‘I’VE worked all over the world, from Hong Kong to New York, and hand on heart this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been,” smiles Sarah Cairns of Elie’s Ship Inn. As I sit in the beer garden peering over the golden sands, a pint of Elie Ale in hand as my youngest paddles happily below in the protected shallows, gannets circling high above, I see what she means.

The remarkable East Neuk of Fife has long held a special place in my heart, tugging at my soul, a beach-fringed escape tempting across the Forth Bridge. Easily accessible, but different enough to Scotland’s Central Belt to offer a real sense of escape.

In the last decade or so the East Neuk has also blossomed as a foodie hotspot, but we’ll come to that.

First up all holidays need a great base and I’m back at my favourite East Neuk bolthole, Elie’s Ship Inn (www.shipinn.scot). This nautically themed, New England-style inn is supremely cosy with only half a dozen rooms. Four sport sea views – I recommend splashing out for the largest, Admiral Nelson, with its rolltop bath and bay windows gazing grandly out over Elie Bay.

The East Neuk to me is genuinely exotic. Maybe it’s the architecture: old whitewashed fishing cottages come topped with Flemish gables, harking back to the days when the local harbours busied with trade with the Low Countries and out into the Baltic. There are traces of Picts, Catholic saints and rampaging Vikings too. And cricket.

Yes, cricket. In Scotland, taking pride of place in Elie – the Ship Inn is the Lords of Fife, its team surely the only one in the global game playing all their home games right here on a beach.

Back to that food now. Fife has long boasted an impressive natural larder, from its fertile fields and active fishing fleet, through to its foraged herbs and its abundant soft fruits. Mercifully it’s no longer all spirited away as Billy Boyter’s stellar Michelin starred Cellar in Anstruther and Geoffrey Smeddle’s similarly starred Peat Inn testify to.

But you don’t need to splash out on fine dining tasting menus to eat well in the East Neuk.

We follow the Hairy Bikers to the East Neuk Kilnhouse for freshly hot smoked salmon, which we smuggle down to the waterfront in Pittenween to savour with those chunky Pittenweem oatcakes as the local fishing fleet bustles in and out; proper trawlers, not just inshore lobster and langoustine landers.

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Back at the Ship Inn we eat supremely well too; with a view of course. I start with a spicy squid dish, savour beautifully cooked sole with shrimp as a main and finish off with a decadent chocolate treat. There are three Burgundian Chardonnays on a wine list priced to offer something for every budget. Impressive stuff with new local head chef Jason Mclelland, who went to school with Boyter, at the helm. Watch him go.

You could easily spend a long weekend munching your way around Elie and its environs. I feel guilty so we bash out on the Fife Coastal Path, one of the UK’s most underrated walking trails. I’ve never tackled it in its entirety, just cherry-picked gorgeous stretches.

On our first day we stroll slowly from Elie west to Pittenweem taking in a duo of castle ruins, sandy beaches and the wee fishing villages. This is walking family-style with something for everyone.

I end my trip alone, which gives me time and space to appreciate the big skies and diving gannets as I head east from Elie on the Fife Coastal Path. This is the toughest stretch of the entire trail tackling the notorious “Chain Walk”.

Not to be attempted at high tide, or by anyone who doesn’t have a good head for heights, this is akin to via ferrata you find in continental Europe. You use the metal chains to ascend and descend the slippery, rugged rocks in a heart-pumping experience. It’s one that soars up another notch this time when a couple of dolphins splash by.

I’m amply rewarded at the end of the walk at the revamped The Crusoe in Lower Largo. Taking its name from local lad Alexander Selkirk (the real life Robinson Crusoe), its suitably nautical theme makes the most of its location on the beach. In its revamped restaurant I tuck into Shetland mussels spiced up with coconut milk and chilli, Thai-style. Look out this summer for their new suntrap beer garden.

Outside I spot my last gannet of this East Neuk trip, as a seal blinks back and I turn tail to head off towards the Forth Bridges and home, promising myself a swift return to Elie and the East Neuk, a corner of Scotland that offers a whiff of the exotic and – these days – superb foodie experiences too.

What are you waiting for?