What did I think of Perth before? Not much. Only that it wasn’t the most interesting or exciting place on earth, at least from what my brother-in-law (who had gone to university there back in the 1990s) had made of it. Even hip, younger people I talked to enthusiastically suggested going to Melbourne or Sydney instead of Perth. But I took up an invitation from Sage Hotel West Perth to hang there for a couple of days anyway, and found that it really doesn’t deserve the sleepy hollow reputation it’s pinned with.
First, the gorgeous weather just makes you want to wake up and smell the proverbial roses, or coffee as your prefer. With 3,000 hours of sunshine annually, you rarely get rained in while in Perth. Clear skies and moderate temperatures (with highs that hover around 28°C in summer) make it comfortable to go out and explore the city.
Where The Walls Talk
You can’t walk around Perth and not see the street art. The first piece that caught my eye was the one of a giant snake with its jaws wide open, ready to chomp on its own tail. The stunning mural on the Department of Housing building, I learnt, is by Belgian art collective ROA and was one of many that came about via the Art in the City programme called Public.
Launched in 2014, Public brought more than 45 artists from all around the world, joined by local talent, to transform some 35 spaces around Perth into an urban canvas with themes that reflect the city’s folklore, culture and history. The event successfully recast the city as a giant outdoor gallery with murals enlivening its spaces and was reprised the following year.
In watching the creative processes in action, Perth’s communities, particularly the youth, also became inspired to add their own narrative of life in the city, thus contributing to an ever-evolving cityscape. The result is not only the honour of being ranked fourth in the world for street art – behind Lisbon, New York and Melbourne – but in creating a city that engages its inhabitants and visitors alike.
I’m certainly coming back on a proper art chase. And I’m following Streets of Perth and Perth Street Art on Facebook to identify the works, artists and locations to map my route. Some of the best, it seems, are on Howard Lane, Wolf Lane, Northbridge, Subiaco and Fremantle, while others can be found indoors in bars, cafes, boutiques and art galleries.
Perth’s art doesn’t just take the form of murals. In fact, even before Public 2014, the city had commissioned a number of stunning sculptures. The one not to miss is Shimmer, by Jurek Wybraniec and Stephen Neille, in East Perth. It’s a dynamic piece that moves with the wind and interacts with light.
Wineries At The Doorstep
Anyone who enjoys a good glass of wine or two knows about Margaret River, and I hear it is well worth a side trip. But since I didn’t have time for a three-hour drive out, I opted to go on the Swan Valley food and wine trail instead.
Right on the doorstep of the city (barely 15 minutes out of the CBD), Swan Valley is home to a number of vineyards, farms and gourmet food markets. The easiest way to explore this region is to hop on a wine tour by d’Vine, which takes you to premium wine tastings at established winemakers like Sandalford, boutique outfits like Fig Tree Estate and Ugly Duckling, as well as a Bavarian-style brewery called Elmar’s in the Valley. The tour included an alfresco smorgasbord lunch in the cool shade of a tent pitched at the edge of sun-drenched vineyards. Lovely.
Besides sampling a good cross-section of wines (white, red, rosé, fortified, sparkling, unbarrelled, you name it) and brews the valley has to offer, the tour is also a great opportunity for foodies to buy artisanal cheeses, olives, chocolates, jams and other local produce as the tour bus also rolls around to the Margaret River Chocolate Company and Providore, which has a fig and cinnamon jam that’s out of this world. You won’t find it from the outlet back home, so stock up.
Bringing Back The Cup
After a morning rambling through Kings Park and enjoying the best vantage of the waterfront from the world’s largest inner city park, I got on a Gray Line bus and rode out to Fremantle for a quick look around.
The port city still retains many Victorian sandstone buildings that were erected at the time of the earliest settlers, and gallivanting around on a weekend can feel a little like being in a theme park. The atmosphere is wonderfully laid back. If you’re not shopping for food, craft, fashion or furnishings at the many markets and quaint boutiques, there are plenty of ways to do nothing.
If you have more time, venture outside the city centre to the gorgeous beaches as well as the seaside cafes and live music bars that dot the meandering coastline. There is no shortage of great spots to sit down and enjoy a tasty meal or people-watch over a cup of coffee. Since I had to catch a Captain Cook cruise up the Swan River, I went to Cicerello’s for a platter of fresh calamari and chips.
The world’s attention turned to Fremantle when it hosted the America’s Cup in 1987, following Australia’s win in 1983 that broke the longest winning streak in the sport’s history. The New York Yacht Club had defended the trophy for 132 years. On this Saturday afternoon, the river is awash with the bright sails of yachting vessels, while other powerboats remain docked at marinas along the Swan, including that of the Royal Perth Yacht Club. I also saw a number of long boats rowed by formidable sportsmen, probably preparing for an upcoming regatta.
The Sage Approach
After docking at Elizabeth Quay, it was a dash to buy Perth’s famous Honeycake at the State Building for fans at home, before racing back to Sage Hotel West Perth, my host for the trip, to pack up and fly home.
I enjoyed my stay at Sage for many reasons, and the first has to be Julio’s. One of Perth’s top dining institutions for decades before being refurbished and incorporated into the hotel, Julio’s remains popular among the locals, who come for its express executive lunches as well as Friday sundowners to wrap up the week with fresh tapas, live music, cool cocktails in the company of good friends.
Julio’s serves modern Italian cuisine. If you enjoy freshly made authentic gnocchi or a steak done just right, with truffle fries on the side, you’ll like Julio’s. For breakfast, the Ingordo – Italian toast, with banana, caramelised bacon and hazelnuts praline semifreddo – is as hearty as they come. I found myself barely fitting into my clothes at the end of the stay. Be warned.
Sage is also a good choice for its proximity to Perth’s top attractions, entertainment quarters and shopping precincts. It is just a hop and skip from the Redcat complimentary bus service, making it convenient to get anywhere in the city, which only means a lot more time to do the things you want, even on a short weekend trip.
Another great advantage that Sage offers is free WiFi and rooms that are designed for today’s tech-reliant urbanites apart from the other stylish creature comforts. It underscores how well it understands travellers’ needs and commits itself to deliver value through getting the simplest things right.