Call Clarens the Santa Fe of the Free State. Not because of its size – it’s a tiny village of just 400 souls – but because of its heart, which beats art, art, art. Clarens is home to a thriving artists’ colony, which has its own Canyon Road-style Artist Amble, allowing visitors to pop in and out of the twenty-odd working studios on the route.
The town is quite close to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park – a birders paradise, with magnificent rock formations and caves – as well as to Lesotho’s spectacular Maluti mountains (passport essential for a visit). You can hunt for a different kind of art during your (ample) spare time – the region is celebrated for its rock paintings – and there are also fossils to be found on certain hikes, dating back some 200 million years! (The fossils, not the hikes.)
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- Fun fact: Clarens is named after Clarens, Switzerland, where the President of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger, died after the Boer War.
- Contextual map: Clarens
- How to get there: By car: Take the N1 north from Cape Town or south from Joburg (leave early in the morning!); turn off the N5 toward Bethlehem; at Bethlehem, take the R712 south over the Retiefsnek Pass until you reach the town.
- Where to stay: the San Rock Guest House is a highly-recommended 4-star B&B; backpackers should try Bokpoort Backpackers.