swim (and developed a lifelong hatred of swimming!).

“For a cracking view over to the Anstruther skyline, take a foray into the graveyard of Anstruther Wester Church and sit on one of the benches overlooking the water. The graveyard is home to a medieval coffin and 17th century gravestones with fascinating memento mori symbols.

“I’ve always loved the story about Princess Titaua Marama, who was Chiefess of Haapiti in French Polynesia but somehow ended up marrying a Fifer and travelling thousands of miles to live out her days in Anstruther. She died in 1898 and you can check out her pink gravestone in the grounds of St Adrian’s Church.

“Known locally as ‘the steppies’, the giant stepping stones over the Dreel Burn at Castle Beach can save you a bit of time if you’re heading to the pub or the chippy. As long as it’s not high tide, that is.

“I’d also highly recommend Anster Nichts, run by the wonderful Anstruther Improvements Association (of which King Creosote is an active member) offering community talks, films and cultural events in the Dreel Halls, which are open to all.”

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Where to Eat

No visit to Anster would be complete without a fish supper and although the award-winning Anstruther Fish Bar on Shore Street gets most of the publicity (and usually has the longest queues) it’s not the only great chippy in town. Both the Wee Chippy and Waterfront Chip Shop (also on Shore Street) are also superb. Shore Street is also the place to go for ice cream.

If it’s Machelin-starred excellence you’re after, The Cellar, on East Green, (thecellaranstruther.co.uk) delivers in every way. Chef Billy Boyter, a local boy, uses the best seasonal local ingredients to produce simple but exquisite dishes, served in beautiful, informal surroundings. A genuine treat at any time of year.

Iain Leiper has been visiting Anstruther for 60 years and still highly recommends Barnett’s Bakery in Cellardyke. “A recent visit confirmed Barnett’s still makes the best rhubarb pies,” he says. “First sampled in the late 1950s!”

The scones at Curiositeas on Shore Street are super, while Coast Coffee in Cellardyke serves great value sandwiches, paninis and wraps, and some of the best coffee in the East Neuk.

Catherine Watson speaks highly of the Dreel Tavern on High Street West. “There are a remarkable number of pubs in Anstruther for such a small population but The Dreel is the quaintest by far. It’s the kind of bar you feel compelled to show off to visitors as it’s everything a village pub should be, complete with dinky beer garden overlooking the river and an open fireplace to keep you cosy in winter. And the food is excellent.”

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Where to shop

Dos Mundos (dosmundo.co.UK) on Rodger Street, has a quirky collection of clothes, artworks and jewellery, not to mention ethical cleaning products and gift. Gibbles Gifts on Shore Street is also a favourite gift shop with locals and visitors alike.

Jo Macfarlane (jomacfarlane.com) makes her beautiful vegan scented candles at her studio in Cunzie Street and also offers workshops and classes.

Pet’s Pantry, meanwhile, on High Street East (petspantry.scot) has a massive selection of gourmet food and accessories for the special dog, cat, rabbit, guinea pig or hamster in your life.

Where to stay

Room with a view: The Bank (thebank-anstruther.co.uk) offers spacious big rooms, open fires, lovely gardens and great views over the Firth of Forth. Rooms from £138 per night.

Cosy: Attention to detail is everything at Lahloo B&B, located in a traditional white-painted house just a few minutes’ walk from the harbour. Rooms from £80 a night.

Cheap and cheerful: Murray Library Hostel offers top-notch accommodation and facilities for backpackers in a perfect location. Also caters for larger groups. From £29 a night.

Traditional: Beautiful Cellardyke Cottage offers a bright, contemporary interior in an East Neuk fisherman’s cottage. This self-catering gem has its own private garden and is just minutes from the water. Sleeps three, from £60 a night.

What to do nearby

From April to September you can take a boat from Anstruther to the Isle of May, a national nature reserve home to tens of thousands of seabirds including puffins, guillemots and terns, not to mention a large population of harbour and grey seals. There’s also an ancient monument and lighthouse. A smashing day out.

Walk 50 minutes north (or take the five-minute drive) up the coast from Anstruther and you’ll come to the fascinating Caves of Caiplie, which were used as place of Christina worship from the 9th century.

Medieval Kellie Castle and Gardens, a 10-minute drive from Anstruther, offers a fascinating insight into the lives of the artistic Lorimer family who lived there for three generations from the late 19th century.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be going to Banchory and Helensburgh. Send your ideas about what to do, and where to eat, shop and stay to marianne.taylor@heraldandtimes.co.uk