48 Hours in Clarens: Arts, Culture and Adventure

by Zama Ndlovu

There’s a reason why Clarens is named the Jewel of the Free State. Nestled on the foothills of the mountainous magnificence of the Maluti Mountains, the over 100-year-old town welcomes you with its splendid trees and picturesque old buildings or bright lights if you arrive after 9 pm on a Friday night. Simply put, Clarens is a lovely unpretentiously artistic town built for the long weekend.

The destination is between 3-4 hours’ drive from Durban, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, so if you leave on Friday after work, aim to avoid your local traffic times as this will add to your trip.

We decided to start our trip on an adventurous note and end it on that same high. On Saturday morning we stopped by at Clarens Xtreme where we had a choice of different activities to wake the adrenal glands. One can do abseiling, archery, day tours, white water rafting and everything in between. But I do love quad biking, and I could not say no to the semi-automatics and a chance to see more of the area.

On Sunday we took a short drive to nearby Golden Gate Nature Reserve for an hour long walk. It’s a hike but if you call it a walk, you will convince more of your friends and family to join you.

There are a good few places to eat and drink in Clarens. Our first stop was Clarens Brewery where we enjoyed beer tasting – I lost count at six – and to have some German-inspired pub food. There are lovely ciders and non-alcoholic drinks too so don’t be scared if you are not a fan of beer. Leave some space for dinner!

Dinner. Every single person I spoke to before my trip advised me to book a table at Clementines and book it early. Trust them, trust me, and book early. I am still dreaming of the BBQ Rump with caramelized onions and melted camembert cheese, and the lemon meringue ice cream cake is worth driving three hours to the Free State for.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of art galleries and arts and craft shops in Clarens. Art & Wine Gallery on Main Street does just that – art and wine – there is no better combo in life. A number of art shops also offer classes, including pottery classes. You can also buy blankets at Di Mezza & De Jager or get beautiful pieces from informal traders in the area.

With only a day and a half in this town, we packed in as much as we could but an extra day or two would have been just as exciting. Clarens is a great getaway town for large groups. There are a variety of activities from golf and fly-fishing to horse racing and other adventures including day tours to nearby Lesotho or the Basotho Cultural Village. Lookout for interesting festivals in the area next time you want to take a short-left inland.