Nature has showered favours on the Eastern Free State town of Clarens. The Rooiberge and Maluti Mountains have given it drama; the sandstone cliffs with their mellow hues have dusted it with gold; and a bounty of trees brings pastel blossoms in spring and rich autumn shades before winter.
The town’s claim that is the “Jewel of the Eastern Free State” is generally endorsed with heartiness.
Established in 1912, with its peaks reminiscent of the Swiss town where Paul Kruger ended his life in voluntary exile, the town was duly named Clarens.
In more recent times, its tranquillity, beauty and mild climate have attracted creative types, and the town’s centre now throngs with galleries and artist’s studios, and arts and crafts shops. A few hours’ drive from the big cities of Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Durban, Clarens is now a popular weekend getaway.
It has also become known as something of an adventure capital, with white-water rafting, quad biking and abseiling some of the more extreme activities on offer.
Clarens’ terrain is increasingly appreciated for good horse-riding, while its waters have been voted the best in the country for trout fishing.
The town, which falls within the Thabo Mofutsanyana region of the province, is just 20 kilometres away from the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, bringing it within easy distance of this spectacular reserve known for its sandstone topography, game viewing, hiking and horse-riding.
Look out for
You won’t miss The Titanic, a sandstone cliff with a prominent jutting rock that stands sentry at the entrance to the town. Another interesting rock formation is Mushroom Rock (it has the unmistakeable appearance of a toadstool) three kilometres outside Clarens on the Fouriesburg road.
A walk around President Square in the town centre will take you to arts and craft shops. You can also follow the Artist Amble to view artists’ galleries open to the public.
The Clarens Museum at the Information Centre on the Square is worth exploring.
On the Bethlehem Road, eight kilometres out of town at Ash River Outfall, you can catch an inspiring view of water flowing from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project over the border in Lesotho.
Some physical challenges come in the form of hiking in the Clarens Valley, horse-riding at Schaapplaats Farm or fly-fishing at Clifton Farms and Craigrossie.
Bushman paintings can be seen at Schaapplaats Farm and Kiara Lodge.
Clarens has its own microbrewery, Clarens Brewery, producing full-grain, pure-malt beers and ciders.
The vast Fertility Caves are fascinating, used for 800 years by various tribes for ancestor worship, prayers for healing and fertility rites.
Surrender Hill marks an Anglo-Boer War battle spot where 5 000 Boers were surrounded by British soldiers and forced to surrender.
The Basotho Cultural Village in the QwaQwa National Park offers insight into South Sotho customs and traditions from the 16th century to the present.