#TravelTuesday: Clarens, the jewel of the Free State

One of the country shops in Clarens' main square.
One of the country shops in Clarens' main square.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer

A small gem in the Free State, Clarens has much to offer in terms of culture, art, food and adventures in the great outdoors. Whether you are planning a romantic weekend getaway, a holiday for the family or want to seek out something new, add Clarens to your list of must-see South African towns.

When to travel

In autumn between March and May the landscape morphs into rich, golden pictures as the leaves change colour and the summer makes its way out the door. March is also a good time to visit as the town takes on new life in the form of markets, food stalls and shows. Winter in the Free State, particularly June and July, are exceptionally cold and may dampen any outings you had planned. If you plan on visiting Clarens as a stopover on the way to the Ficksburg Cherry Festival, plan your trip for November and keep an eye on the dates each year.

Bespoke hand-crafted chocolates on sale in one of the numerous shops in Clarens.
Bespoke hand-crafted chocolates on sale in one of the numerous shops in Clarens.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer

How to get there

Typical of small towns, the best way to reach Clarens is by road. Travel comfortably by car, taking in the Free State scenery. Alternatively, there are buses that run between Johannesburg and Clarens.

If air travel appeals to you, especially if you’re coming from outside of Gauteng, work another country into your itinerary and travel to Maseru Airport in Lesotho. It is a twoandahalf hour drive from Clarens and can be undertaken with car or bus.

Highlights you shouldn’t miss

1. Hop around Clarens from shop to shop. For those who consider shopping for those back home to be a drag, Clarens will change your mind. Whether it’s for you, loved ones or friends, you will need to watch your spending in the shops littering the town square. Bespoke chocolate? Unique home décor? Old-school gramophone players? Leather goods, toys or boutique clothes? Book lovers; don’t forget to make a pit stop at the adorable red corrugated iron bookshop Bibliophile. 

2. Women will love Clarens Brewery. If it’s not for their selection of craft gin, ciders or even beers, it will surely be a perfect herring to convince the men in their lives that Clarens is indeed a good place to visit. Grab a seat, a drink and a nibble from the restaurant and watch the brewery buzz in the back of the building.

3. Visit an art gallery or 20. Known as an Art Mecca, Clarens has no shortage of art galleries and attracts artists in various forms – either as visitors or as residents of the small Free State town. Perhaps the poplar trees and mountains will inspire the artist in you to explore the unknown.

Poplar trees are a characteristic feature of this small town.
Poplar trees are a characteristic feature of this small town.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer

4. If you’re an animal lover, go horse-riding at Bokpoort Farm just outside of Clarens. They offer different packages, including morning, sundowner and full-day rides. If horses aren’t for you but you want to experience some of the great outdoors, go hiking or mountain biking instead.

5. A mere 15-minute drive from the heart of Clarens, the magnificent Golden Gate Highlands National Park is cradled in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains. It is a must-see for any visitor to the area, nature lover or not. For those in search of culture, head to the Basotho Cultural Village. As SA Places describes: “The Cultural Village takes you for a walk down the pathway of time. It is here where the lifestyle and architecture of the South Sotho is accurately depicted from the sixteenth century to the dramatically colourful present.”

Art permeates everything in Clarens - from galleries to restaurants such as the Artist's Cafe.
Art permeates everything in Clarens - from galleries to restaurants such as the Artist's Cafe.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer

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