Although I have been privileged enough to travel throughout most of South Africa, Clarens has, oddly enough, always eluded me. I decided it was time to remedy the situation.
A comfortable three and a half hour drive is all it takes to get to Clarens which is situated in the Clarens Valley in the Freestate. As my partner and I approached the area it became apparent that Clarens shares more than just a name with one of Switzerland’s towns. It too boasts beautiful mountains which lend the area an ethereal quality.
Upon arrival, we drove up Clarens’ small main street which leads to a central grassed square around which the majority of the town’s commercial establishments have taken root. We were immediately taken in by the town’s chocolate box charm and were torn as to where to begin.
Our stomachs made up our minds for us. We decided to have a late lunch at the ‘Röter Hahn’, a wood and thatch clad German restaurant and deli which smelled delicious. True to German form meat and sauerkraut dominated the menu. We settled on a platter of sausages which was accompanied by a selection of mustards and relishes and tankards of Weiss beer. Unfortunately by the time we had finished our meal, most of the shops had begun to close. Clarens is a traditional country town and extended shopping hours don’t apply. We returned to our lodgings at Kiara Lodge for the night determined to do Clarens justice the next day.
Following a brisk morning gorge walk the next morning, we drove to Clarens and explored each and every shop, café, curio store, deli and art gallery the town had to offer. A tiny museum, churches and old sandstone library are also located within Clarens’ boundaries. Cottage craft shops reign supreme in Clarens and most are whimsically named. ‘Country Bumpkin’, ‘Secret Garden’, ‘Monsoon Moon’ and ‘Purple Onion’ are but a few. Products on sale include leather goods, furniture, African curios, clothes, wine, mohair products, jams, pickles and collectables. Just be aware that it is a tourist orientated town and prices are generally geared accordingly.
The local green grocer was particularly delightful. It offered a small selection of most necessities including homemade lemonade, bread, bunches of carrots, small brown paper bags filled with potatoes, sweets, lunch meat, cheese, newspapers and sauces. Walking past the local tiny chocolate shop also proved impossible; the shop’s rich chocolaty smell was magnetic and I left with a much lighter purse than I walked in with.
Over the years, Clarens has also earned a reputation for its art. The numerous local galleries stock bronze and ceramic sculptures, woven art and a wide variety of paintings and prints. Some pieces have quite obviously been created simply to make money out of the tourist trade while other pieces are genuinely worth their not insignificant price tags. The Art & Wine Gallery on Main offers a combination of good artworks alongside a comprehensive selection of fine wine which can be enjoyed by the glass courtesy of a novel on-site wine vending machine.
Clarens is also associated with cherries thanks to its close proximity to Ficksburg which hosts a popular annual cherry festival. You’ll find various cherry related products in many of Clarens’ stores but for a serious cherry fix, look no further than The Cherry Shop which stocks all things cherry related. Think cherry liqueur, suckers, jams, bath foam, cordials, syrups and soaps. The local Clarens Brewery also sells a delectable, handcrafted cherry cider.
You can take your pick of good pavement restaurants and cafes in Clarens. One which really stood out for us was ‘Valley Cats’. This eatery occupies a large converted sandstone house and offers an indoor and outdoor eating area and small gallery. The outdoor eating area was particularly appealing. It features intricate wrought iron chairs and tables amongst carefully tended pockets of sweetpeas. A large tree has also been outfitted with bells and wind chimes which tinkle as you tuck into the restaurant’s fresh, tasty food.
Overall Clarens lived up to its reputation. The local community is obviously working hard to make the town work. Many of the shops are beautifully decorated, the streets are clean and well signposted and the people are friendly. Other activities in the area include fishing, hiking and horse riding and the nearby Golden Gate National Park is well worth a visit. At the time of our visit the town was thronging with both local and international tourists and there’s no reason why Clarens shouldn’t continue to do so for many more years to come.