A trip to the capital city of Western Australia should be on every east-coasters list, even if it is just to scratch that curious itch to see how those west-siders live. After spending three days in Perth you'll uncover pockets of the past and how this has influenced the enviable lifestyle at the present.
Day 1 - Northbridge
Northbridge, just north of Perth railway station, and flanked by the city's cultural centre of theatres, museum and art gallery, is an urban cultural hub with a strong arts and creative scene and the boutique Alex Hotel is a launch pad into the throng.
Discreetly commanding its boutique posting on Northbridge's busiest corner at James and William Streets, the 'Alex' is Perth's queen of pared-back luxury. At check-in we discover staff casually waiting front of house rather than stationed behind some imposing desk... and I'm certainly not complaining about the lack of ironing board in my room; why start worrying about creases now? Although the absence of a bar fridge is more a concern until hotel manager Alan Ford directs me to the help-yourself bar on the first floor.
"It operates on the honour system, unlike the muffins in the communal area," he playfully suggests.
There's only a single lift which means the stairs are the height of activity reminiscent of European hotels, and it's unlike any hotel I've stayed in Perth before. Room types range from compact suites and bunk rooms with the basics extra-large and family options with attention to details such as luxurious linens and locally-made Sodashi toiletries.
Night 1 - Culture vulture
With the Perth Cultural Centre just across the street and buzzing with year-round events it's easy to absorb not only one of the finest collections of Indigenous art at the WA Art Gallery but also live performance. After the show, Northbridge's eating options range from Middle Eastern to Mediterranean to the Shadow Wine Bar oozing all kinds of New York cool in the converted bank next door to the hotel.
At the Hummus Club the main ingredient is made from WA-grown chickpeas with an assortment of toppings; we choose fragrant spiced beef, pomegranate and pita chips, accompanied by Zaatar Fried Chicken and crispy potatoes. In a display of unabashed gluttony, we pop next door to Whisk Creamery for gelato, served up by brothers Davide and Simon Nelva who draw inspiration from their Italian heritage, it's closet to the gelato found in Italy itself.
With the night still youngish, we head to the Alabama Song Bar in the laneway behind the Alex Hotel where the stage is enclosed in a cage, just like it is in the Blues Brothers movie. Thankfully, it's merely part of the décor and not protection for the live blues, rockabilly and soul bands. With more than 100 American whiskies, bourbons and ryes, it's a little slice of America and downstairs is Joe's Juice Bar refreshingly reminiscent of an '80s nightclub. Equally intriguing is Sneaky Tony's in a nearby laneway, specialising in rum and so clandestine you have to ask the concierge for the passwords and directions.
Day 2 - Swan Valley
Perth was chosen as the administrative centre of the Swan River Colony when founded by Captain James Stirling in 1829, and Fremantle the port, then Guildford, only about 30 minutes from the city, was the market town. Today, it's the gateway to Swan Valley and still a charming historic village in a region brimming with wine, beer, cider, distilleries, restaurants, galleries, cheese, chocolate, nougat, preserves and fresh produce.
Even tours range from the thoroughly modern - from private limousine, a cruise via the Swan River or electric bike hire following the Swan Valley Heritage Cycle Trail - to the purely nostalgic via horse-drawn carriage through the vineyards with Swan Valley Wagon Tours.
We take the 32-kilometre self-drive option with a pit-stop in Guildford for a rummage through its antique shops and to ponder the rumours about the Guildford Hotel, said to host ladies of the night during the Gold Rush days, and the Rose and Crown Hotel across the railway tracks, reputedly Western Australia's most haunted pub.
Much is written about the Margaret River region, nearly 300km south of Perth, as a premier wine and food destination but the Swan Valley, so much closer to the city centre, is Western Australia's oldest wine growing region, and has earned a solid reputation for its wines, ranging from Verdelho - a Valley specialty - to other white styles, full-bodied reds and some of the world's finest fortifieds.
The Swan Valley is also Australia's first Humane Food Region. Thirty restaurants in the region participate in the program where conscientious chefs support the welfare of animals, and as a result, produce healthier and tastier food. Mandoon Estate, Sandalford Wines, Sittella Winery and Restaurant and Fillaudeau's are just a few of the participants using free range and RSPCA accredited meats, and seafood from suppliers who respect sustainable fishing practices.
Day 3 - Local produce and wine
Taylor's Art and Coffee House is also part of the movement, and general manager Caroline Taylor, who grew up in the Swan Valley, is a strong advocate for using organic, free-range and locally grown produce wherever possible. As we pause for a coffee we also browse the collection of local printmaker Jude Taylor before continuing onto Olive Farm Wines, the state's longest-running winery.
Anthony Yurisich is a fourth generation winemaker and carries on his family's tradition at Olive Farm Wines which lays claim to be Western Australia's oldest winery. First established in 1829 by an English botanist, who also planted olive trees which gave the winery its name, Anthony's great grandfather took ownership of Olive Farm in 1933 after working in the goldfields and tried his hand at winemaking in the style of his homeland, Yugoslavia. Their fortified wines became a signature and their latest release is a blend of the original wines along with Anthony's own to create a fourth generation 'special'.
A new addition is the Cheese Barrel next door, specialising in all things cheese. Instead of choosing a platter off the menu, we select Gruyère de Comte, Truffle Cheddar, Yallingup Brie and Manchego accompanied by ham, pâté and olives washed down with an Olive Farm Shiraz.
No trip to the valley is complete without a tasting or two, and Funk cider is aptly named for its cold pressed juices which include coconut and mango, and a chilli cider I wasn't brave enough to try called 'Hot Lust'. The brainchild of brothers Dustin and Martin Michael, Funk Cider is an alcoholic version of the Michael Brothers Traditionally Pressed Juice Company. The coffee caravan provides a much-needed caffeine hit, and I make a mental note it's also open for breakfast while the cider taps start pouring from 10am.
Night 3 - Last supper
Back at the Alex Hotel their free city bikes offer a temptation to undo the day's indulgences but there's one last stop we have to make. Alfred's Kitchen has been serving burgers and pea and ham soup since 1946 and congregating around the fire pit, which is lit nightly, is a Perth tradition. However, the dining train carriage is a new addition and welcome on a cold night especially when there aren't free spots around the fire. I scan the menu and notice that pineapple is offered as an extra but beetroot still hasn't found it's way on to the menu and my request for it is met with a raised eyebrow. Tradition stands firm at Alfred's!
Good humouredly reprimanded, we return to the Alex Hotel's rooftop bar and debate whether to venture out once more and join the passing parade below.