Just relax. The Doctor will see you now

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City Slicker: Perth - Australia's fastest growing metropolis offers a diverse package. Sarah Barrell has some tips for new and returning visitors



Why visit?


The Doctor's in, so I decide a midday stroll won't be suicidal.

Perth may claim more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in Australia, but the Fremantle Doctor, a fresh sea wind, takes care of heat exhaustion. Spread along green banks of the Swan River, Perth seems sedate but its inner city, the nation's fastest growing, is densely packed.

A walk though the CBD (Central Business District) reveals small bars popping up like weeds in the crevices between skyscrapers. At Zekka, on King Street I have dainty picnic-style food in an industrial, warehouse setting, backed by racks of black, uniform menswear. At the other end of the street I find a branch of Tiffany's. Perth may be an international epicentre for diamonds, but until recently, the precious stones were taken from mines outside the city and quickly exported. A new prosperity means that Tiffany's now sees fit to have a presence in Perth.

Regional riches such as Wagyu beef and rock lobster were also traditionally exported to Japan and Europe but now headline on local restaurant menus. Amusé (restaurantamuse. com.au), a modern Australian eatery in East Perth, recently scooped first place at the National Savour Australia Restaurant Awards, a novelty for a Western Australian dining spot.

Perhaps the best time to enjoy the city's home-grown talent is during the International Arts Festival (12 February to 6 March), an annual celebration of music, dance, drama and film that this year includes the new Perth Writer's Festival (perth festival.com.au).

Don't miss...

...the Perth Cultural Centre. Home to the city's heavy-hitting arts institutions, including the Art Gallery of Western Australia. This has one of the country's finest collections of indigenous art, a comprehensive overview of traditional and contemporary works from Arnhem Land, the Central Desert, and Western Australia (perthculturalcentre.com.au)

...Kings Park. One of the world's largest urban green spaces, housing the botanical gardens, a very decent café-restaurant (Fraser's) and ancient boab trees, transported 3,000km from the Kimberley in Australia's north-west. Like New York's Central Park, Kings is the green heart of the city, its 400-hectare collection of lawns, forests and wild hiking trails draped over Mount Eliza. The summit offers cracking views of the city and the sparkling expanse of the Swan River (bgpa.wa.gov.au/kings-park).

...the Swan River. Take one of the frequent water taxis, ferries or even hire a little yacht for a ride across to South Perth. Here you can visit the zoo – an easy way to get close to Australia's marsupials (perthzoo.wa.gov.au) – or head for a waterfront institution, Coco's, for dinner and drinks (cocosperth.com).

...Fremantle. A port town that's a creative cut above the rest of the surf settlements along Perth's 90km stretch of nearby sandy coastline. The creative, artsy community, hipster restaurants and perfectly preserved 19th-century sandstone buildings – including the convict prison, a World Heritage Site – make this place, just 30 minutes from Perth by train or car, worth more than a day trip (fremantle.wa.gov.au).

...Rottnest. Come to this car-free island for superb snorkelling, cycling and wildlife spotting, including the cute quokka – a pint-sized kangaroo endemic to WA. Get there via a scenic flight on a seven-seater plane (ozwest aviation.com.au) or a half-hour ferry ride (rottnestisland.com).

...Free travel. Every day, Perth's i-City information kiosk (on Murray Street Mall) offers free guided walking tours, covering everything from basic orientation to themes such as Perth's convict past and the late-19th-century gold rush. If you don't want to walk, hop on the city's free CAT buses – three different lines serve central Perth, daily (cityofperth.wa.gov.au).

What's new?

The CBD

The Central Business District. Downtown is coming up. One of Perth's oldest neighbourhoods is home to the city's newest crop of bars and boutiques. Stop at Play (Shop 4/502 Hay Street) for excellent espresso in view of a giant yellow cow sculpture. Ox (Exchange Plaza 2) has a marble bar, leather chairs and serves cutting-edge Australian wines. The shiny new Enex100 mall (100 St George's Terrace) sells upscale Australian fashion labels, and has the quirky, eco-designed Greenhouse restaurant and terrace.

Hippo Creek

This feted new "meat and wine" restaurant, in the well-heeled Subiaco district, has its own drying room for premium beef such as Tasmanian Cape Grim rib, Ningalooo sirloin and Wagyu. Exotic bites include smoked crocodile and oxtail croquettes. The decor is calm and earthy, with dark wood and stone, although the service was utterly chaotic when I visited – teething troubles perhaps.

Details: hippocreek.com.au

Kitsch

The Leederville neighbourhood, minutes west of the CBD, doesn't lack novel places to drink and dine. But this new venue, complete with a pretty terrace designed around a fragrant frangipani tree, is a real treat. There are giant murals of vintage Shanghai poster girls, Chinese lanterns and plates exploding with sweet, spicy, sour flavours influenced by the traditional hawker markets of China, Thailand and Malaysia.

Details: kitschbar.com.au

Daisy and Charlie

The latest boutique to attract the lovelies of Mount Lawley is a new womenwear shop on Beaufort Street, the main artery of this, the ritziest of Perth neighbourhoods. This sunny shop stocks small fashion labels from around the world, plus Australian designers including the Seventies-inspired Barbarella Vintage and smart frocks from Nicolangela and Tim O'Conner.

Details: daisyandcharlie.com.au

Sculpture by the Sea

This event transforms Cottesloe beach, just north of Fremantle, into a sculpture park, with more than 70 pieces on display (3 to 22 March 2011). Time your visit to coincide with one of Cottesloe's regular Sunday Sessions: drinks, music and superb sunsets at beachfront haunts such as the Ocean Beach Hotel and Cottesloe Beach Hotel.

Details: sculpturebythesea.com

Compact Facts

How to get there

Sarah Barrell travelled as a guest of Tourism Australia (australia.com).

Qantas (0845 7 747 767; qantas.com) flies from London Heathrow to Perth twice daily from £699 per person.

The Richardson (00 618 9217 8888; therichardson.com.au), a 74-room boutique hotel in Perth's Subiaco neighbourhood, has Australia's only ESPA spa and offers double rooms from A$450 (£284) per night.

Insider Secret

Barbara Collins, owner DeVille's Pad (devillespad.com)

"Pinnaroo Cemetery (20km north of Perth) is set in pretty parkland packed with wild kangaroos. You can see joeys with their mums, young males boxing and oldies having a nap."

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