Albany – the heart of the Great Southern

This past week in Albany allowed us to experience the charms of one of Western Australia’s most attractive cities – the quite stunning harbour, wonderful old pre-Federation buildings lining Stirling Terrace, conspicuous waterfront Entertainment Centre, the alluring Middleton Beach, flickering giants on the horizon generating wind power to the city, the brilliant memorial to the Anzacs atop Mt Adelaide and, of course the restored pubs, top quality restaurants, and wineries nearby – all things close to my, and Lady FWO’s, heart!


The Great Southern is one of the most diverse wine regions in the country – made up of five sub regions – Albany, Denmark, Mount Barker, Porongurup, and the Frankland River – with Albany as the only city in the region, and centrally located, making it the perfect place to set up and explore; Mt Barker, Porongurup and Denmark are each only a 30 minute drive away, and the Frankland maybe 30 minutes more.


On this visit, however, we decided to stay close to Albany and get a better feel for the town, and what a great week it was. We stayed in the CBD, with many of our chosen venues to eat and sample the local produce a short walk away – the hilly terrain making for good exercise as well for burning off those calories!!


Stirling Terrace has some of the best preserved buildings in the city – and since the two old pubs have been renovated and cleaned up, has become the main entertainment area, moving that precinct away from York Street, although that retains plenty of spots to sit back and relax as well. Coffee shops and cafés along the Terrace include the long standing Dylans, as well as newcomers, Kates Place and Gourmandise and all were bustling each morning as we strolled along.


The Royal George, long a rundown and uninviting feature of the streetscape has been reinvented as Six Degrees – and with the brewery pub White Star alongside – provides a central and appealing focus to the area. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a pleasant drinking environment Six Degrees is one the most notable additions since we last were in town. It could be even better if the bureaucrats in the Licencing Court would remove the ridiculous and onerous restrictions placed on patrons having a drink at the footpath al fresco area out front – but the Fun Police are having none of that.


Down on the waterfront, another eating and drinking establishment Due South has set up shop adjacent to the very popular and strikingly designed Entertainment Centre – a large, well-lit tavern with water views (again with strange liquor restrictions for the deck at the front) serves up a range of pub food classics and has, in my view, one of the best local wine lists you could ever see.


This is notable of many of the restaurants and pubs around town with a strong, and in some cases exclusive, emphasis on the wines of the regions – great to see and is a salutary lesson to the pubs and restaurants in and around the Swan Valley.


Further along Stirling Terrace, across York Street, stands the old London Hotel which now houses one of, if not the, best eating houses in Albany – Liberté – the room at the back of the place – resplendent in velvet and leather furnishings, ornately carved wooden tables, marble-topped coffee tables, chandeliers, large wall mirrors – has the feel of a salon from another era and place – and of course it dishes up the simply outstanding French Vietnamese fusion food of the amazingly talented Amy Hamilton; this is a must for any lover of good food and drink.


And even further along and closer again to the water is the cellar door of one of the region’s best wineries – Alkoomi – where you can sample and buy excellent wine, while alongside the police complex is the re-located Rustler’s Steakhouse.


A bit up the hill and just off York Street we were recommended to try the food at Lavender Cottage – in a small, and old, cottage surrounded by gardens, we were treated to exceptional French cuisine – this is another must if you are in the area – BYO as well, so you can bring along some of the excellent local wines on sale at the liquor outlet of Due South.


The Earl of Spencer, an historic inn a short stroll from our motel, is also well worth a visit – a great spot, serving generously sized plates of well put together pub food, and with a pleasant outdoor area at the back – make sure you take along an appetite!

Frederick Street running off York Street houses a couple of places on note – Alkaline Café, turning out organic, healthy fare and good coffee and cold pressed juices.


The Store, a cute little place where we enjoyed both the coffee and cakes, and Albany Tandoor Restaurant, serving very good Indian food in a friendly and inviting environment.


Around the bay, over Mt Adelaide, Middleton Beach, one of the most popular swimming beaches, has a number of top places to eat and drink – directly across from the water is Hybla, an arresting looking building, with very good tavern style food and with one of the prettiest outlooks.


While a short stroll away are three side by side spots – Rats Bar – eclectic furnishings, excellent local wine list, just such an inviting bar, we could have stayed much longer!


Bay Merchant, pushing out light lunches, coffee, sandwiches, and Hooked a licenced fish and chip shop we didn’t get the chance to try but we had been given very favourable reviews – next time!


Now it’s not all food and drink – the new Anzac Memorial overlooking the harbour which was the last sight of Australia for many of the soldiers leaving to fight in WW1 is a stunning and beautiful building, set in the grounds of the historic Fort district – you must visit this – heart rending and superb displays.


A stroll around the city will also reveal many historic buildings, lovingly preserved – the Town Hall in York Street, the old Post Office, now an annexe of UWA, in Stirling Terrace, just along from Queens Gardens.


And a walk over the footbridge to the waterside Peace Park and the Entertainment Centre is time well spent.

As I said on this visit we resisted the lure of the other wine subregions and went to those wineries close by – Wignalls, in attractive gardens and which hosts annual Blues concerts is a 10 minute drive from the CBD on Chester Pass Road, while Phillips Brook about 15 minutes up the highway has an art gallery and café as well as lovely wines; Oranje Tractor on the Links Road near the airport is another you should try.


Really there is so much to do and see, we just ran out of time – I didn’t even get along to one of my favourites, Great Southern Distillers who produce great whisky – Limeburners – oh well I will have to get back soon. And the perfect excuse, if I need one, is Taste Great Southern which will run over three weekends from March 23rd to April 9th – I will have more to say about this, and the many events which make it up in coming days.


Albany is truly one of the most inviting and appealing towns in WA, and the food and wine in and around the town and the wider Great Southern region second to none. We love it.

A final thought, journeying the five hours each way down and up Albany Highway we could only reflect that the reinstatement of a passenger train service to this unique area could generate even more tourists and tourism dollars – and gazing down to the pretty train station which now serves as the Visitor Centre served to reinforce this as only freight trains rumbled past – ah but that would require a government of vision truly committed to the potential of tourism as an income generator.

Coming soon – in-depth wine and food reviews of the
wineries and restaurants
we visited on our trip down south.

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