Freo and easy in Fremantle, Australia

I always enjoy reading international reviews of Freo that give a glimpse into how international visitors view our little city. While I don’t always love or agree with all of what they write, it is always interesting to read. This review is from the UAE.

http://www.thenational.ae/arts-lifestyle/travel/freo-and-easy-in-fremantle-australia

Why Fremantle?

Perth is Australia’s boom town, undergoing all manner of makeovers with the proceeds of mining money. But its long-standing port, Fremantle, prefers to play with its past rather than gallop headlong into a shiny glass future. Freo, as it’s known to locals, has kept a remarkable concentration of buildings from the late-19th and early-20th century. Some are convict-built, while some came on the back of the 1890s gold rush, but the heritage handsomeness is abundant.

It’s not just about looks, though – Fremantle’s attitude is noticeably different, too. It’s a place to slowly slurp cappuccinos on the terrace, mooch around markets and tag along with whatever arts performance or festival is happening. Fremantle’s free spirit is happy to roam among the lovingly maintained remnants of the past.

A comfortable bed

The Hougoumont (www.hougoumonthotel.com) is named after the last convict ship to arrive in Australia, and the names of those on board are written on the walls. The rooms are playfully cabin-like, with wood-panelled walls, clever space-creating shelving and a curving, frosted-glass wall separating off the surprisingly marble-packed bathroom. Rooms cost from 215 Australian dollars (Dh557).

The big boy in town – always hosting a wedding or some other event – is the Esplanade Hotel by Rydges (www.rydges.com). It’s a touch impersonal, but the location, opposite Esplanade Park, is hard to fault. Rooms cost from 179 dollars (Dh464).

For something altogether different, the newly opened Fremantle Prison YHA (www.yha.com.au) offers rooms inside the former cells and guard cottages of the World Heritage-listed Fremantle Prison. It’s primarily dorm accommodation aimed at backpackers, but has doubles with private bathrooms, from 112 dollars (Dh290).

Find your feet

Fremantle Prison (www.fremantleprison.com.au) is a fine place to kick off a walk around the city. Numerous tour options are available there, including the 20-dollar (Dh52) Doing Time tour, which goes into prison life, the art found hidden in the cells and the chilling gallows where prisoners were put to death. More adventurous is the 60-dollar (Dh155) tunnels tour, which involves donning special suits and harnesses to explore convict-cut tunnels deep below the prison.

From there, wander down to South Terrace, which is known as the Cappuccino Strip thanks to all the cafes. Head across Esplanade Park to the Roundhouse – the oldest remaining building in Western Australia. Then dip into the Western Australian Museum Shipwrecks Galleries (www.museum.wa.gov.au/museums/shipwrecks). It explores the numerous shipwrecks that have washed up on Western Australia’s coast including theBatavia, which led to a notorious Lord of the Flies-esque killing spree among the survivors.

Meet the locals

Australian Rules Football is the major sport here, but the big team – the Fremantle Dockers – play at the Subiaco Oval in Perth. Much less starry games take place at the 17,500-capacity Fremantle Oval. The South Fremantle Bulldogs (www.southfremantlefc.com.au) play there, and their games are a good, friendly introduction to the state’s favourite high-energy sport.

Book a table

The recently opened Bread in Common (www.breadincommon.com.au) has quickly gained a stellar reputation – and for a good reason. The style is smallish plates suited to sharing three between two people, and dishes such as the 21-dollar (Dh77) lamb ribs with chilli, lime, mint and black garlic are bursting with flavour.

Towards the city’s northern edge, The Mantle (www.themantle.com.au) is a superbly ambitious project that has converted an old warehouse to an art-packed, multi-restaurant grazing space. This includes a kitchen for use by pop-up restaurants, a wood-fired pizzeria, a highly experimental gelato bar and a South American tapas joint. Take your pick.

Shopper’s paradise

The Fremantle Markets (www.fremantlemarkets.com.au) are usually portrayed as Freo’s great shopping attraction, and they’re rather good fun to mooch around. There’s a strong leaning towards hippy tat, however – although said hippie tat isn’t necessarily entirely unappealing.

Much more compelling is Many 6160 (www.many6160.com), a former department store that has become “Australia’s largest temporary space activation project”. In practice, that means that the floor space has been given over to up-and-coming fashion designers and craftspeople to sell their wares.

What to avoid

The firing of the 1pm gun on top of the Round House is a quaint old tradition, but not all that exciting. If you’re around there at the time, it’s a briefly amusing diversion, but not worth planning a day around.

Don’t miss

Two Feet & a Heartbeat (www.twofeet.com.au) does a really good job of exploring Fremantle’s maritime heritage on its 50-dollar (Dh132) “sailor’s guide” tour. It includes walking through old tunnels dug out for the whaling industry, insight into the construction of the port, and some decidedly poor reviews of the Fremantle experience from crotchety 19th-century captains.

Getting there

Return flights with Etihad (www.etihadairways.com; 02 599 0000) from Abu Dhabi to Perth cost from Dh6,345.

weekend@thenational.ae

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About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

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