A look into the colourful world of Clarens, South Africa by Martin Hiller van Rensburg.
At the foothill of the Maloti Mountain lies the charming town of Clarens. It is one of those towns that everyone has been to and everyone keeps talking about – except me. So, over the Heritage Day weekend, I decided it was time to change that. I loaded the husband and furkids into my car and arranged to meet a friend and her nephew in Clarens. I needed to see why this town is so loved.
After a three-and-half hour drive from Joburg, we arrived and it’s easy to see why Clarens is so special.
Here are my top five picks.
Clarens is a shopping mecca. You will find everything from pottery, to handmade knives and teddy bears as well as leatherwork, traditional blankets, antiques and bric-a-brac. The delis with their local fares are a must for any food lover! And, let’s not forget the art galleries.
The town is also home to a charming bookshop, Bibliophile. Inside you will find an excellent and ever-changing selection of new, used and unusual books in a wide range of categories, many at exceptionally low prices. They also stock maps, travel guides of the area and souvenir books on Southern Africa. The Vinyl section features a superb selection of jazz, classical and world music.
With so much on offer in Clarens, you are sure to leave with a memento.
FAST FACT: On a Saturday, there is a Farmers’ Market outside Bibliophile with a lot of tasting treats to sample and buy.
Step Back in Time
Clarens is rich in Anglo-Boer history. You can visit Surrender Hill which is about 10km from the town or you can do a historical tour to the first Boer settlement after the Great Trek.
If you are like us, great admirers of Khoisan art, a visit to Schaapplaats Farm needs to be on your itinerary. The farm is 6km outside of Clarens and is set in the sandstone amphitheatre of the Maluti Mountains. After a scenic hike, you are rewarded with well-preserved Khoisan rock paintings in a variety of colours and sizes. It is some of the best rock art we have seen.
If you are looking for something even older, then make a booking with Dinosaur Tour and follow in the fossilised footsteps of dinosaurs.
FAST FACT: Khoisan art dates back to 5 000 years ago.
Formed about 196 million years ago from compacted dunes, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is home to some of the most spectacular sandstone mountains. Brandwag Buttress being the most famous (and photographed). Driving through the mountain ranges you can spot Zebra, Hartebeest and Eland as well various species of grass.
While in the park, a visit to the Basotho Cultural Village which nestles at the foot of huge sandstone mountains will give you a deeper insight into the lifestyle of the South Sotho from the 16th century to the present.
FAST FACT: The vulture hide on Oribi Loop is the ideal location to spot the endangered bearded vulture as well as other vultures.
Located just outside of Clarens is Baris Monger. This small deli-esque restaurant showcases all products made on the farm. And oh boy, are they delicious? We opted for platters of their farm-made cheese, paired with local delicacies and fine wine. The firm favourite was definitely the Camembert. The buttery yet milky taste was out of this world. You can read more about the other cheeses here.
You can also have espresso-based beverages, farm-made lemonade and ginger beer. For the sweet tooth, you must try what I think is the best cheesecake ever.
FAST FACT: The Baris Camembert was awarded second place in 2019 and third place in 2018 in the category for goat’s milk bloomy rind cheese, with or without condiments.
Slightly off the beaten track, the little red and green corrugated iron building that is Clementines Restaurant & Bar is something of a landmark in Clarens. Located opposite the Post Office on Church Street, the menu at Clementines caters for a wide variety of tastes. It has recently added a stunning new speciality bar with a huge variety of whiskey, gin, vodka, brandy, red and white wine.
Clementines is quite popular so booking is essential.
FAST FACT: Once a SA Railways bus service maintenance shed, the property has been transformed into a fine dining establishment.
Besides its famous mountains, Clarens is also surrounded by pristine dams, rivers and streams that are ideal for fly fishing and the best Trout fishing spots in South Africa.
Its open spaces, a luxury in the bigger cities, means more chances to be out in the open participating in the town’s favourite sports of hiking, horse riding, golf, archery, hot air ballooning, abseiling, biking and, quad riding. Tthe list is endless.
When to Visit
Autumn and spring are great times of the year to visit as the tree-filled town of Clarens offer a wonderful display of colourful blossoms in the springtime, with its mountains a green wonderland with the fresh light green willows. And in the autumn shades of the season’s colours oranges, red and rustic brown of the Lombardy poplars is an unforgettable sight showcasing why the town is known as the ‘jewel’ of the Free State.
March seems to be a colourful time for the town with art exhibitions, food stalls, flea markets, concerts and shows, which celebrate the rich culture and heritage of Clarens, such as the towns Country Market, Surrender Hill marathon and Clarens Craft Beer Festival, an annual event dubbed as the best in South Africa.
Filled with wanderlust, Martin is always so on the search for a new adventure in a fabulous destination. A firm believer in “local is lekker”, he is on a mission to explore South Africa – from big cities to the dorpies, With his furkids in towe, of course!