Hougoumont Hotel, Fremantle
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better base for a stay in Perth's port city: on a quiet lane off Fremantle's main drag, South Terrace, with everything within walking distance, from hip cafes to museums and beaches.
From outside, the Hougoumont is nothing special: the modest, renovated facade of the former Duke of York Hotel (built 1901). Inside, it's a Tardis of innovative design (the hotel opened in late 2013) that also manages to honour Freo's seafaring side past and present. Named after the last ship to transport convicts to Australia, the Hougoumont has 37 rooms made out of shipping containers stacked four storeys high. Most are Superior Cabins (15sqm); there are five larger Staterooms (32sqm). On the ground floor, the airy, high-ceiling communal lounge has Apple workstations, self-serve Nespresso coffee and Rubra leaf tea (it's a West Australian brand), bowls of fresh fruit and, on one white wall, the names of the 280 convicts who made that fateful last voyage in 1867-68.
My Superior Cabin feels much bigger than a shipping container, thanks to the contemporary decor and clever design that, like a ship's cabin, maximises space. The bathroom is also surprisingly spacious with a curved frosted glass wall (to add light without subtracting privacy), marble floor and vanity, rainwater shower and ethical Australian-made toiletries by Appelles (which you can buy at reception). There are witty nautical notes at every turn: a "Welcome Aboard" note on my desk when I check in; a keycard folder listing Passenger Name, Sleeping Quarters and Deck; a Do Not Disturb sign that says, "Anchor has been dropped. Do not disturb" on one side and "Gone exploring. Please prepare sleeping quarters for homecoming" on the other. Subtle eco-features (not because it's an eco-hotel, but because this is the 21st century) include a personalised mini bar turned off to conserve energy (until you want to use it), and a large window that opens for fresh air; the hotel's aircon is also turned off between 9am and 2pm daily (you can turn it back on).
With no in-house restaurant, Benny's Bar & Cafe around the corner and The Attic cafe across the road serve as the Hougoumont's de facto dining rooms. Just charge your meals back to your room; they even offer room service. There's also a Nespresso machine in every room. On weekday evenings, guests are invited to mingle in the lobby over complimentary Australian wines and cheeses. Off-site, there are restaurants and cafes all along South Terrace, aka the Cappuccino Strip, and backstreet eateries in historic digs such as Bread in Common, Stable Hands and Bathers Beach House, not to mention Western Australia's best-known craft brewery, Little Creatures.
Most of Fremantle's main attractions are a short stroll away: the impressive Western Australian Maritime Museum at Victoria Quay; Fremantle Prison, Western Australia's only World Heritage site; and Fremantle Markets, open on Fridays and weekends. Pick up a free copy of The Fremantle Story (fremantlestory.com.au) for a run-down of things to see and do. The Fremantle Visitor Centre is also nearby, see visitfremantle.com.au
The Hougoumont is one of the most exciting new properties on the west coast, offering affordable luxury, an unbeatable walk-anywhere location, five-star service and thoughtful, contemporary design while anchoring itself firmly in the ethos of ships and sailing that runs deep in this port city.
Hougoumont Hotel, 15 Bannister Street, Fremantle, WA, 6160. Superior Cabins start at $210 a night, Staterooms at $260 a night, including high-speed Wi-Fi. Phone (08) 6160 6800. See hougoumonthotel.com
Charming, sea-themed notes and signs that made my room really feel like a cabin, particularly when rain lashed the window.
Superior Cabins might be a bit small for couples; consider booking a Stateroom instead. And free bottled water in the room is unnecessary and unsustainable.
Louise Southerden was a guest of Tourism Western Australia.