When you mention Clarens, undoubtedly its established art community springs to mind.
Situated roughly three-hours drive from Johannesburg, in the embrace of the beautiful Maluti Mountain range, the charming town is known as the Jewel of the Free State - and there is so much more to it than its outstanding art.
This quaint place, is also a great stop-off if you happen to be travelling from Gauteng or KZN to the Cape and vice-versa. Clarens is a key point along the scenic Highlands route, which includes the Golden Gate Highlands National Park - linking the towns of Harrismith, Bethlehem and Fouriesburg, all along the Lesotho Highlands, the Malutis and the Drakensberg.
Here are a few suggestions to add some simmer to your road trip. If you’ve already visited we’d love to see your pics, so email us at email@example.com or come join us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
1. Clarens equals art
As we said, this cultural aspect of the town is well-established and a visit to the Free State is not complete without checking out its artistic mecca. Some notable galleries to check out:
Or click here for a comprehensive list of galleries and artists.
Art weekend workshops are hosted regularly by different artists and galleries. Experienced artists can check out the Richard Rennie “Paint with me” workshop happening from 23 February at 08:00 until 26 February at 16:00 at the Ash River Lodge.
Alternatively, you can opt for an art class with Tina de Beer, hosted every Tuesday.
Contact: 0832289258 to make attend or to make special arrangements.
2. Khoisan Rock Art
Then there is the heritage art scene to take in, since most of the rock art around Clarens is estimated to be over 2 000-years-old. Head to Schaapplaats, one of South Africa’s 12 Rock Art National Monuments, where you will find a large painted cave with 35 Bushman rock paintings. These include 8 paintings of therianthropes or part-human, part-animal beings that represent Bushman shamans utilising the potency of certain powerful animals whilst in an altered state of consciousness.
Contact: +27 58 256 1176
3. Check in at the Windmill Centre and dine at the Purple Onion
Food is another unique drawcard for Clarens. Slow-cooked, homemade goodness that just smacks of the countryside is part of what people have come to expect. Serving the Free State community since 2003, be sure to check out the The Purple Onion Deli where you will find a few special products, "made today with yester-years recipes". Some of the products include: Jams, fudge, coffee, marmalades, cherry products (seasonal availability), chocolates, pasta, preserves, a coffee bar and biltong.
5. Clarens is spectacular horse-riding country
This Free State town is perfect for a spot of horseback riding. Contact Bokpoort Safaris, located just outside of Clarens to arrange. They cater for the novice to the experienced rider and can also arrange Mountain biking or hiking excursions, as well as clay-pigeon shooting and archery.
Contact Helena to make a booking in advance: firstname.lastname@example.org
This park 11 600 hectares park owes its name to the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the park's sandstone cliffs - most imposingly the Brandwag rock said to be keeping vigil over its main rest camp.
While exploring these highlands of the Free State you can expecct to spot black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, oribi, springbok and Burchell's zebra - and birds, including the rare bearded vulture or lammergeier and the equally rare bald ibis, which breed on the ledges in the sandstone cliffs.
Ribbokkop, the highest point in the park, reveals a breathtaking tapestry of red, yellow and purple hues as its warm shades merge with the cool mountain shadows towards evening.
7. Stay in a castle and pretend you are Rapunzel
You can actually pretend you're royalty and take a break in a real castle in this little Free State town – check out this accommodation with a difference, with this self-catering guesthouse option (with breakfast on request). Known as Rapunzel's Tower, it sleeps four at an estimated between R600 - R 1300 per night.
8 Head to Rebellie 4x4 Trail
You can even get your Rebellie on with one of South Africa’s top 10 4x4 trails while in good old Clarens. Described by Go-SouthernAfrica, "you are 2200m above sea level in the infamous Golden Gate Rooiberge, a stone’s throw from the Lesotho border. You and your vehicle better be as thick as those cattle thieves that sometimes slip across the border."
9. You can actually spot the Titanic. Well sort of
Legend has it that the town of Clarens has two rather significant events worth noting, bothsaid to have occurred in 1912. The first was the establishment of Clarens - the second was the launching of the “unsinkable” Titanic. Tragically, the Titanic did sink and as the news flashed around the stunned world, people in Clarens could talk of nothing else. An unknown resident looked towards the “nek”, saw the prominent jutting rock and said, “It looks like the Titanic”, and that’s what the rock formation has been called ever since.
10.Kick back along Surrender Hill
An Anglo-Boer War battlefield about 10 kilometres from the town of Clarens. The site was proclaimed a heritage site in 1986 and marks the place where Free State Boers surrendered to British troops on July 31 1900. The surrender was the culmination of a series of fierce battles fought between Fouriesberg and Golden Gate. This is a must for history buffs. These days it also plays host to the annual Surrender Hill Marathon, gruelling 42km race starts at 2 000m and is a Comrades Marathon qualifier.
11.The Basotho Cultural Village
"The Free State landscape gladdens my heart, no matter what my mood. When I am here I feel that nothing can shut me in, that my thoughts can roam as far as the horizons.” - Former State President Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.
And the Basotho cultural village encapsulates a piece of what Madiba was referring to. Resembling an 18th century Basotho Village, you can also make the most of it's comfortable self-catering accommodation and game viewing activities. A highlight of your stay will bbe the communal braai facilities where hosts will invite you to have a tranquil and healing cultural heritage experience.
12. Go check out a Lesothosaurus fossil during a Dinosaur Tour
Clarens is dotted with fossil sites, with some dating back to 240-million years ago. Noted fossils include the Massospondylus and the Lesothosaurus. South Africa has a great palaeontological history coupled with its fascinating and well recorded geological history and The Clarens Dinosaur Tours are great for anyone who would like to know more about the fascinating world of life before us.
13. Take a tour of the microbrewery
And continuing in the tradition of small town loveliness, a must-stop is the The Clarens Brewery. They started out in 2006 and have staked claim as the first and only microbrewery in the Free State.
"Stephan Meyer, has a passion for brewing and craft beer and has been brewing full grain, pure malt beers since 2004 with an absolute dedication to quality and craftsmanship. With his origins as a brewer in Worthogs, the home brewing club in Pretoria, Stephan prefers brewing Ales and Belgian style beers and follows the strict guidelines of the international Beer Judging Certification Process."
Be sure to check out the Clarens Craft Beer Festival 27 & 28 February 2015 - visit www.clarensbeerfestival.co.za for more details.