Author: Mal Chenu
They do things differently in the West. Perhaps because of the tyranny of distance, Sandgropers are independent and trailblazing with a home-town pride unmatched by "Eastern Staters," as they describe all other Australians. The sun shines on WA, they say, and this is literally true. Perth averages two hours more sunshine a day than Sydney and summer temperatures are around five degrees higher, so you can be assured of a warm welcome for your weekend visit.
Any trip to Perth should include the bucolic Swan Valley, the oldest wine growing region in WA. Drive just 25 minutes from Perth and you'll be among the vineyards, restaurants and cafés of this European-themed region. Along the way you'll pass through the historic town of Guildford (really a suburb of Perth these days), where you can browse antique shops on James Street, get a great coffee and a snack at Little Guildford or a cocktail and stylish tapas at Jezebelle.
Take the scenic 32 km Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail and explore the wineries, breweries, fine restaurants, cafés, distilleries, markets and roadside fresh produce stalls. The Valley specialises in Chenin, Petit Verdot, Shiraz, fortified wine and Verdelho and pioneers of the region, Houghton Wines and Sandalford Wines both have cellar doors and luncheon venues. Those who want to bike between bites should look into The Swan Valley Heritage Cycle Trail.
Accommodation in the Swan Valley consists mainly of B&Bs but it is so close to Perth that you can return to the city for the night. One top-line accommodation option in Perth is the recently renovated Crown Metropol, a nominee for Best Hotel Pool in the 2014 Gourmet Traveller Australian Hotel Guide Readers' Choice Awards. Crown, overlooking the Swan River just east of the city, has an array of fine dining options, including Bistro Guillaume, Rockpool Bar & Grill and Nobu Perth.
A fun and fascinating way to see some of Perth's lesser-known spots is on a walking tour with Two Feet and a Heartbeat. Discover chic and historic bars on the Small Bar Tour ($50, Tues/Wed/Thurs & Sat) or enjoy a three course progressive fine dining event at three venues on the CBD Dining Experience ($150, groups only, Mon/Tues).
Restaurant Amusé at the eastern end of the city specialises in a locally-sourced dégustation menu and the funky Print Hall Bar & Dining Room, run by executive chef Shane Watson and wunderkind sommelier Daniel Wegener, is architecturally and gastronomically intriguing.
Fremantle is another easily reached gourmet treat, just twenty minutes south of the CBD by car or train. There's the famous Cappuccino Strip, Fremantle Prison, Fishing Boat Harbour and a vibrant urban arts scene starring the quite brilliant 'sculpture' chiselled into the wall of the Norfolk Hotel by renowned Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto (aka Vhils).
The Hougoumont Hotel offers hotel rooms created from sea containers and is centrally-located if you want to stay and experience Freo after dark. Try the National Hotel or Mrs Browns for a pre-dinner drink and then head to Bread in Common, a no-fuss, no-reservations dining treat that matches incomparable loaves with spreads, charcuterie, cheese and wine. Barque is a spicy favourite among WA food lovers and Sunday afternoons includes live jazz, while The Raw Kitchen is an absorbing raw food adventure.