Fremantle in Western Australia is fast making a name for itself as a very cool destination with lots going on, and an up-and-coming restaurant and arts scene. Considered one of 2016’s top cities to visit, Fremantle remains a major Australian port city in Western Australia, located at the mouth of the Swan River. Fremantle Harbour serves as the port of Perth, the state capital, and was was the first area settled by the Swan River colonists in 1829.
The city is named after Captain Charles Fremantle, the English naval officer who established a camp at the site on May 2, 1829. The city has preserved many of its fine 19th century buildings and other heritage features. Locals refer to it affectionately as ‘Freo,’ and the local Aboriginal name for the area is Walyalup.
The Local Hotel Fremantle
The centre of Fremantle is packed with coffee shops, bars and restaurants. This area is buzzing on weekends and often referred to as the ‘cappuccino’ strip. A short walk from this area in the centre is another up-and-coming part of the city, heading out to the white sand beaches is South Terrace. You will find upmarket shops, yoga centres, cafes and fabulous street art. This is where you will find The Local Hotel — an elegant building typical of the Federation era which corresponds to the British late Victorian period. Built in 1897 — which is old by Australian standards — the Local has been given a full makeover by owner-operator Phil Thompson, and his business partner Ross McPherson. They wanted to create a great neighbourhood hotel, eatery and watering hole with a warm welcome for the discerning local and visitor alike.
The building has the typical features of this period with sash windows, covered canopies and fancy wrought ironwork, which was designed to create shade and promote the free flow of air in this hot dry climate.
The Local currently has eight rooms, which are cool and spacious with robes, TV, Wi-Fi, and air conditioning. They aren’t en suite so you do have to potter out to the rather funky bathroom just down the passageway, and there is a large veranda area where you can look out over the Fremantle suburbs.
The staff are super friendly and laid back and the whole place has an easy going and unpretentious vibe. Walls display works of art from local artists. My favourite was a huge stunning mural of elephant heads in one of the bedrooms by Fremantle artist, Anya Brock.
The style is utilitarian urban chic, with light bulbs showing the filaments, exposed natural materials and muted calm hues in the paint work.
The food is hearty and uses all local produce from WA. I had gold band snapper with pureed sweet potato and a side dish of sliced sauteed sprouts, which were delicious. The Local Hotel is a really authentic place to stay in a cool part of this easy going city.
Eating out in Fremantle
There are dozens of restaurants in Fremantle with new ones opening up all the time. The city is becoming a real foodie destination and a great way to find out the best places to go is to go on a Food Loose tour with resident Freo foodie expert Justin. Justin has years of experience working in the hospitality and catering industries and was inspired to set up Food Loose in Perth by a food tour he tried in New York in 2014. Things are really taking off in the culinary department in Perth and Fremantle and Justin specialises in knowing just where the best eateries are, sometimes a little off the beaten track. He only takes you to local independent restaurants and ones which tend to use mainly fresh local produce. Justin is passionate about good food and his tours are a labour of love. He is keen to showcase the world class food and beverage scene here. If you sign up, you get to meet up with other foodies, explore the sounds and tastes of the city and you can decide how much or how little you want to eat at each of the places you visit. I ate the best sushi I have ever had at The Modern Eatery in Fremantle where you can watch the art of sushi making from real Japanese chefs. We tried the kamikaze, which was a superb prawn, crab and avocado creation, and then the salmon oshi, which was carefully prepared, pressed into sushi blocks and then slightly seared by a blow torch — totally delicious!
We then moved onto the Manuka wood fire kitchen in Freo, which champions unsurprisingly, cooking things in a woodfire oven. Manuka is the brainchild of Kenny from New Zealand who loves his wood fire oven and specialises in making local produce the centre of the dish. He changes the menu regularly and we tried his signature dish of wood grilled chicken thighs with pickled red cabbage and miso sauce, which won the best dish at the Taste of Perth festival this year. I particularly liked the grilled plums with feta cheese and quinoa. This is great fresh food in unpretentious relaxed surroundings. Justin describes the aim of the Food Loose experience as conversational dining, breaking down the bar/restaurant barrier.
Taking a trike tour around the city
A great way to see this part of the world is on the back of a motor trike. You can spin up the gorgeous Indian Ocean coast riding high on the back of an impressive Swan Valley Trike and take in the cities of Fremantle and Perth and the famous King’s Park. Another popular route is along the famous Swan Valley about 30 minutes drive from Perth, where you can stop en route to sample the local wines and beers at the numerous wineries and artisan food and drink outlets.
Swan Valley trikes is run by Pete Barnfield who will come and pick you up and take you home again on the back of his super comfortable mega vehicle. Pete is a mine of information about the local area, and I loved sitting up there on my wide leather seat spinning down the highway, sightseeing in style. Of course, touring this way on the back of a motorbike is greatly enhanced by the fact that the weather is generally 30 plus degrees Centigrade (86 F); it would not be half so much fun in the UK where you need to dress like a mummy before you get on a motorbike of any description.
Pete drove along the highway past the famous Dingo Flour building and stopped at the postcard pretty Cottesloe Beach, where the annual seaside sculptures were on show. Then he drove all around the bay of Perth, which is actually built on a series of lagoons; some of the city is reclaimed swamp land. Next, we drove through the famous King’s Park and from the top of the hill you can see the huge blue bay dotted with white seafaring crafts — Perth has a very high level of boat ownership. Ask about the twilight tours as well — the sunset here is legendary.
Fabulous Fremantle — the sunniest city
Perth and Fremantle are the sunniest cities in Australia and it’s a great winter sun destination. It’s got culture, food, heritage and fantastic beaches. You can visit local landmarks like the notorious Fremantle Prison, which the convicts had to build themselves in the searing heat, from local limestone. A prison tour really shows you how harsh conditions were for those early arrivals. This was the first building in Western Australia to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Fremantle Arts Centre is another building constructed in the 1860s by convicts from locally quarried limestone. A former lunatic asylum, it is one of Fremantle’s most significant landmarks. Today the imposing Victorian Gothic building and its historic courtyards are used for art exhibitions and music concerts.
Or why not visit The Fremantle Markets opened in 1897, selling speciality foods, arts and crafts, souvenirs, and local fruit and vegetables. Over 150 stalls are housed in the Victorian-era building, which is listed by the National Trust of Australia and the state’s Heritage Council.
Or why not just wander the streets and appreciate the colourful street art which is everywhere, even on the side of the local hospital! One of the most beautiful murals I’ve ever seen covers the East West design warehouse on South Terrace and is an enormous example of a trompe l'oeil and is a real work of art.
There’s so much to do in fabulous Freo you will be spoiled for choice — but don’t forget to fit in a trip to the beach!
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