Today’s travel post is all about what to do in Clarens in the Free state. One of my favourite little towns in South Africa, Clarens is located between Bethlehem and Harrismith and is aptly titled ‘the Gem of the Free State’.
Situated at the foothill of the Maloti Mountain, the location has pristine dams, rivers and streams, ideal for fly fishing which is, of course, (for Shaun and his dad) one of the major reasons we headed there…
Our 4-day stay break split up into two stays – Clarens on Collett and Sediba Lodge.
Clarens on Collett
Offering mountain views and crisp fresh air, Clarens on Collett has accommodation conveniently located in Clarens, within a short distance of all the restaurants and the Art and Wine Galleries on the square.
We loved staying there for the first two nights, as we were close enough to the town to explore, but far enough for it to be still and serene.
This house is absolutely perfect and is a true home away from home. In fact, you could quite easily move in there and leave all your belongings behind as the owners have ensured to cater for your every need, in the kitchen, bedrooms and all entertainment areas.
The house is beautifully furnished and spotlessly clean and loved the bright, airy rooms.
We stayed in the town for the first two nights so that we could visit all the surrounds easily.
Here’s my recommendations on what to do in Clarens.
While I have been to Clarens quite a few times, I haven’t ever written about this destination, so decided now was a perfect time.
There is so much to keep you entertained on the square, all you need to do is wander around for a couple of hours.
You will likely stumble upon:
- Bibliophile, a small little second-hand bookshop
- Art Galleries, too many to count
- Clarens Go Green, and eco-friendly shop stocking vegan leather, glass straws and other cruelty-free products
- The Ugly Ducking, an interesting little shop with a variety of mementoes and trinkets
- Senqu, a very well priced shop to pick up some outdoor apparel
- The Purple Onion, a bit expensive but a must to visit, they make lots of souvenirs and craft foods and drinks
- Clarens Brewery, the most lively place to be, and also holds the title of the only microbrewery in the Free State. Try what is known as the Clarens Pink Berry Cider too!
- Hart en Seil, a beautiful little shop that stocks crockery, linens and home decor. I bought a bunch of tiny little spoons 😁
Grab some Breakfast
I have eaten pretty much all over Clarens and my two favourite stops are Artists Cafe and The Courtyard Cafe.
Artists Cafe has a very large and affordable breakfast menu, catering to the Englishman, the French, the Early Birds and everyone in between!
Service is great, portion sizes are good and for travelling parents, there is a kiddies menu complimented by the shady playground.
The second option is Courtyard Cafe, which also offers accommodation, and is a great spot to enjoy breakfast, sitting in the sunny, airy restaurant which opens up onto the square.
Where to go for Dinner
My two recommendations for dinner in Clarens would be Clementines and The Roter Han.
Slightly off from the square, the little red and green corrugated iron building that is Clementines Restaurant & Bar was by far the closest to fine dining in the area.
Pair country charm with good hearty comfort food and you have a winning combination, and so popular is this little restaurant that it is almost always fully booked for dinner.
We got lucky and the manager was able to squeeze us in and set up a secluded little dinner table for us by the bar, which we just loved.
Once a SA Railway bus service maintenance shed, the property was developed into a restaurant site in 1997.
Clementines is a must visit restaurant if you’re in Clarens.
The Roterhan is a Bavarian German Restaurant, that has over the years, become one of my favourite restaurants in Clarens.
It is known for its great selection of beer, huge portions, gluhwein, eischbein and Deli section full of treats.
Whenever you step into this restaurant you feel warm and welcomed and ready to relax.
I haven’t been to Germany but Shaun’s mom is German and she loves the vibe and the overall experience.
A stay in Clarens is not complete without a beer or gluhwein at this well-supported establishment.
Head to Golden Gate National Park
Around 20km from Clarens is the Golden Gate National Park, which is another adventure to tick off your list.
Entrance is free, and it is one of the prettiest and breathtaking drives to take, as you meander through the rolling foothills.
Golden Gate derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the park’s sandstone cliffs. If you get there late afternoon, you will definitely see this gold effect on the rocks as the sun begins to set.
As we drove in, we were treated to a very rare sighting of Eland on the hill, which was a special moment because none of us had seen this buck before.
We also saw Zebra, a Black-backed Jackal (with a tag around his neck), Mountain Reedbuck, Red Hartebeest and Blesbok.
Once you are in the park, you can also do a few hikes, one of the most popular being the hike to Echo Ravine.
Hike to Echo Ravine
Echo Ravine is one of my favourite hikes in South Africa.
I have done the route over 5 times now and I still don’t get bored of its twists and turns.
Starting at the Glen Reenen Rest Camp the route moves upward into a spectacular ravine.
Near the ravine itself, you will notice the main path splits into many sub-paths; most go to the same place, but some just lead to dead-ends.
Knowing this, we decided to stick to the main path.
It should take 30 – 35 minutes to reach the ravine, where you will find a cavern between two cliffs and a small waterfall can be heard in the background.
Depending on the season you go, the walls of the cave drip from above and shower you will cool mountain water the closer you get the to the mouth of the cavern.
The whole back-and-forth route is only 1.8 km so it is a great little walk.
Stay at Sediba Lodge
Sediba Lodge is a haven of peace and tranquillity, a safe retreat, where you can walk in the 300-hectare game park, through riverine forests.
That’s what Megan (Shaun’s sister) and I did anyway.
There are countless rock and forest trails to follow, so much so that we thought we had gotten lost after an hour or so, only to realise we had gone around in a very well mapped out circle.
If you’re not exploring, you can paddle on a boat, fly fish or just watch the wildlife graze on the mountain slopes.
Sediba consists of South Lodge (twin beds, sleeps 6) three bedrooms each with en-suite bathroom, lounge, dining area and kitchen.
The lodges we stayed in was very homey and spacious. The view from all the windows and doors is stunning and both Lodges are within a few metres of a trout dam, with the ‘Rooiberge’ mountain range offering a breathtaking backdrop.
Clarens is a destination for the whole family and we plan to visit this town again soon.
Hope you enjoyed reading,