OF all the sunsets I’ve been lucky enough to catch during my travels around Scotland, none has been more beautiful than the dramatic reds, purples and golds over the Small Isles and Skye, seen from Arisaig.

The village and its stunning bay was historically a stop on the Road (and railway) to the Isles. But it’s a charming destination in itself, the perfect base from which to explore this most scenic part of the west highlands, where mountain meets silver sands and clear blue waters.

Historic Highlights

Meaning “the safe place” in Gaelic, Arisaig was once part of the Viking Kingdom of the Isles, becoming Scottish by agreement in the late 11th century. It later came under the control of the Lord of the Isles and Clan Ranald.

In 1746, following the failure of the Jacobite rising, Bonnie Prince Charlie left for France from a spot just outside the village. In the difficult years after the uprising, a significant proportion of locals sailed for Canada, founding Arisaig in Nova Scotia in 1785.

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During the Second World War, Arisaig House, a country manor to the south of the village, was headquarters of the Special Operations Executive, which trained agents to wage a secret war in Nazi-occupied Europe.

These days tourism and hospitality are the mainstays for the village’s 300 or so inhabitants.

What to do

Though the road to Arisaig is good (this wasn't always the case), there is nothing like arriving by train on the West Highland Line, via the magnificent Glenfinnan Viaduct, a big draw for Harry Potter fans from all over the world.

The National:

Arisaig’s lovely little station – the most westerly in the UK – sits on the hill above the village and was opened in 1901. In summer, you can pick up the Jacobite steam train (westcoastrailways.co.uk) at Arisaig to enjoy one of the world's great railway journeys - Fort William to Inverness - vintage style. The 10-minute walk down to the harbour from the station provides the peace and quiet of village life, complete with magnificent views to Eigg, Muck and Rum.

Down at the harbourside there are usually plenty of small boats bobbing on the shore of Loch nan Ceall, including the MV Sheerwater which takes you to Eigg, Muck and Rum (arisaig.co.uk).

The nearby Land, Sea and Islands Centre is a wonderful museum, exhibition and information hub, housed in a former smiddy, that beautifully tells the story of Arisaig and its people past, present and future. From crofting and fishing to spinning and wartime espionage, the exhibitions contain a wealth of information and some lovely photographs. The spectacular marine wildlife of the area is also showcased, and you can even borrow some binoculars to spot birds, seals, dolphins and otters in the bay. There is a programme of talks, workshops and events, too See www.arisaiginfo.co.uk for details.

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No matter where you go in Arisaig the views are magnificent and those from the fairways and greens of Traigh Golf Course (traighgolf.co.uk), the most westerly in the UK, are no exception. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful setting in which to play nine holes anywhere in the world. Visitors are welcome all year round and the green fees are reasonable.

Those looking for adventure at sea may wish to paddle and glide their way around the coast on a kayak. Arisaig Sea Kayak Centre (arisaigseakayakcentre.co.uk) offers equipment, knowledge and experience for kayakers of all levels, including day trips, courses to full holidays.

If you’d rather peddle rather than paddle, the Arisaig Hotel has bikes for hire, perfect for cycling the five miles along to The Prince’s Cairn, the monument erected 1956 to commemorate the spot from which Bonnie Price Charlie escaped to France.

The National:

If you are visiting Arisaig at the end of July, don’t miss the Arisaig Highland Games, the traditional annual celebration of highland culture which takes place at Traigh Farm, a shoreside location two miles north of the village. As well as caber tossing and stone putting, there’s dancing (of the highland and ceilidh varieties), piping and fiddling, not to mention the gathering of Clan Ranald. The event this year is on Wednesday 31 July.

Where to Eat

Café Rhu, overlooking the harbour, is a lovely little bistro serving light meals during the day and excellent specials – often local seafood - in the evening. The mussel and bacon chowder served with homemade bread, followed by seared scallops and black pudding, makes for a memorable dinner.

For afternoon refreshment, try the tea room at Arisaig Marine, where the tasty scones are accompanied by the most generous servings of cream and jam you could hope for. The coffee is good, too, as is the delicious locally-made ice cream.

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Two hotels in the village also serve excellent seafood. The Arisaig Hotel has a lively feel, while upmarket Arisaig House grows its own fruit and vegetables. The latter's ribeye of beef cooked with homegrown purple broccoli is an absolute treat.

Where to shop

Arisaig doesn’t have many stores, but it is adequately served whether you’re looking to buy ingredients to cook a meal at your cottage or get some gifts to take home. The well-stocked Spar overlooks the harbour as does the gift shop at Arisaig Marine, which has a lovely range of bags, scarves, jewellery, soaps and cards. The Land, Sea and Islands Centre also has a cute gift shop. There's also a handy post office in the village.

Where to stay

Country House luxury: Arisaig House sits in beautiful grounds, offering elegantly appointed bedrooms in a tranquil setting. From £195 per room.

Highland welcome: Originally an 18th century coaching house, the comfortable Arisaig Hotel has a vibrant bar with regular live music. Rooms from £100 per night.

Cheap and cheerful: Just behind the Arisaig Hotel, its Bunkhouse has twin rooms, triples and a dorm. Beds from £25 per night in the dorm.

Flat living: Airbnb features a well-equipped apartment in the village which sleeps two and has a dual aspect sitting room.

What to do nearby

No visit to the Arisaig area is compete without a day at Camusdarach sands, one of the most beautiful beaches in Scotland. Made famous by the film Local Hero, the sheltered, idyllic white sands provide panoramic views while you paddle, swim (though the water is freezing), picnic and clamber over rocks. If want to experience the sunset of a lifetime, come here in midsummer.

Set in 28-acres of woodland on the edge of Arisaig, beautiful Larachmhor Gardens has an astounding range of trees, plants and flowers, from bamboo to more than 200 species of rhododendrons and mature oaks.

Take the short boat trip from Arisaig to the isle of Rum and experience the splendour of its mountains and wildlife, not to mention one of Scotland’s most eccentric castles, Kinloch.