Do you think that February/ March is not a good time to holiday in Scotland? Think again - there's lots to do at this time of year in the East Neuk of Fife. Here are 5 ideas:
1. CATCH THE SNOWDROPS IN BLOOM - you may have missed the Snowdrops by Starlight event but the famous snowdrops at the Cambo Estate are still making an appearance by daylight and they are gorgeous! The sheer volume of them creates a lovely effect, especially alongside the Cambo burn. The unusual varieties near the house are also worth a look for their delicate perfection (there are over 350 varieties of snowdrops at Cambo). You can also buy snowdrops from the plant shop in the hope of recreating Cambo at home (I'm not known for my survival rate with plants so let's see how my efforts in the Rose Cottage garden go!).
Kids love to see the Cambo piglets as well and I must admit I did too - they have bags of energy, charging about, play fighting and eating. (Cambo Estate, Near Kingsbarns; Open daily 10-5)
Piglets at Cambo
2. BUY LOCAL - have yourself a cheese board with the St Andrews Farmhouse Cheddar and Anster Red cheeses from the St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company. The shop there also has quality Scottish produce such as the posh, award-winning Summer Harvest rapeseed oil, which I suppose is Scotland's answer to olive oil (from £4). We took some of this to dinner with friends and it got plaudits for being something different, with a nice smoothness and subtlety, for dipping bread into. There's also a tearoom at the cheese farm where you can enjoy homemade cheese scones, cheese toasties, cakes etc, while enjoying the views over the fields and out to the Isle of May. It's a nice child-friendly place for lunch or a daytime snack in the country, with the chance to learn about how the cheese is made. (St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company, Falside Farm, Near Anstruther & Pittenweem; Tel: 01333-312580)
Ratatouille & goats cheese tart Fresh basil & pine nut pesto
3. EAT LOCAL FOOD AT THE PITTENWEEM INN - R and I recently tried this family-run restaurant out for the first time and we were impressed. Chef Brian Murphy does great things with fresh, seasonal local produce, including a weekly market menu. Prices are reasonable, service is friendly, the dining room inviting (with local art on the walls) and the atmosphere nice and informal. My mouth still waters when I look at this picture of the appetising goats' cheese starter from the a la carte menu (OK all this talk of cheese is really making me hungry now!). If you haven't been yet, you definitely owe it to your taste buds to pay a visit ASAP. (Pittenweem Inn, 42 Charles Street, Pittenweem; Tel: 01333 311326, Thu-Sun only)
4. PUT A LITTLE BIRDHOUSE IN YOUR SOUL - Susie Lacombe at the Crail Gallery has made a new batch of birdhouses shaped like historic Crail houses for 2013 (£40 each). I was lucky enough to be in the Gallery when she was painting them (with Farrow and Ball paint no less) so I even got to have a say in the design process of mine! Susie told me that birds look for a mate round about Valentine's day so now is definitely the time to do your bit for birdlife and put a birdhouse in your garden. Speaking of birds, daily boat trips from Anstruther to the Isle of May kick off for 2013 on 29 March, so it will soon be puffin-spotting season. (Crail Gallery, High Street, Crail; Tel: 01333 450316; Open 10-5 Mon-Sat & 12-5 Sun)
5. ENJOY A UNIQUE EVENT - Go to Scotland's only regular poetry festival - StAnza in St Andrews (6-10 March). It's international in outlook and was founded 15 years ago. Then there's the Fife Science Festival, also in St Andrews, at venues including the Castle and University (15-25 March). You could also plan ahead by booking tickets for the ninth East Neuk Festival (3-7 July) now before the events sell out. The Scotsman newspaper said the festival "promises more big names in intimate surroundings...so book ahead". I'm looking forward to experiencing it for the first time this year. For more details on these and other events see the Events page of this blog.
Like I said, lots to do so what are you waiting for?
Here are my tips for how to spend a truly romantic Valentine's day with your loved one in the East Neuk of Fife and St Andrews. All you need to do is follow these four fail-safe steps:
STEP 1: GET SOME FRESH SEA AIR - Take a romantic stroll, walking hand in hand along the beautiful Kingsbarns beach. Perhaps you'll see the twinkle of the Bell Rock lighthouse way out to sea or even a dolphin or two. Or if you are a sporty couple you could up the pace and go for an invigorating jog, running side by side along St Andrews' iconic West Sands beach, humming the theme to "Chariots of Fire" as you go. Ahh that fresh Scottish air!
STEP 2: SWEETS FOR MY SWEET - Have coffee, homemade tablet and cake with two spoons alfresco at the Crail Harbour Gallery. As you hold hands, pause from gazing dreamily into each others' eyes for just long enough to look over to the Isle of May. It's a view which has inspired countless artists. Or if rain is threatening to extinguish those fires of passion (well we are in Scotland after all), take shelter in The Cocoa Tree, a French-style chocolate shop and cafe in the nearby village of Pittenweem. With chocolate being an aphrodisiac you can't really go wrong in here. Magnifique!
STEP 3: REELLLLLLAAAX - Warm up and ease those tense muscles from your earlier exertions by basking together in the outdoor, rooftop pool of The Old Course hotel spa in St Andrews. Maybe throw a little back massage in for good measure. Then ease yourselves out of this bliss and get changed into something alluring, ready for pre-dinner cocktails overlooking golf courses and town at the hotel's elegant, classy Road Hole bar. Bag yourselves the seats by the open fire. Mine's a Flirtini!
STEP 4: DINNER DATE - Hail a trusty taxi and whisk your loved one off for an intimate, candlelit dinner for two at The Peat Inn. Hopefully you've saved your pennies (and booked ahead) for an indulgent, magnificent dinner at this five star, fine dining restaurant in the country. It's dimly lit, suitably expensive and a sensuous feast for the taste buds. If you haven't done it yet, now's an ideal time to pop that question! (Or if there's no room at the Inn / on your credit card check out Hazel of www.thegrumblingtummy.org 's blog on the Visit St Andrews site for more valentine's dining options.)
However you choose to spend it, have a very happy Valentine's.
p.s. Do you have a favourite romantic place in the East Neuk and St Andrews that I haven't mentioned? If so, why not share it by leaving a comment.
Top left is the Isle of May; Bottom right is The Swilken Bridge, famous St Andrews landmark