The little town of Clarens is known as the Jewel of the Free State and little wonder. Surrounded by phenomenal natural beauty and teeming with art galleries, exclusive boutiques and tempting eateries, it shimmers like a diamond in the rough.
With a distance of just 390 kms from Durban and 300 kms from Johannesburg, a road trip to and around Clarens is easily achieved in a day. Have your BOOXE Emergency Kit and First Aid Pack neatly stored in your BOOXE Boot Box – you never know what emergency might happen along the way. Keep maps, cell phone chargers and other documents, as well as snacks for the road trip, stored neatly in your BOOXE Keep-it-tidy Caddy!
Many of the buildings in and around Clarens were crafted from sandstone originating from the gold and ochre shaded cliffs that make up the majestic Golden Gate. The town is endowed with more trees than any other Free State town, ranging from willows to poplars and the many fruit trees, which are a mass of colour in springtime.
HISTORYClarens was established in 1912 and named in honour of Paul Kruger who had been influential in defending the region and had spent his last days in the Swiss mountainous village of Clarens. It’s a fitting name for this town encompassed by The Rooiberge and set in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains to the southeast, close to the Golden Gate National Park and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Art lovers and Action junkies alike will find loads to do in and around Clarens, as there are more than 20 reputable art galleries and artists’ studios, and more than 25 outdoor adventure activities here. Centred on a grassy village square, there are also scores of craft shops, specialist boutiques, restaurants, a brewery, adventure centre, tourist information centre and the Clarens Museum.
PRECIOUS ARTTake a tour of the Clarens Art Route featuring many of the popular galleries around the square and including some of the investment galleries where you’ll view many renowned South African artists’ and Old Masters’ works. Art and Wine Gallery on Main combines the markets of investment art with fine wines; the Gallery on the Square exhibits many local artists’ fine art; and the Blou Donki features work by contemporary South African artists.
SHOP UP A STORMIf you’re into vintage style don’t miss the Mona Lisa Garment Gallery where you will find classical era jewellery, shoes, garments and décor. The Cherry Company offers a plethora of items made from cherries grown in this area. Anja & Friends Lifestyle Gallery specializes in whimsical home décor items and gifts. Kalmer is one of the newest and most colourful shops in town located in a newly-built corrugated-iron structure perfectly suited to the unique contemporary designs and décor offered here. Look no further than Ember Down if you’re in the market for goose and feather down pillows and duvets guaranteed to send you to dreamland in a wink. At The Knife Makers Shop you can learn how to craft your own knife or buy one of their hand crafted hunting or folding knives, daggers or even a full dinner set of knives.
ACTION STATIONSHiking trails abound in this area and there are many operators offering a choice, from easy walks that children can manage to longer trails with cave sleep-overs. Maps of the trails are available from the Clarens Village Grocer, the Old Stone Bottle Store, Bibliophile, Mountain Odyssey and Maluti Tours. Opportunities for abseiling are plentiful around Clarens as the mountains are close by and not too menacing. Beginners are welcome as experienced guides offer easy techniques needing little strength and will control the descent – great for a group activity. If you’re an avid mountain biker then Clarens is known as one of the best destinations for this sport. Clarens Extreme offers adventures for “all ages, shapes and sizes”; from archery and fishing, Enduro motorbiking trails and quad biking, to ski and snowboarding, white water rafting and Zipline. There are also 4×4 trails, adventure golf, hot air ballooning, pony trekking and horse riding, as well as history tours and even dinosaur tours when you’re in Clarens. For info on any of the above adventures go to www.clarensnews.com.
APPETITE APPEASERSAfter all that activity, art gazing and shopping, the appetite will need feeding. Luckily there is a plethora of restaurants, cafes and pubs perfectly situated every few metres around the town square and a few on the outskirts of town. Clementines is a cosy restaurant housed in a bright red corrugated iron house and is the closest you’ll get to fine dining in Clarens. The Post House restaurant is open all day for fresh country cuisine; sit outside on the verandah or on the patio beneath the shady fir trees and watch the tourists go by. Vito’s Restaurant serves great Italian fare with a smile. The Clarens Brewery is not to be missed if you like hand crafted beer and cider as it’s brewed right there on the premises. They also serve legendary finger platters of cheeses, sausages and pickles.
WHERE TO STAY
Clarens is a tourist destination so there is no shortage of accommodation options. On Clarens Golf Estate, you can stay at The Clarens Country House, a renovated stone-crafted sheepshed with unparalleled mountain views. There are four luxury self-catering apartments which open out onto a verandah and sweeping lawns with braai facilities. For the mod cons of a hotel, the four star Protea Hotel Clarens is situated right on the village square and offers 70 rooms. Great for large family groups or team-building conferences.
- The Clarens Country House, 213 Clarens Golf and Trout Estate, 082 449 2082, theclarenscountryhouse.com
- The Protea Hotel Clarens, Cnr Main and Van der Merwe Streets, 058 256 1212, proteahotels.com/hotels/Pages/Protea-Hotel-Clarens
- Clarens Art Route, clarensartroute.co.za
- Art and Wine Gallery on Main, 279 Main Street, 058 256 1298, artandwine.co.za
- Gallery on the Square, Clarens Village Square, 058 256 1913, thegalleryclarens.co.za
- Blou Donki, Main Street, 058 256 1757, www.bloudonki.co.za
- Mona Lisa Garment Gallery, Main Street, 083 799 6636
- The Cherry Company, cnr Main & Market Sts, 082 783 2731
- Anja & Friends Lifestyle Gallery, Rosemary Centre, Main Street, 083 635 2793, facebook.com/anjafriends
- Kalmer, Main Street, 084 420 1989, www.kalm.co.za
- Ember Down, Market Street, 082 408 6770, http://www.emberdown.co.za/
- The Knife Makers Shop, Sias Oosthuizen Street, 721814700 www.bossieknives.co.za
- Clarens Xtreme, 082 563 6242, clarensxtreme.co.za
LOCAL TOURIST CONTACTS
- Maluti Tours Office, Maureen Tasker, 058 256 729, http://malutifootprints.webs.com
- Clarens Destinations, Shop 7, Barn Centre, Sias Oosthuzien Street, 058 256 1542 goclarens.co.za
- Mountain Odyssey, Main St, 082-654 9989 infoclarens.com