A guide to Clarens

Posted on 16 February 2012

In 1912, the eastern Free State village of Clarens was established. It was the same year that the Titanic sank, so it was an obvious choice to name the towering rock resembling the prow of a ship leading into the village after the ill-fated voyager. Fortunately, the little town hasn’t shared the same fate, but has instead flourished into a booming tourism venue.

Many of its quaint sandstone houses have been turned into guesthouses and B&Bs and the bustling village square could almost be described as a big, open-plan shopping mall, with numerous galleries, tantalising restaurants, intriguing gift shops and delicatessens catering for a range of tastes and budgets.

The outskirts of the town, fringed by the Rooiberge, boast opportunities for activities such as golfing, horse riding, river rafting and hunting down dinosaur footprints in the nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

Where to eat and drink in Clarens

Kick-start your morning with a hearty breakfast at The Courtyard Café on Sias Oosthuizen Street where the first meal of the day and excellent coffee are the mainstay. They also offer light lunches and host themed dinners. Cell 082-650-1503, email [email protected].

The extensive menu at the Highlander Restaurant on Market Street makes it a good place to visit with family or larger groups. The choice veers from sandwiches to curries, burgers to kebabs and grilled rainbow trout to eisbein. Tel 058-256-1912.

Clarens Brewery, also on Market Street, is the most lively place to be on Friday evenings. It’s the only microbrewery in the Free State and you can request a taster of its beers and ciders before deciding what tipple to settle on for the night. Choose between the blonde, English ale, stout or red. Tel 082-901-4700, [email protected], www.clarensbrewery.co.za.

The Artist’s Café at the Windmill Centre on Main Street is a good place to go with kids. Sit outside and keep an eye on them as they romp on the old tractor, swing and slide while you enjoy a meal such as grilled linefish, home-made quiche or the legendary savoury pancakes. It’s a great daytime spot and you can watch the comings and goings around the square or let your gaze wander to the mountains. Tel 058-256-1404, email [email protected].

For something lighter, pop into The Millery on Sias Oosthuizen Street for fresh pastries, scrumptious pies or a light quiche, or grab a takeaway for a picnic in the countryside. Tel 058-256-1136, email [email protected].

What to do in Clarens

Kick up some dust on a quad-bike trail. Sethuthuthu Tours offers routes through Clarens Village Conservancy and Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The aim isn’t to tear around like cowboys, but to take in the natural surrounds and learn about the history and geology of the area from qualified guides. Options range from a 90-minute trail to full-day and overnight trails. Costs from R350 to R2 670 a person. Tel 058-256-1569, cell 082-575-6186, email [email protected].

Go game viewing on horseback. Ashgar Equestrian Centre offers outrides and lessons in the picturesque Schaaplaats Farm. See zebra, blesbok, springbok and wildebeest as you follow an old voortrekker wagon trail. For those who like to jump there’s a cross-country course. The beautiful Connemara horses are matched to the rider’s experience. Outrides are R250 for about two hours. Tel 058-256-1176, cell 083-630-3713, email [email protected], www.ashgarhorses.co.za.

Take in the scenery on a hiking trail. Clarens Village Conservancy volunteers have marked out a number of easy to moderate routes on nature reserves on the outskirts of town. Hikes take from 30 minutes to two-and-a-half hours. Alternatively, pack a picnic and enjoy a cool swim in Kloof Dam. Maps are available from information centres in town. www.clarensvillageconservancy.org.

Get the adrenaline pumping with adventure activities such as rafting, paintball, abseiling and archery. Clarens Xtreme offers all this, as well as fascinating tours to places such as Fertility Caves, a sandstone overhang with enormous spiritual importance to people who gather there to pray or live – you’ll see their names and messages painted on rocks. Outrageous Adventures also offers white-water rafting, archery, abseiling, climbing and quad-bike trails. Clarens Xtreme, Tel 058-256-1260, cell 082-563-6242, www.clarensxtreme.co.za. Outrageous adventures, cell 083-485-9654, email [email protected]. www.outrageousadventures.co.za.

Play a round of golf at Clarens Golf and Trout Estate. The 18-hole course runs along a river that crosses trout dams and cascades against a mountain backdrop. Grab lunch at the club’s Brambleberry Restaurant. Visitors pay R260 for 18 holes. Tel 058-256-1270. Email [email protected], www.theclarens.co.za.

Where to shop in Clarens

One of the best things to do in Clarens is to perambulate the town square, popping into each and every shop and venue that catches your fancy – and there are bound to be many! Here are some that grabbed our attention:

Bibliophile Book Store, housed in the old bus station off Church Street, is a fabulous spot to spend a lazy afternoon browsing through a thoughtfully selected collection of fiction and non-fiction. It’s a favourite among locals who love that they can find books here that are normally available only in cities. Tel 058-256-1692, email [email protected].

Art and Wine Gallery on Main Street is the best spot in the Free State to pick up a choice selection wine. It’s under the same roof as another of the world’s finest things, art. The collection of works by artists includes paintings by JH Pierneef and Erik Laubscher. Tel 058-256-1298, email [email protected], www.artandwine.co.za.

The Purple Onion Deli on Van Zyl Street is the perfect place to pick up a gift or delectable treat for folks back home. They stock everything from home-made preserves and fudge to old-fashioned sweets and cheeses. Tel 058-256-1898, email [email protected], www.purpleoniondeli.co.za.

The Enslin Vorster Studio Gallery is located a bit up the drag from the bustle on Main Street. The gallery hosts a never-ending flow of strong watercolour landscapes that beautifully capture the atmosphere of their subjects. Anyone who has fallen in love with the local landscape is sure to find a little bit of that magic captured on canvas to take home. Tel 058-256-1312, email [email protected].

Where to stay in Clarens

Waterford House is a fantastic option for golfers as it’s on Clarens Golf and Trout Estate. The luxurious home has a comfortable, cottage-like feel and enormous covered patio with views of the mountain. There’s ample room even when it’s booked to its capacity of eight people. The double-volume lounge, separate TV lounge, dining room, large kitchen and four en suite rooms ensure breakaway space for all. Midweek rates are R350 a person sharing and R400 over weekends and holidays. Tel 083-285-0021, email [email protected].

Brookside Self-Catering Cottage is within easy walking distance of the village square and offers twin self-contained apartments, which sleep two each. The units, each with a bedroom, bathroom and a lounge with fireplace, are comfortably decorated and furnished. Both apartments have kitchenettes and dining areas, which are fully equipped for self-catering, as well as braai facilities. Self catering is R400 a person a night sharing. Tel 058-256-1825, cell 082-573-8216, email [email protected], www.brookesidehouse.co.za.

Rebellie Game Farm is a good pick if you want peace and quiet, away from the urban trawl. The farm is set in the mountains outside Clarens and boasts an impressive 4×4 trail. It’s also great for large groups. The Lodge sleeps seven, with three bathrooms, loads of living space and an enormous outdoor area with a spa bath. Boesman Lodge sleeps eight and comes with a spa bath, covered deck and braai area. Mooihoek Chalet also sleeps eight and has an enormous deck with generous views, making it perfect for birdwatching.  Loslit can sleep up to 12, making it perfect for groups who can use the adjacent indoor lapa. Rates are from R120 for eight people sharing in Mooihoek (R960 for the unit) to R200 a person a night for seven people sharing in The Lodge (R1 400 for the unit). Tel 083-627-8391, email [email protected], www.rebellie.co.za.

Who to contact for more information on Clarens

Clarens Tourism Forum, tel 082-824-9365, email [email protected].

Getting to Clarens

From Johannesburg, take the N3 south towards Durban. Just before Wilge Toll Plaza, take the R26 off-ramp. Once past Frankfort, be sure to remain on the R26 (it veers off to the left) to Reitz and Bethlehem. From Bethlehem take the R712 to Clarens. From Durban, head north on the N3 towards Johannesburg and take the R26 towards Frankfort.


Looking for accommodation in Clarens? Getaway Accommodation has some great options!

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