13 hand-picked Parys(ian) stays

Posted on 18 April 2018

This Free State Town offers romance (with a name like that, who could resist?), old-fashioned nostalgia and extreme adventure in one package. Book these spots for a riverside escape.

How it works?
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. These 13 made her cut.

What we found in this town:

• It’s worth holding out for a spot on the river. The Vaal really is beautiful here, meandering around green islands and over glistening flat rocks, its banks fringed with willows, birds flitting everywhere.
• Tourism is booming and small wonder. According to the tourist brochure, Parys is geographically one of the most centrally situated towns in SA, with 75 percent of the population living within a 200-kilometre radius. The fact that it’s an hour from Joburg is amazing. It’s not quite as busy as Clarens, but if you want one of the properties on these pages, book early.
• There are more than 170 options in and around town but a lot of it is, quite frankly, ugly. Facebrick. Boere Baroque. Hurrah for the work done by Eugene Coetzee & Associates with the VIA channel’s TV show Opgetof, injecting R2 million into beautifying and modernising the decor of a few guest houses (two are featured below).
• A river-hugging road separates most town properties from being directly on the water. For private, direct riverfront access you need to book slightly out of town.
• To access any of the properties on the Vredefort Dome Meander, you’ll want a high-clearance vehicle – or laissez-faire attitude!


Best glamping

1. Casa Cara Lodge Tent


Casa Cara looks like a five-star safari lodge – only better, because it has a kitchen, making it the most elegant self-catering tent. Image credit: Teagan Cunniffe

Thanks to Opgetof, one of those clever ‘win-win’ reality-TV shows in which products and services are donated in exchange for exposure, Casa Cara Lodge has scored this new luxury self-catering tent, created from scratch by Eugene Coetzee & Associates. On a deck virtually cantilevered over the river, it’s casebook glamping – the large bedroom/living area elegantly furnished with sumptuous fabrics in tasteful muted tones. It looks like a five-star safari lodge – only better, because it has a kitchen, making it the most elegant self-catering tent. It’s a stark contrast to the units that comprise the rest of the accommodation.
That said, extreme temperatures in summer or winter may have you queueing up for one of these little facebrick numbers (and queue you will for a unit on the river; they are very, very popular). Casa Cara’s floating restaurant, about two minutes’ drive away, is a very romantic wedding venue.
Room tip: There is only one tent like this. If it’s booked, look at the best Thabela Thabeng options or Damoi’s one-bedroom cottage.
Cost: R2500 a night (sleeps two).
Contact: casacara.co.za


Best for a large gathering

2. Damoi


The main house sleeps 13 and there is room for 28 in total at Danoi. Image credit: Teagan Cunniffe

Expats Ilze and Jannie Oosthuizen were struggling to divide their time equitably between family on return visits, ‘so we decided to find our own home where we could invite them all’. They found a property on the riverfront in 2005 and called it Damoi, meaning ‘take me home’ in Russian, where they were living at the time.
Slowly the couple developed their ‘reunion home’, now big enough to sleep up to 28 family and friends. That’s not to say it has to be a large group; you can rent only the main house – a double-volume, barn like structure with huge communal area, five bedrooms (three doubles, two twins) and fabulous pool deck overlooking the river. There is also a very cute one-bedroom cottage, set 120 metres back from the house. In addition to the house and cottage is what hands-on manager Mari Brits calls the ‘Backpackers’ – a large shed next to the bar-lapa that can sleep an additional 13 ‘overflow guests’, with hip outdoor ablutions and ladies’ dressing room. Damoi is a repository for things Ilze has collected from her travels over many years, so it’s filled with character, as well as everything you need for large-scale entertaining (full scullery, two fireplaces, four fridge-freezers, spit-braai equipment etc).
Room tip: There are three extra single beds on the mezzanine level in the main house. Though it’s not on the river, the cottage – with its own dam-style pool – is plum choice and can be rented separately.
Cost: House R6000 a night (sleeps 13). Cottage R1200 a night (sleeps two). ‘Backpackers’ R150 a bed.
Contact: damoi.info


Best farm cottages

3. Rietpoort Cottage & Kliphuis


Rietpoort is an old-fashioned kind of place, with solid furniture and farm-style decor, but the real standout is the braai areas. Image credit: Teagan Cunniffe

You’ll more than likely find Gert Prinsloo where I did, tinkering with tractors and other large-scale agricultural equipment in his workshop, adjacent to gabled Rietpoort Cottage and opposite Kliphuis, the stone stable block he has artfully turned into an open-plan, five-sleeper cottage. He takes my unannounced arrival completely in his stride, showing me both with quiet pride, beaming when I exclaim at their immaculate condition. It’s an old-fashioned kind of place, with solid furniture and farm-style decor, but the real standout is the braai areas. Located among huge boulders and shaded by trees, the Kliphuis braai feels like you’ve set up camp in the sweet spot, while Rietpoort Cottage’s circular firepit commands a great vantage across the dam.
The dam is the start of six hiking trails, their contour-like loops demarcated in different colours. Gert hands over the trail map with a sorrowful look when I say don’t have time to tackle one. ‘It’s the real reason to book here,’ he says.
Room tip: I slightly preferred the two bedroom Rietpoort Cottage. Note that rates are charged per person rather than per cottage, making this a real bargain if you’re travelling as a couple.
Cost: Cottage R400 per person (sleeps six), Kliphuis R450 per person (sleeps five). Children R300. Single rate R600.
Contact: rietpoortcottage.com


Best B&B

4. Rus & Vrede on Vaal

Tripadvisor No. 1 of 32 B&BS/Inns

Even though it doesn’t technically serve breakfast, this is unquestionably the best B&B in Parys. Image: Supplied.

Hats off, reviewers! Even though it doesn’t technically serve breakfast, this is unquestionably the best B&B in Parys. Comprising just three spacious rooms, each with its own entrance from the garden and easy access to lawns that sweep down to the river, this is a very private experience. But the real feature is Yvette Coetzee, a warm, intelligent, exacting host – every detail is considered, from choice of coffee for the Nespresso machine (Terbodore, produced in Howick) to the daily newpapers and quality towels and linen. Yvette stocks you with the most amazing homemade muesli and rusks, and in the fridge you’ll find yoghurts, bottled water and long-life milk (you’re encouraged to bring your own drinks ‘because then you have exactly what you like’); the high street is a short drive away should you prefer a cooked breakfast. There is a kayak available, so be sure to include a sunset paddle – drifting under that big orange sky, it’s ‘rus en vrede’ indeed.
Room tip: Mahogany and Willow on the upper floor have
elevated river views. I particularly liked Mahogany for its privacy.
Cost: From R875 per person sharing.
Contact: rvonvaal.co.za


Best Riverside Villa

5. Riparian Retreat


This compact four-bedroom villa on the Vaal is ideal for two families wanting the peace and tranquility of a waterside setting. Image: Supplied

Neighbouring Damoi, this compact four-bedroom villa on a 2,5-hectare property on the banks of the Vaal is ideal for two families wanting the peace and tranquillity of a waterside setting along with total privacy.
The gardens and house are kept in mint condition by Elvis Nyasaka, the caretaker, who welcomes you with a bottle of chilled bubbly in the beautifully set-up lounge on the shaded veranda overlooking the river. This veranda – more comfortable and subtly furnished than the interiors, and with a very inviting pool – is really the heart of the house. It’s also where the dining table is located (which could be a little challenging in the evenings as midges can descend in their millions; there is talk of enclosing the stoep).
The property has a 100-metre private riverfront, with a firepit-boma right on the water’s edge. Elvis, who lives on site, is at hand to assist with house queries and services the villa every morning.
Room tip: The main bedroom, located upstairs, has the most fabulous view from both the bed and en-suite bathroom. The other bedrooms (two with double beds, one with twin beds) share two bathrooms.
Cost: From R6900 a night (sleeps 10).
Contact: 0732063877. Find it on Facebook.


Best budget romantic break

6. Thabela Thabeng


Thabela Thabeng is a 30-minute drive from Parys on rough dirt, but well worth it. Image credit: Teagan Cunniffe

Located deep within the Vredefort Dome, this is a 30-minute drive from Parys on rough dirt, but once here you will be happy you persevered. Thabela Thabeng means ‘be happy in the mountains’, and it’s true: a special energy percolates the air here. There are four cottages dotted on the lawns that run down to the river (three of them sleeping four; Riversong sleeps six). With the exception of Riversong, they are within view of each other; the smaller ones are a little rundown, but still charming. And what a brilliant location!
There’s a lovely shared venue if you are thinking of a special-occasion celebration, and neighbour Karin Haggard can set it all up for you. Of the six Thabela Thabeng units perched along the cleft of the mountain kloof, two have been opgetof by Eugene Coetzee & Associates; these are the best bargain in the valley – gorgeous mountain views, great decor and very well priced. If either is available, don’t think twice.
Room tip: Dassie and Eagle’s Nest are the two that have been revamped. Riversong, with its ‘lekker kuier stoep’, is the best of the riverfront options.
Cost: Dassie from R1200 a night (sleeps two). Eagle’s Nest from R1350 (sleeps four). Riversong from R1300 (sleeps six).
Contact: thabelathabeng.co.za


Best historic house

7. Maison du Barac


Maison du Barac is an old-fashioned home with Oregan pine floors and high-pressed ceilings. Image credit: Teagan Cunniffe

Jeanine and Frank Barac used to stop in Parys en route to visiting their children at school in the Free State, and in 2003 spotted the ‘For Sale’ sign outside a Victorian house near the centre of town. ‘She was in a terrible state. Neglected but still beautiful. I couldn’t stop thinking about her,’ says Jeanine, who has a steely resolve under her gentle demeanour. The couple slowly set about restoring rather than renovating; the result is that Maison du Barac retains a real sense of history, the proportions of the rooms with high pressed ceilings, Oregon pine floors and picture rails unchanged. They filled it with antiques and bits picked up over years scouring the village shops as well as regular jaunts to Europe. It has a great firepit in the garden; when I visited they were installing an electric gate. ‘Why didn’t we do it ages ago?’ asks Jeanine, while Frank puts another bottle of wine on the kitchen table. He shrugs. ‘Would you like another?’ I rather wish the big-hearted Baracs were part of the package.
Room tip: This is an old-fashioned historic home, not suitable for those looking for open-plan living and en-suite rooms. Two large and lovely bathrooms, entered from the passage, are shared by three bedrooms.
Cost: R3000 a night (sleeps six).
Contact: 0833073922. Find it on Facebook.


Worth a look

8. Devondale

I loved Wida de Klerk’s lovely home and horse paddocks, in a wonderful setting on the Vaal River. Ironically, the honeymoon suite is my least favourite of the three rooms because the bathroom obstructs the view, so I’d book Damond Hill or Don Auriello.
Cost: From R475 per person sharing B&B.
Contact: devondale.co.za


9. Parys Golf & Country Estate

Sandra Bezuidenhout manages 13 four-bedroom houses here, offering open-plan living, modern kitchens and en-suite bedrooms. The picks are No. 3000, 2879 or 3003, all located right on the river bank. I was only able to view 3003, but the setting, with a stoep opening onto a tributary of the river running under willow trees, is absolutely delightful (the others have the added luxury of swimming pools). All the houses sleep eight.
Cost: R2800 a night – a real bargain.
Contact: parysestate.co.za


10. Otters’ Haunt

A wonderful riverfront property with access to an island – ideal for a gang of kids who will disappear for a day of old-fashioned play. I think the Otters’ Den riverside house is resting on its location laurels and in need of TLC, so I’d opt for one of the Full Moon Bush Camp cabins, which are set back from the river but just a stroll away.
Cost: From R350 per person.
Contact: otters.co.za


11. African Olive Country Estate

Antique dealer Deon Burger has done a solid job of transforming these buildings into dinky self-catering units, with a farm atmosphere and a great view of the 130-year-old Vaal River Canal passing through the green lawns. Book one of the two luxury cottages.
Cost: R850 a night (sleep two).
Contact: africanolivecountryestate.co.za


12. Sunwa River Lodge

One of the oldest riverside resorts, it also has the best location: looking back across the rapids, you are surrounded by bushcovered hillocks and pristine nature. A pity that it relies on corporate teambuilding activities, but if you’re in the market for that you can’t pick a more beautiful setting.
Cost: From R345 per person sharing.
Contact: sunwa.co.za


13. Egweni

This old three-star place has new owners. The existing accommodation is at the back, but there are four new units being developed in the wing where the ex-owners used to stay, with sliding doors onto the riverfront lawns – definitely worth looking into.
Cost: From R395 per person sharing, R1000 per person in a superior room.
Contact: egweni.co.


Don’t miss this
• Experiencing the river – whether whitewater rafting, tubing or paddling. Real Adventures (0568176638) and Vaal Adventures (0825770382) run different trips to suit anyone.
• Looking for treasures in Bree Street, an antique-shop mecca. Oak Tree Junction (owned by Deon Burger of African Olive) has a private Boer War museum in the back.
• For riverside dining, book at O’s, with its wonderful garden tables and deck bar (0568113638).
• The Dog and Fig, one of the first local craft microbreweries, turns 10 this year, and makes a buchu-infused ale.
• Pick berries at Bon-Af Farm (more than 60 kinds); harvest season is November to April.


This story appears in the February issue of Getaway magazine.

Get this issue →

Our February issue features 12 of the best tented-camps around the country, fun-filled water adventures in Northern KZN, Madagascar by motorbike plus a guide to finding everyday magic in underrated Lisbon.


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