Fremantle free-spirit

Indian summers in Perth and Fremantle are the stuff of legends. Disembarking from the plane, summer’s extreme heat wave was in full force, embracing me with a welcome that was akin to be slapped me in the face with a hot spatula. Eager for ocean breeze respite, I summoned the doctor, hot-footing it south to Perth’s little brother, the conjoined city of Fremantle, or Freo, as it’s affectionately known.

That afternoon sou’wester, the Fremantle Doctor, really is a sanity-saver to locals and visitors alike. Like Perth, regeneration is all the rage in Fremantle, with an ever-expanding hospitality and arty scene spreading its tentacles, to bolster its long-established bohemian credentials. After a caffeine-refuel on South Terrace’s famed “cappuccino strip” (primarily influenced by Italian migrants), I was eager to scratch beneath the surface of Freo’s boho spirit.

Enter Ryan, a born and bred local who eight years ago founded the award-winning business, Two Feet & a Heartbeat Walking Tours. Whether it’s history, culture or the hottest foodie spots you’re after, Ryan and his crew are the go-to insiders, plugged into Freo’s eclectic pulse like walking Wikipedians. Ryan whisked our group around the heritage trail’s premium draws, from the World Heritage-listed limestone fortress of Fremantle Prison (circa 1850s) to through the flavourful Fremantle Markets, that have been hustling with trading bustle since 1897. Stock up on Morish Nuts and succumb to a divine French pancake at Michele’s Crepe Suzette.

Then it was on to the sublime preservation sweep of colonial architecture flanking High Street, Western Australia’s oldest street. It’s a movie-set-perfect streetscape of heritage buildings with ornate iron railings, now home to independent retailers, fashion designers, artists and inviting venues. Ryan revealed, with tried and tested authority, the charming little Fremantle Buffalo Club has the cheapest booze in town. Enjoy a thirst-quencher and the convivial post-work ambience of the National Hotel, a grand old watering hole that has recently been revived after falling victim to multiple fires. Throughout the city, the ongoing passion for heritage preservation is inescapable.

Even disused department stores have been creatively born again, as you will find in Kings Square, home to MANY, Australia’s largest temporary space activation project. Reworked as a thriving hub for cutting-edge retail, MANY is like a hothouse of pop-up stores, showcasing edgy retail, fledgling artists, craftspeople and fashion designers. Call it what you want: freeform, experiential, boho chic….it’s quintessentially Fremantle.

An essential breakfast or lunch experience is to take a stroll to Moore & Moore Café, situated Henry St. Kitted out with whimsically-shaped chandeliers, vintage water fridges and cosy nooks, this place oozes urban cool. Exposed limestone walls through the laneway entrance lead you into a large and leafy open courtyard with communal tables. I sampled this fabulous café for breakfast, noshing a divine serving of avocado and poached eggs on toast, with greens, tomato salsa and mushrooms. It’s feel-good good food in a feel-good venue, regularly enlivened by local musicians.

Recent changes to liquor laws has led to the proliferation of the small bar scene; intimate, speak-easies now speckling Fremantle. One of the newest specimens is Strange Company, fast cultivating a loyal following with its expansive selection of beers, ciders and wine, matched with a lip-smacking share style tapas menu. They’re very big into repurposing existing spaces in Freo. That great bastion of craft beer, Little Creatures , led the charge twenty years ago, converting a massive shed on Fishing Boat Harbour into a brewery, bar and restaurant.

Its popularity powers on. Also on the waterfront, our group popped into Kidogo Arthouse, a gloriously restored limestone warehouse, which is home to an independent art centre and exhibition space. The aboriginal works on display here, which can be purchased, are sensational. Founded by the vivacious Joanna Robertson, she led me into her private saloon, the Kelp Bar, stuffed with paraphernalia and retro curios. With an unblemished ocean view across the boardwalk at Bathers Beach, it’s a dreamy spot for a sundowner.

Down at Fishing Boat Harbour, head to Little Creatures, the craft beer king that led the micro-brewery charge twenty years ago. Set inside a massive converted boat shed, at the water’s edge, it’s a perennially popular haunt for hopheads staking out that super fresh pale ale hit. You would be struggling to find a fresher brew, as the beer is poured straight from the conditioning tank. Stroll over to the brand-spanking new venue, Bathers Beach House, a fiendishly popular diner specialising in seafood and share plates. Order up a salivating platter, stacked with whole reef fish, mussels, octopus, oysters and garlic prawns, wash it down with an Eagle Bay ale, grab a spot under an umbrella and watch the sun sink into the Indian Ocean, leaving in its wake a streaky crimson trail.

Where to stay? A newcomer that’s turning heads is the Hougoumont Hotel, a boutique lifestyle property, pitched at the new breed of mobile travellers. Very on-trend, the property has plumped for style and substance over needless space, so even though accommodations may strike you as compact, they are generously equipped with a slew of creature comforts, including smart TV and free WiFi. The informal reception desk, designed to blend in with the buzzy ground floor café and bar, is serviced by a dedicated and helpful crew – don’t hesitate to help yourself to the complimentary snacks, fruit and drinks on-hand. Located in Bannister Street, you’re perfectly positioned in the heart of Freo. www.westernaustralia.com

By Mike Yardley.

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