Clarens, located in the Free State province of South Africa, is a tranquil and idyllic town and is often called the ‘Jewel of the Eastern Free State’. Surrounded by the Maluti mountains, this picturesque town is very popular among the holiday-makers from Joburg and Durban alike because of its proximity – only 336km from Joburg and 389km from Durban – making it ideal for a quick getaway.
After many months of procrastination, K and I finally managed to make it to Clarens last weekend with a few friends and Mia. Even though it wasn’t a long weekend or school holidays, finding accommodation was a challenge despite the large number of options! Tip #1 – book early because Clarens is very popular throughout the year.
The drive itself is very short and comfortable – only took us a little over 3 hours. Tip #2 – if you are coming from Joburg, make sure to travel on the N3 as far as possible as the GPS tries to take a faster route through the smaller highways and that is riddled with potholes.
On reaching the quaint little town, we drove straight to our B&B which was situated just a short way off the town centre and right at the foothills of the mountain! Cottage Pie, our home for the weekend, was a charming thatched roof pet-friendly house with a nice garden running around the property. A small stream also cuts through the property but the lack of adequate rainfall in the area meant that it was dry when we visited. The hosts, Barbara and Dave live on the property and offer three en-suite guest bedrooms furnished with a small kitchenette. Two of the rooms are in the main house whilst the third is a more secluded room in a cabin located by the stream. The furnishings were simple and clean although the towels needed replacing urgently. We were given the cabin and the big downstairs room. While the accommodation sufficed for the weekend, it would have been more pleasant if we could have managed a booking in one of the many chalets that comprise of two or more bedrooms, a lounge, kitchen and gardens. Having said that, Dave, Barbara and Holly the collie, were the perfect hosts and did not mind Mia romping around the property at all times of the day!
After settling in and unpacking, we headed back into town for lunch and a little walkabout. Like most small places, this town too, has a big square in the centre which is surrounded by tons of restaurants, cafes, art and curio shops. Clarens is well known for being an artists’ hub, who either live in town or visit often. So its not surprising to see the large number of art galleries that dot the place.
As you can well imagine, walking around the town does not take very long, unless of course you stop and browse through each and every shop and curio stall! Even that would take only a few hours at max. The best thing about the place was the serenity and the friendliness of the people. Almost all restaurants and cafes had an outdoor place where pets are allowed (its a pet haven this town!). In one of the eateries, Amigo’s, they not only gave Mia a bowl of water but some pellets too!
Besides pigging out at the eateries, Clarens also boasts of a local brewery. The Clarens Brewery is a great place to hang out in the day and grab a few (or all) of their locally made beers. They make 7 varieties as of now and a few ciders as well. I really enjoyed their Blonde and the Red. But they close at 7pm so make sure you go early!
For the sporty kinds, the town offers a wide range of activities – from hiking in the Nature Reserve to river rafting, quad biking, fishing and mountain biking. There is something for everyone. We, however, spent most of our time eating and drinking except for the last day when everyone save for Mia and me, went river rafting. Mia and I on the other hand, took a long hike in the reserve and spent a beautiful morning swimming in the dam!