Life's simple pleasures are the focus of the string of ancient fishing villages in the East Neuk of Fife, discovers Simone Kane

Most visitors to Scotland make straight for the Highlands, but canny Scots hang a right after Glasgow and Edinburgh. They're heading for the hidden delights of the East Neuk of Fife, a short stretch of coast laced with pretty fishing villages in the most easterly corner – or neuk – of the peninsula.

This place has remained a well-kept secret because it isn't really on the way to anywhere else. Here it's all about simple pleasures. "This is a place," said our host, Douglas, "to recharge your batteries, not your mobile phone." My phone had no reception anyway, so I stashed it in favour of sea-gazing.

And you don't get much closer to the sea than our base in St Monans, the most typical of these ancient fishing villages. Terraces of cottages snuggle up to the sea wall, their distinctive architecture – crow-stepped gable ends, forestairs and red pantiled roofs – recalling centuries of trade with the Low Countries.

For nearly two hundred years St Monans was the hub of the local boat-building industry, the poor relation of its more prosperous neighbours, Anstruther and Pittenweem, and few tourists stopped off to admire its charms. Now, the boat-building has met its demise and there's talk of a car park going up on its site. Nevertheless, one of the pleasures of this trip was to sit in a cosy window seat, a pebble's throw from the harbour, and watch the few modest creelers that remain going in and out with their small hauls of lobster and crab.

Here was a chance to instruct our urbanite six-year-old in the simple ways of a Scottish seaside break. My husband, reliving his own childhood holidays in the East Neuk, took our son rock-clambering in the rain. "This is so boring," he moaned. "This is the outdoors. Think of it as a Nintendo game," my husband persevered. In the end, they were gone for hours and returned windwhipped but exhilarated.

Later, we sought sustenance in a modest-looking pub, the Mayview Hotel, where we dined on the freshest Pittenweem prawns. The quality of the food is one of the real delights awaiting visitors.

Fifty years ago, you could step from fishing boat to fishing boat across Anstruther's harbour. Today, it has a marina packed with pleasure craft – a sure sign of gradual gentrification. But Anstruther was once one of the nation's busiest ports. Today, Pittenweem is at the heart of local fishing. Rise with the tide to catch the trading in the fish market. But visitors will be calling by for another reason next month, the village's annual arts festival, now in its 25th year. Nearby Crail also has a yearly arts festival. Its working pottery is in former weavers' cottages revealing another bygone industry. But then the East Neuk's future is all about trading on its past.

COMPACT FACTS

Simone Kane stayed at 1 Midshore, St Monans, courtesy of Coastal Life (07967 566041; coastal-life.com). The cottage, which sleeps eight, starts at £350 for three nights (low season). Europcar (0871 384 1089; europcar.co.uk) offers seven-day rental from Edinburgh airport from £151

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