I had wanted to visit Clarens for years – the jewel of the Free State – so we headed up there for new year in December. It’s a 3.5 hour drive from Durban and once you’re passed Harrismith and headed towards the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, the scenery is quite breathtaking. Magnificent landscapes, blue skies, phenomenal cloud formations during the day and at night – stars forever!
I did quite a bit of ‘research’ before I booked, on a few blogs to get the low-down of where to eat, sleep and visit. Most of the recommended places to stay in town on TripAdvisor were full – thank goodness though, because we ended up on the Clarens Golf & Trout Estate, which is not near the main town square, but a 2 minute drive out of town – and it was perfect! It’s away from the hustle and bustle of the town square, which on new year’s eve was full of youngsters blasting music out of the back of their cars and doing donuts in the main road!
Admittedly, it was only on NYE that it was noisy, the rest of the time was very laid back and chilled, but it was still better not to be staying right in town – the estate has sweeping views over the town of Clarens and you can hire various types of villas to suit your needs. From 4 sleepers with built in braai facilities on your own private deck, to 12 sleepers with jacuzzis – there’s a good choice. And as the name suggests, it’s a golf and trout estate, so there’s plenty to keep you entertained if you’re a golfer or fisherman.
We preferred to explore the Clarens town square one day, drive the Golden Gate Highlands National Park trails another and we tried to book into a spa for the afternoon of another – what a disaster! I definitely do not recommend the Clarens Wellness Spa – after booking over 3 weeks in advance and paying a 50% deposit, we arrived to an apointment booked at the wrong time, for the wrong treatments by the owner herself and the only solution was for us to come back the following day – when we were leaving! Needless to say I demanded my deposit back and promptly left.
No amount of apologising can remedy a mistake made by the person who took the booking, confirmed the times and treatment with me via email AND requested a 50% deposit up front – how exactly do you get that wrong?!
Anyway, it didn’t dampen our visit and if you are keen on a long weekend getaway, Clarens is good for that. You can walk the square in a few hours if you pop in at every store – there’s a mix of decor, art galleries, body/bath products, cafes, clothing and the highlight – The Clarens Brewery – which has a great atmosphere, service and delicious craft beers and cider. We also had an excellent meal at Clementine’s – the oxtail was on my top 3 list and was perfect for a chilly evening.
Don’t bother with getting your morning coffee anywhere other than Highland Coffee in the top left corner of the square – trust me – I tried all the coffee on offer and this was the best. (Restaurant owners please note, a froth of bubbles on top of a scorching hot cup of burnt bean coffee does not a cappuccino make!)
If I go back, I’d either stay on the estate again or in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park – the log cabins there have magnificent views of the Maluti Mountains. Accommodation is quite basic though and there are also camping options – the camp site is situated directly alongside the freeway though, which I thought was a little odd.
We got a map of the park from the main hotel and then did the trail drives which are one-way tarred routes which take you to some pretty impressive vantage points. We also took a drive to Fouriesburg – there’s absolutely fokkol there! But the drive is awesome and I saw a herd of all-white nguni alongside the road which was a first!
Would like to go again in winter – the snow-capped mountains will be calling!