This Free State town offers city-slickers sophistication and natural splendour. And when a place is this popular, it’s best to book ahead and get these top-notch spots to stay.
TripAdvisor lists accommodation rated by guests, but as much as we love peer reviews, they don’t offer a comparative voice so how do we know Number 1 is really the best? Pippa de Bruyn, who has reviewed accommodation for 18 years for the likes of Frommer’s and The Telegraph, scours TripAdvisor and other online sites when researching a destination. For Clarens, she created a longlist of 30 to inspect. The following made the cut.
What we found about accommodation in Clarens.
• Winter and summer, this is one busy town, not suitable for last-minute plans. As one guesthouse owner said, ‘If you’re thinking of visiting Clarens, book when the thought occurs.’
• Most places discount Monday to Thursday. But in Clarens that just means midweek is soon snapped up too. There is often a two-night minimum stay required on weekends.
• Thankfully there is a lot of stock, and a lot of it is good. I thought self-catering trumped as a category, though there were a number of good B&Bs, many with self-catering facilities too. No great hotels – only two on offer, and neither made my final list.
• I focused mostly on options walking distance to the town square where all the action is (but the out-of-town options selected are well worth the drive). Those south of Main Road have the beautiful views of the distant Malotis, but the north side – towards the Clarens Village Conservancy and Rooiberge – is more peaceful.
• Most roads are still untarred, some have potholes, so take care if you’re not in a 4×4.
• Mountain Odyssey is a great local booking agency, with around 140 properties listed, with prices ranging from R350 to R500 per person a night. Give Gavin Schoeman a call on 0826549989, infoclarens.com.
Also read: Why Clarens is the perfect weekend escape
Best for a large group
1. Ridge Road Estate
This Provence-style country house enjoys a gorgeous setting on a sandstone ridge on a 28-hectare tract of land nine kilometres from Clarens. The star of the show is the natural rock swimming pool – crystal-clear river water pours in and drops off the ledge down into the gulley below. A shaded terrace next to the pool houses a large dining table that has surely seen some epic gatherings. Designed by artists Simon Addy and Lyn Hoyle (their work on the walls is fabulous), the layout is rather higgledy-piggledy and organic, with multiple levels: the Aga stove, underfloor heating and long table make the kitchen the heart of the home, but there are also two open-plan lounges on separate levels. Four of the six bedrooms are en-suite – some have cupboard-tiny showers, others are roomy walk-ins. There is also a lovely three-bedroom Karoo-style cottage on the estate, with a small dam-style pool and fabulous outside lounge.
Room tip: Not an easy house to share if you’re splitting the bill equitably – best draw lots. Room 1 downstairs has the best shower and underfloor heating. Room 6 upstairs has the largest bathroom, a fireplace and separate entrance. It’s not suitable for toddlers.
Cost: House R6000 (sleeps 12). Cottage R3300 (sleeps six). Weekday rates negotiable.
Contact: 0846561832, ridgeroad.co.za
2. The French Cottage
This double-storey stone cottage is on the five-hectare remains of one of the original three farms that pre-dated the development of the village. It feels rural – sprawling grounds are dotted with established trees; a river path meanders to a large overhang; the striated cliffs of the Rooiberge and a natural waterfall are literally in your backyard – yet it’s a 15-minute walk to the village square. The open-plan kitchen/dining/living area and main en-suite bedroom are upstairs, with cute cottage-pane windows filled with views of your rural idyll. This upstairs level is reached via an external staircase, while the two downstairs bedrooms each have their own entrance directly from the garden, and share a bathroom. Like the ideal life partner, it’s gorgeous both inside and out – the original owner was an interior decorator – and affordable. Lovely Julia Brownlee believes in keeping the cottage occupied, so it’s one of the cheapest stays in Clarens.
Room tip: It’s possible for a couple to rent out only the upstairs level, and Monday to Thursday Julia charges R1000 a night for this, making it the most affordable romantic pied-à-terre in Clarens. Maybe even the country!
Cost: From R1560 a night for four, R390 per person extra (sleeps six).
Contact: 0722910685, wheretostay.co.za
Best-value large family house
Karen and Richard James fell in love with Clarens 18 years ago and decided to build a weekend getaway that they would one day retire to. ‘Lucky’ is how they describe themselves, and they sure found the perfect spot: adjoining the Clarens Village Conservancy, your hiking trail starts when you step off the veranda. The house is geared for nature lovers – there is no TV, and the atmosphere utterly tranquil, yet the bustling town centre is a four-minute walk away. The barn-style design with sandstone detailing is attractive; there’s a double volume open-plan lounge warmed by an eye-level fireplace, which is open to the dining-kitchen space. Two bathrooms service the three bedrooms and loft space (which has two single beds, good for children or teens).
Room tip: All the bedrooms have double beds; the main bedroom is en suite and has a fireplace.
Cost: From R1200 a night (sleeps eight).
Contact: 0582561173, infoclarens.com
Best overall B&B
4. Periwinkle Grove Cottages
Tripadvisor No. 10 OF 33 Speciality lodgings
Not to be confused with Periwinkle Blue Guesthouse, these three cottages – recently built but in traditional Clarens sandstone – are located in a rose-filled garden, with mountain and garden views through pretty red-edged cottage-pane windows and the tinkling sound of water next to each one’s outdoor patio. Less than 15 minutes’ stroll from the village square, the Periwinkle cottages combine proximity with tranquillity, and offer much more privacy than the average B&B. Each cottage has a Weber and a kitchenette, giving you more flexibility too. They are serviced daily and wood for the fireplace is replenished on demand. Best of all, you enjoy the decadence of breakfast in your PJs – hosts Chris Green and Andrew Flitton make a wonderful hot meal and it’s delivered to your cottage on a portable bain-marie at whatever time you specify.
Room tip: I liked the room arrangement and views from Grove Cottage, but if you are more than two people then Bella Rosa is the one to book.
Cost: From R1384 for two sharing B&B, from R2305 for four sharing B&B.
Contact: 0582561000, periwinklecottages.co.za
Best small cottage
Situated on the corner of quiet Lake Clarens Drive, this cute two-bedroom sandstone cottage is a village option that doesn’t feel hemmed in by a suburban streetscape. The little raised stoep is where you’ll want to spend your days: sitting on your bench, with a fire blazing in the built-in braai, your view is of cypresses and mountains, a pond and bird-filled dam on the other side of the track – hard to believe the bustle of the village is just a five-minute walk away. Interior finishes are rustic (unplastered brick walls), the decor is basic (if this is important, French Cottage is a better bet) and the design is compact: two en-suite bedrooms on either side of a smallish lounge/dining/kitchen area, easily warmed by a central Jetmaster.
Room tip: Both bedrooms are en suite and have queen-size beds, so suitable for two couples or a small family with kids young enough to share a bed.
Cost: From R900 for two or R1400 for four.
Contact: 0582561173, infoclarens.com
Best on the square
6. Highland Quarters
Tripadvisor No. 14 of 33 speciality lodgings
It’s rather wonderful to be just a few steps from your front door after dinner/drinks, and wander into the bustle of the weekend without having to find parking. It’s partly why Clarens is so popular, as the village square and main road are lined with good lodgings. For a B&B, my top choice is Highland Quarters (pictured below) – I liked the uncluttered, tasteful decor, and that it has a great on-site whisky lounge and restaurant (The Highlander).
Room tip: Room 1 has the best view; room 9 is the most spacious.
Cost: From R550 per person sharing B&B.
Contact: 0744737565, wheretostayinclarens.co.za
7. La Poste
If you prefer self-catering then this is the most delightful little loft apartment for two. It has a small balcony with a table and Weber braai overlooking a courtyard and the main street, and is well decorated by its artist owners. Super romantic and great value.
Cost: R1070 a night.
Contact: 0846561832, ridgeroad.co.za
8. Millpond House
Tripadvisor No. 4 if 38 B&BS / Inns
I liked Millpond for its gorgeous garden, tasteful albeit slightly old-fashioned decor, quiet location and generous touches like the underfloor heating – given that there is the option of a room-only rate, the level of luxury here is a bargain. There is a choice of five rooms: three B&B rooms in the Millpond House, and two adjoining studios in Mill Creek Cottage that also offer the flexibility of self-catering, each with a fireplace and French doors opening onto a private patio and Merri Mills’ wonderful garden. The two downstairs Millpond House B&B rooms also offer direct garden access with seating, but the plum is upstairs in the aptly named Room with a View, which has a small balcony and chairs from which to enjoy the garden and mountain views. No children under 12.
Room tip: Rose and Walnut in Mill Creek Cottage are worth the extra R50 per person a night for the space and self-catering facilities.
Cost: From R450 per person sharing (B&B R550 per person sharing).
Contact: 0828510131, millpondhouse.net
Best for romance
9. Omega Luxury Mountain Retreat
Tripadvisor No. 4 of 33 speciality lodgings
There are only four of these open-plan studio-style timber cabins, each with the same magnificent view of the Malotis unmarred by signs of human cultivation or habitation (it’s 17 kilometres from Clarens), and a choice of spots – deck, Jacuzzi or king-size bed – from which to drink it all in. The two luxury cabins are smaller than the deluxe ones and have an outdoor Jacuzzi on the deck; the latter have indoor Jacuzzis and double showers with slide-and-fold doors. Every cabin has a fireplace and a well-equipped kitchenette. There is a sleeper couch for one extra adult or two young children, but this really is a place for romance, so book that babysitter and ditch the third wheel.
Room tip: ‘All weekends are fully booked for 2017’ reads the banner across the home page of the Omega website, and that kind of says it all. Take whatever you can get.
Cost: From R650 per person sharing (deluxe cabin from R850 per person).
Contact: 0720577167, omegaclarens.co.za
Worth a look
10. Sunnyside Guest Farm
You’ll find 80-something Mrs Boland still helping to prepare the meals and daily tea ritual that are part of the excellent-value package here. Not much has changed since she and her husband took over the farm 60 years ago – furnishings, fittings and atmosphere of the sandstone cottages and homestead fill one with nostalgia.
Cost: R650 per person sharing full board.
Contact: 0582561099, clarens.co.za
11. Red Mountain House
Just six rooms in this small, comfortable B&B on the village square, each with a fireplace and four-poster bed, plus there’s a self-catering apartment with mountain views – small wonder this spot is often fully booked despite the somewhat fuddy-duddy decor.
Cost: Room R655 pp sharing (R830 single) B&B, apartment from R1100 for two (sleeps four).
12. Clarens Manor
This is the best option for a large group wanting to be in town. Architecturally unprepossessing but the interiors are lovely, with five virtually identical en-suite bedrooms (that is, easy to share) and great open-plan living spaces, including a really well-equipped kitchen and a veranda and deck with mountain views.
Cost: From R3000 a night.
Contact: 0828597915, wheretostay.co.za
13. Clarens Country House
Located on the golf estate opposite town, this old sandstone sheep shed has been cleverly converted into four small ‘apartments’ with glass-enclosed patios – great for sunset drinks as the lights flicker on in Clarens. One of the units is a family suite (sleeps four). Breakfast is served in your room.
Cost: From R650 per person sharing B&B.
This mountain adventure first appeared in the October issue of Getaway magazine.
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