Posts in the “Perth” category...

The Sheraton Perth

by Continental Club on May 1, 2009  |  Leave a comment

At a little after 9am on an already-warm, late Summer morning in 2003, the half-mile long, stainless steel-clad Indian Pacific pulled into East Perth railway station, almost four days after it had set out on its transcontinental journey from Sydney.

A waiting Ford Falcon taxi cruised from the station towards the city centre, windows open to the fresh air and brilliant blue sky outside. It drew up outside the Sheraton Perth Hotel 10 minutes later, and a surprisingly memorable stay at this otherwise unassuming outpost of the Starwood chain began.

The preparations for this 2009 stay, arguably, began a couple of weeks after we’d checked out in 2003 when, out of the blue, a letter arrived from the hotel’s General Manager.

He’d read that standard comment card that most hotels leave propped on a pillow and was writing to thank me for completing it. Far from a standard response however, it picked up on the specific detail that I’d written down.

His attention came as no great surprise by then, as everything we’d seen in the hotel under his command had borne the hallmarks of a superbly-run operation and, as we’d just seen in Singapore at the St Regis, an immensely proud staff.

So, once again, why would we stay anywhere else?

In the intervening years, a new General Manager has arrived and a massive refurbishment of the public areas and the redevelopment of a new Executive Wing has taken place. And yet, somehow, the Sheraton seems still to be the Cinderella Five Star hotel in the city – not quite as central as the Parmelia Hilton (though central Perth is almost purely commercial and shuts up shop at tea-time), not as dripping with resort amenities as the InterContinental Burswood and not as design-led as the Outram. The rather stark, early 70s architecture doesn’t necessarily inspire the aesthete either, and it does little to disguise the fact that this is a large hotel with almost 400 guestrooms.

Nevertheless, and despite the changes, the hotel still seemed to have that instantly comfortable feeling; a definite retreat from the outside world but with a purposeful hum that so often promises good service.

The hotel’s location is far from inconvenient however, not least as it rests on the airport side of the immediate City Centre. So, even earlier than our arrival 6 years ago, we draw up outside to find a doorman ready and waiting to take our bags and park the car, and a friendly Receptionist inside to handle registration.

It’s a delight to discover that we are able to check in to our room immediately – one of the newly refurbished Executive examples – and our bags are brought up moments after we slump onto the fabulous Sweet Sleeper bed. You may note the reference to the singularity of the bed, for this was genuinely the only, and extremely minor, glitch during our entire stay. The room had been booked as a Twin, so a quick call to Housekeeping had two staff up to separate the zip-link King and remake it as two singles. Job done in a matter of minutes and no inconvenience whatsoever.

There’s also a personal welcome, in the form of a letter from the new General Manager, waiting for us in the room and complimentary bottled water to rehydrate.

And late that night, when MCC and FCC finally checked in, we found that they’d been assigned the adjacent room to ours too, which was very much appreciated.

The prospect of a shower and a freshen up neatly prompted an exploration of the bathroom which in another example of attention to detail, was an accessible wetroom for GCC. The majority of bathrooms in the Executive Wing rooms, however, have a separate shower cubicle along with a bath which looks through an internal window back into the bedroom – which was the set-up in MCC and FCC‘s room.

The décor is bang-up-to-date, with a slight retro feel and a definite nod to the colours of the Australian bush and outback. It’s warm, welcoming, calming and comfortable.

In 2003, the Executive Club was little more than a couple of guest rooms, knocked together. It was intimate and cosy, helped enormously by a delightful staff who were friendly, interesting and hugely helpful in suggesting things to do in Western Australia. In fact, we’d planned to stay only two nights before heading elsewhere but, in the event and inspired by the staff’s recommendations, we stayed four nights so as to be better able to explore the area.

The ‘new’ Executive Club is in a completely different part of the hotel and is, by comparison, vast. There are distinct lounging and dining areas, newspapers, magazines, PCs and plasmas. Breakfast is significantly more than a mere continental affair, with hot selections daily and a wide spread of pastries, cereals, juices, fruits, cheese and cold meats. The only slight issue is the coffee machine which, as a bean-to-cup job, takes a while and can end up with a bit of a queue. The huge mugs don’t speed the process of filling either.

Weekend afternoons see an Afternoon Tea service, but otherwise it is evening time when the lounge comes alive again, with a range of hot canapés and cold nibbles to choose from and all of which are regularly replenished. The bar offers a wide variety of bottled beers, spirits, soft drinks and, unsurprisingly, an excellent presentation of superb Western Australian wines, including a sparkler.

Compared to the former facility, well, the new one is just completely different and yet, pleasingly, the staff all seemed to just go that extra step, every time. Can I get you another beer? Would you like to try a different one? It’s from here or there and is made this way. Whether on holiday or on business, that little bit of additional, personal interaction backed by knowledge and experience, is invaluable.

The lobby houses the hotel’s main bar, which is not a bad place from which to people-watch – although it’s a little away from the principal flow of guests from the main entrance. Next to the bar is the highly-rated fine dining restaurant, Origins, and there’s also a useful gift and convenience shop in the lobby. Concierge holds complimentary copies of local and national newspapers.

The main hotel restaurant, Monterey’s, is to the left of Reception and showcases vast buffets which take great advantage of the abundant produce available from both land and sea in the local area.

Below ground level, spa treatment rooms have recently been added, adjacent to the well-equipped gym. The pool is almost hidden though and barely seems to warrant a mention in any of the in-room information. The inquisitive will find it, outside and accessed through a door between Origins and the Bar. It’s far from expansive and is out of the sun for most of the day, but it’s fine for a refreshing splash.

Throughout our stay, and indeed in all our dealings pre-arrival too, we were treated to warm, friendly, professional and efficient service from every single staff member. Even the ubiquity of guests’ white Toyota rental cars didn’t seem to throw the door staff too greatly as they slickly directed the right people to the right cars. And, though the billing was not particularly complicated, it’s still all-too-rare an occurrence that a check-out invoice is presented accurately at the first attempt – but no such problems here.

Final Verdict for the Sheraton Perth: 8.5/10. Just like their Singapore colleagues, the staff were wonderful and the location ideal. The guest rooms were comfortable and well-equipped with those fantastic Sweet Sleeper beds, and the Executive Club a great example of its kind. A larger, more clearly-signed pool would be ideal, if a little impractical and I’m sure that the non-Executive rooms will benefit from an upgrade soon. The new General Manager seems as in-touch as her predecessor and I once again leave the hotel certain that it’ll be the accommodation of choice for any future visit to the city.


Nearest, But Yet So Far – Welcome To Perth & Westralia

by Continental Club on May 1, 2009  |  Leave a comment

Some say that Perth, the closest major Australian city to the UK, is the most remote capital city in the World. There’s a bit of licence involved with that; it’s a state capital city, not a country capital.

Some say that Perth is closer to Singapore than it is to Sydney. That’s good for alliteration, but it’s not true either. There’s not a lot in it, but Sydney is a touch closer.

And some say that Perth (and, indeed Western Australia as a whole) has the climate that California thinks it has. Well, without a shadow of a doubt, they’re absolutely right about that.

This city is in what might best be described as a ‘most-favoured’ position. The Swan River shimmers as it sinuously weaves through the city to the Indian Ocean. The beaches which border the city are World Class, whether for fishing, surfing, sunbathing or just living. The wine region which extends just to the North and then for several hundred miles South of the city produces some of the most sought-after New World vintages.

The CBD skyline is a forest of shimmering towers, cheek by jowl with the gentrified and restored colonial splendour of West Perth and the café culture of Northbridge and Subiaco.

Nevertheless, some also say that Perth is soulless, a cultural desert and only good to earn money from and then move on. Myself, I just don’t see it and, with 10% of the population being British, it would appear that I’m not alone.

It’s a short and pleasant walk across Langley Park from the Sheraton to the Swan River and, from there, along the river bank to the restored Barrack Street jetty. There’s a small selection of cafés and bars and Perth’s diminutive answer to the Singapore Flyer.

– which is strikingly illuminated at night:

The most notable and slightly odd attraction is the ‘Swan Bells’ – a bell tower built for the Millennium celebrations to house the bells which formerly hung in London’s St Martin In The Fields church. The story of how these cast behemoths come to be in Perth is quite remarkable, and there’s a good view of the city and the river foreshore from the tower’s viewing platforms.

Barrack Street jetty also serves as the embarkation point for ferries to South Perth and to Fremantle and then on to Rottnest Island. Fremantle is a little under an hour away and Rottnest just 30 minutes beyond that.

The 20 kilometre cruise to ‘Freo’ is a pleasant way to pick up on some of the history of Perth and to understand why its founding fathers decided to build inland from the ocean. Oceanic offer a convenient schedule with an informative commentary as the boat passes the Old Swan Brewery, the marinas, yacht clubs and multi-million dollar real-estate that lines the river’s banks on the way to the coast.

As Fremantle is approached, some of the port’s ocean-going vessels are moored slightly upstream and the cruise boat passes up-close for a fisheye view of these leviathans of the sea.

Fremantle itself was, until relatively recently, something of a no-go area – derelict docks and wharves surrounding the modern port facilities and attracting some less than welcoming characters. Preparations for the America’s Cup in 1987 catalysed a massive regeneration of the city however, with many of its stunning colonial buildings emerging from the programme restored and elegant against the trademark cerulean Western Australian sky.

Today, there’s a well-developed arts scene, thriving nightlife and cafés galore along the so-called Cappuccino Strip and down to the harbour side. Markets have taken over empty wharf sheds and the Western Australian Maritime Museum guards the harbour mouth.

During WWII, Fremantle was the second largest Allied submarine base in the pacific, and the more modern exhibit of HMAS Ovens commemorates this.

The former prison is also a museum, as is the Round House – the oldest surviving building in Western Australia. Mostly though, Fremantle is good for a mooch around the shops, a relaxed coffee or a gaze at the restored buildings themselves, many of which are now occupied by the University of Notre Dame.

Whilst Freo can easily occupy a day of any trip, a visit to Rottnest demands that length of time at the very least. Long since the weekend escape of choice for city-dwellers on the mainland, Rottnest is a car-free playground named after the native marsupials found on the island. Likened to a rat, they’re actually Quokkas and are abundant to this day. Of course and as with all things Australian, the commutation ‘Rotto’ is most likely to be heard when locals refer to the 11km long island, which lies 18km offshore.

Hungry sharks notwithstanding, there’s an annual swimming race out to the island, but the boat from Perth and Freo is the more popular means of access. Most visitors use their own two feet to get around the island, although abundant bikes are available to hire and there is a bus shuttle service. The principal attraction is merely being on an island though, and Rotto is blessed with some superb beaches. Accommodation and services are limited, but lunch or supplies for a picnic from the island store are easy to find.

Back in the City, both the Western Australian Museum and The Perth Mint are interesting diversions for those of a Natural Sciences or History bent, respectively. The latter is also notable for a quite remarkable characteristic: the room containing its furnace for the casting of gold ingots is often cooler than the super heated air of the city outside.

Also in the city, cricket fans may be drawn to the WACA – the Western Australian Cricket Association’s ground but, for many, the principal city attraction is King’s Park. These thousand acres of native bushland, lawns and botanic gardens are a jewel in the city’s crown, but in high Summer some of their appeal is lost as the heat makes sauntering aimlessly around a park, not always abundant in its provision of shade, a bit of an ordeal. That’s supposing that it hasn’t been closed due to fire risk, of course, which is even less attractive.

Where King’s Park meets the Swan River, beneath a densely wooded river cliff and next to Mounts Bay Road, the Old Swan Brewery has been converted into a luxury apartment and restaurant complex. The 1879 main brewery building, considered by many to be the finest example of its genre remaining in Australia, was the scene of considerable protest and confrontation during the period leading up to its redevelopment in the 1990s. Today, the outdoor terrace in particular is a popular place to dine on speciality steaks and a wide variety of other WA cuisine, overlooking the water and, as the evening progresses, the illuminating skyline of Perth’s city centre.

Head West from the City towards the coast again, through prosperous locales awash with boutiques and art shops, coffee shops and galleries, and the seaside suburb of Cottesloe is one of the must-visits on any itinerary.

The immediate beachfront is a surfer’s paradise, with cafés, restaurants and fish and chip shops lining the inland side of the road, or occasionally resting on the beach-back dunes. A little inland, by Cottesloe railway station, is what might very well be the World’s best corner shop: The Boatshed. Split into three areas; meat, fish and ‘everything else’, the displays of bounteous provender are simply stunning. Whether it’s the freshest seafood, the crispest salads, the most exotic bakery and patisserie or just an apple, the place is stunning.

Some might say that if you’re in Perth you should make the effort to go and have a look at The Boatshed. I’d say that if you’re anywhere between North Korea and New Zealand, you should call in.


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