Clarens – Small Town with a Huge Heart

Is the pressure, noise and congestion of city life bringing you down? Escape for the weekend to a mix of eclectic culture, spectacular scenery, and great food and drink in the Free State’s favourite ‘dorpie’, Clarens. 

Words and images by Haidee Swart

If you’re looking for a buzzing night scene, an assortment of high-end restaurants and bars, a place to see and be seen, Clarens is not for you.

It’s just not the type of place you visit to be blown away by modern-day amenities, and is rather somewhere you visit to escape – a small town immensely proud of its heritage and natural beauty.

You barely even need a car in Clarens, with most bed and breakfasts a short two-kilometre walk from the quaint town centre. However, if you plan on discovering the grand Golden Gate National Park on the outskirts of town, you’ll need a set of wheels.

No matter where you’re travelling from, the introduction to Clarens and its surrounding beauty is splendid. Sitting in a valley surrounded by sandstone cliffs, green and golden forestry and a number of streams, Clarens is the epitome of a small-town escape.

Many homes, stores and the impeccably kept NG Kerk have been crafted from local sandstone – a reminder of times gone by and a beautifully ornate addition to nearly every street corner of this Free State town.

Expect to be greeted by almost everyone who passes you in the street – another dead giveaway that the cold rush of big-city life has no place here.

Indulge your sweet tooth at the Purple Onion – a local deli packed to the rafters with every sweet, treat, jam, pickle and toffee you can remember from your childhood, then burn it off on one of the many hiking or biking trails that weave through the surrounding mountains.

Here is a basic guide on where to stay, eat, drink and keep yourself entertained while exploring Clarens:

Clarens Free State Golden Gate Park
The drive through Golden Gate National Park provides a spectacular welcome to Clarens.

Where to Stay 

The town is chock-a-block with bed and breakfast and Airbnb options. One of the town’s staple sources of income is tourism, so take your pick. Make sure to book your accommodation well in advance, as Clarens is a popular ‘dorpie’, often fully booked on most weekends, especially in winter.

Clarens food

Where to Eat

Make a booking if you plan to eat out for dinner. The town is popular and most restaurants fill up quickly. Many of the smaller cafes tend to close early for the evening, so this narrows your options.

For delicious Portuguese fare, Gosto Portuguese Restaurant is wonderful, but a booking is mandatory. For exceptional pizza and pasta, Mosaic is the town favourite.

Clementine’s is a cosy, date-night option serving many classic dishes, while the The Millery Clarens Coffee-Cafe & Bar overlooks the valley and serves up decent pub grub and a vibrant atmosphere. For a lip-smacking breakfast and pancake stop, make your way to Sugar and Cinnamon on the outskirts of town.

Where to Drink

If you need a cold brew on a crisp, sunny afternoon in Clarens, then Clarens Brewery is your ticket. Try out the beer, cider and gin tasting paddle (it’s free) and don’t miss their seasonal Clarens Goes Nuts hazelnut beer –delicious.

Next door to the brewery is the Red Stone Craft gin bar, offering gin tasting and a number of signature gin cocktails, infused with delicious Red Stone syrups and topped with candyfloss.

For coffee lovers, Highland Coffee Roastery is a must. Their flavoured coffees are incredible – hazelnut, amaretto, tiramisu, chocolate cookie, vanilla and more – sample at least one of each while you’re in Clarerns.

For the Love of the Outdoors

There are a number of walking and hiking trails in the surrounding forests and cliffs of Clarens.

Take your pick from the Maluti Viewpoint trail, epic in the late afternoon to catch a spectacular sunset over the town. There’s also the Mallen walking trail, the Spruit walking trail, the Leucosidea Trail, the Kloof Dam walk or the Kloof Dam mountain trail.

If you’re looking for something a little more extreme, take to the open waters with Clarens Xtreme Adventure Company or Outrageous Adventures for a day of white-water rafting.

Clarens Golden Gate Park
An outlook point in Golden Gate National Park.

Arts and Culture

Clarens is well known for its extensive arts and culture scene, with at least one art gallery or quaint curio shop on every street corner.

If this is more your speed – eat your heart out in the galleries, curio shops, speciality stores, delis and bakeries lining the streets of this small town that has a huge heart.

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