We recommend staying at the Riverwalk Bed & Breakfast which is on the edge of Clarens, a couple of minutes walk from Clarens Square and its restaurants and shops. The Riverwalk has views of the mountains and is, as the name implies, next to the river.
A couple of years ago I had the immense pleasure of enjoying a three week road trip across South Africa, and I was lucky enough to stop over in Clarens for 3 nights. This stopover came highly recommended by a well travelled friend, and we simply had to see what the fuss was all about.
This little town reminded me so much of a Swiss village, with the surrounding Rooiberge mountains and Swiss-style buildings, that I had to pinch myself and have a homemade ale from the Clarens Brewery to remind myself that I was in fact, in the Free State! This town is an artist's haven, with a rich history & legend. Use it as your base from which to explore the Golden Gate National Park, Maluti Mountains & the Kingdom of Lesotho.
Clarens is known as the Jewel of the Eastern Free State and is in close proximity to Ficksburg, the Cherry Capital of South Africa. There is even a festival celebrating the sheer, pink blossoms and the delicious little berries. I bought a fantastic bottle of highly alcoholic cherries and some cherry jam from one of the several little shops in Clarens. All I can say is, wow. If you're into your speciality chutneys and cheeses, you are in for a special treat. We bought several different cheeses, chutneys, spreads and artisan breads and had a feast! Their meat is also really good, nothing beats a lamb tjoppie on the braai.
You will need at least one full day to have a proper look around all the interesting antique shops and art galleries, they are brimming with wonderful finds for you to take home. I adored the Swiss looking, wooden buildings with their decorative woodwork, I can only imagine what it must look like in the winter, when it's snowing. Another thing to look out for, is the Clarens Sandstone. Many of the buildings are built from this beautiful, glowingly yellow stone.
When you peer into the distance, you will see the majestic Maluti mountains not too far away, which means you are very close to the Golden Gate National Park. You can stay in the park or enjoy a drive through, and will soon reach the Drakensberg mountains. You can walk all the way up to the Amphitheatre and past the proud Sentinal, watching over the ages. Here you will have an incredible view of Lesotho and the whole world, that's what it felt like to me! We even encountered a bit of snow. It was in a little shady nook, and hadn't melted yet in the fierce sun.
We had an hilarious encounter on our way back from our hike up the mountains when we realised we were about to run out of petrol! Since we didn't have any cash with us, we had to barter. We only had beer and fruit in the car, oh dear. As we went driving through Phuthaditjhaba, we asked everyone alongside the road whether they'd like to buy our beer. "Would you like to buy this beer?" ..."Yes"..."Do you have money?"....."No." As you can imagine, this took a while, but in the end we found an old man on the way to the doctor. We gave him a lift, he paid us and we still had our beer. It worked out well in the end! We passed an interesting rock overhang, completely covered in graffiti. It had a surprising effect, it looked as if a terribly foul mouthed rainbow got stuck inside the stone.
We stayed on a guest farm a couple of kilometers outside of Clarens, a massive sandstone farm house all to ourselves. It was so huge, we got lost a few times and you could easily invite over 20 friends for a comfortable sleep over, one bed per person. The silence of the pitch black nights was just amazing, soothing to the soul and the mind. Believe me, you haven't seen stars this bright. With so much space, you will hate the idea of returning to the city - we changed our plans and stayed an extra night.
502 Sias Oosthuizen Lane
Corner Van der Merwe & Main Street
325 Market Square
St Fort Country House
325 Market Square
It's not surprising that Clarens is a popular getaway for weddings. For example, see this photographic series by Jacki Bruniquel of a beautifully photographed farmyard wedding in Clarens. You may recognise the groom, as being Springbok rugby player Jannie du Plessis. The wedding took place at St Fort.
Love this footage of paragliding near Clarens.
If you feel like driving all the way from Johannesburg, rent a car, or take your own, and follow the directions below for about 4 hours:
Take the N3 from Johannesburg to Durban.
As you cross the Vaal River at Villiers, before the Toll Gate, turn off the N3
and follow the R26 to Frankfort.
Continue with the R26 until you get to a T-Junction.
Turn to your right towards Frankfort.
Continue past the Villiers/ Vereeniging turn-off, cross the Vaal River.
Soon after the Engen One Stop, turn off at the Villiers/Frankfort off ramp
(±47 km from the first toll gate). If you go through a second toll gate,
you have gone too far!
Turn right at the top of the off-ramp and cross over the highway towards
30 km from turn-off turn right at the T-Junction (R26)
7 km from T-Junction turn left at Reitz/Bethlehem direction sign (still R26).
58 km from turn, you by-pass Reitz en route to Bethlehem.
53 km from Reitz, you reach Bethlehem.
Continue straight through Bethlehem
7 km from Bethlehem, turn onto the R711/2 to Golden Gate & Clarens.
You are about 25 km’s from Clarens.
You will pass through the Noupoort or “Nek” of Clarens.
Continue down the hill until you see the road leading into the village
at the bottom of the hill.
Turn right into the village of Clarens.
If you live quite far away, you can fly to Bloemfontein, hire a car from the airport for a few days and drive the 3 hours or so to Clarens. It is a truly beautiful drive, I'm certain you will find it just as relaxing as your actual stay in Clarens.