I find it funny how most people from the western tip of our country think that Cape Town is the only gem of South Africa. I don’t blame them. Growing up with the mountains and winelands at my back door and the ocean on my stoep, it’s hard to believe that any other part of the country could possibly be as beautiful. But then I had the privilege of spending the last four years up north and my eyes were opened.
I never thought I could fall in love with the very dull and flat Free State (this was my very misguided and prejudiced opinion, and turns out the Free State is not that flat at all). Then I met Clarens. Only a three hour drive from Bloemfontein and Johannesburg, and four from Durban, you will find this charming little town. Surrounded by the Rooiberge with its multi-coloured sandstone formations, it’s no secret why Clarens is considered the ‘Jewel of the Free State’.
Here are my top seven reasons why you should pack your bags and plan your getaway to Clarens right now:
1. Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Our day-trips to the Park were a real highlight. Here you are surrounded by huge sandstone formations, which turns a golden-yellow colour in the afternoon-sun (hence the name). With Clarens literally being on the doorstep of the Golden Gate Park, no more than a 20 minute drive, it’s totally worth it to go for a sundowner at the Langtoon Dam.
2. Clarens Brewery
Being the only microbrewery in the Free State and one of the first in the country, this craft distillery is a must for your Friday evening in Clarens. We got a free taster of beer and ciders (which was a thrill for the student-budget) as well as a brewery tour. Their menu focuses on German style pub lunches with sausages, cheese, breads and relishes, all locally produced. Side note: I can highly recommend their Indian Pale Ale. The passion fruit undertones are just enough to break most of the bitterness.
3. Thrift-shop till you drop
Clarens has a jaw-dropping amount of thrift- and antique shops and I’m not even ashamed to admit that this is where we spent most of our time. Make sure you budget extra for this, because even though you only pay a fraction of the price you’ll pay at retail stores, you will be overwhelmed by the amount of previously-loved gems you’ll want to take home.
4. German cuisine (and a lot of it)
My first introduction to real German food was in Clarens, and I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the restaurants in Clarens have a German-inspired menu, where you can order anything from Bratwurst to Spätzle, and finish it off with a Jägermeister. Even the music in the background is that of the merry German folk.
5. Cosy Self-catering accommodation
One of the many things that this town doesn’t lack, is guest accommodation. We stayed in Lola’s Luxury Self-Catering Accommodation for the duration of our stay, and I wouldn’t have minded staying in all day. It was cosy, had everything you might need, and on top of that the view was amazing.
6. Lush Festival
If you are planning a trip to Clarens, you might as well plan it for the Easter weekend in March/April, just in time for the annual Lush Festival. This festival’s line-up is always jam-packed with the best local bands, and amazing food stalls. To enjoy the full experience, set up your tent in the festival’s camping grounds and be young at heart for the four days it takes place.
7. Variety of outdoor activities
You won’t be bored with the wide variety of outdoor activities available such as hiking, climbing, cycling, horse riding, fishing, golf, tennis, white river rafting, rock art hikes and game drives. Any adventurer’s dream weekend would be in Clarens.
I can’t see how anyone can have an excuse not to visit the Jewel of the Free State. It has a certain charm to it that you need to experience for yourself. Even if you are on the other side of the country, I can assure you it’s worth the trip. Besides, it’s that time of the year where everyone can use a good old getaway.
Have you ever had a getaway to Clarens? We would love to hear all about your experience in the comment section below.