Have you ever been to Clarens? I hadn’t. I wasn’t even sure where it was, other than it was out of Johannesburg, and apparently quite beautiful.
I did mention in a previous blog that I was off to Durban for my birthday weekend, but as usual, the most fun things happen because of a change of plans. Lance and Dane, a delightful – albeit sometimes very annoying – couple had invited me to Durban. Unfortunately Lance had some Important Work to do and we would have arrived in Durban at around 8pm tired, cranky and thirsty. Depending on how one drives, Durban is around 6 hours away from Johannesburg. Since I’ve been to Durban a hundred times, and Dane doesn’t like Durban, we decided to go to Clarens which is less than 4 hours away (factoring a quick pit stop at the last town with an actual supermarket which took us 20 minutes).
We got to Clarens as the sun was setting. It’s a quaint little town, nestled in the mountains in the Free State. The pretty little town is surrounded by some beautiful mountains, parts of them soft and rolling green but suddenly interrupted by an outcrop or a sudden drop of stark, harsh rock, breaking the peaceful scenery. They’re even more spectacular when it’s drizzly and the tops are covered in the soft mist that seems low enough to touch. Don’t even get me started on the sunsets.
There are a million B&Bs which I can only imagine are comfy and beautiful, but Lance’s mom has a little house there, which she rents out (except to us of course) so we dumped our luggage there and went out to have a drink and some dinner.
It was starting to drizzle and although Lance and Dane were complaining, I found it very beautiful, it just added to the mysterious and misty scenery. It was like a small little English village in the books I read when I was younger, how I imagine a tiny town somewhere in Europe would be.
Just off the tar road and a little way onto a gravel road is The Artichoke Restaurant. We stopped off for a quick drink and a bite to eat. It worked out so well that we proceeded to stop, eat and drink at every place we could. The most memorable meal for me that weekend was the oxtail I had at Vito’s. I’d go back to Clarens just for that! Apparently the pizza is also really good. Lance and Dane shared the “Campo Pizza” which I thought was really funny.
We finally ended up at the Grouse and Claret and made friends with locals and visitors alike. We were a hit! We got booted out at 2am and I felt slightly worse for wear on Saturday. After breakfast and a 2 hour long snooze, we hit the town again.
The ‘town’ is tiny. My favourite place is a little stone centre called the Windmill Centre, with some rusty metal signs announcing about 6 arty farty and clothing shops. I felt like I’d stepped back in time. There was also this really cool portal to nowhere, which kept Dane busy for a bit LOL
They have a liquor store which is in an old stone building, a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker (no jokes), a pharmacy and a supermarket which doesn’t sell anything fresh, hence the stop at the Pick n Pay in Bethlehem. Good thinking! If you forget to stop off, never fear: there are a couple of pubs, and many restaurants with reasonable pricing. A beer on tap is between R25 – R30. My oxtail was R115, which is about R50 more expensive than something half as good in Sandton. One thing that stood out was that there were no take aways, no KFC or Nandos or any such place. Only whole fresh home grown food. If I wasn’t so lazy it would have inspired me to have a garden. With … plants. I might write about my failed attempt at hay bale gardening one day.
The town also has its own brewery which is ALWAYS busy. It is definitely the most popular establishment in the square. They brought us a taster tray, which featured 5 of their own beers, and 2 of their own ciders. You can choose your poison from that selection, or order wine, which D did. I had cherry cider. It was amazingly refreshing. I also tasted cherry beer – which is SO good – at the German restaurant later that night. I told you, we ate a lot!
My favourite stores were the knick-knack stores. I’m a sucker for shiny things and trinkets. I thought I loved the Cheesy Mouse until I got to the Ugly Duckling! These shops aren’t full of your usual flea market junk – there were unusual and beautifully made pieces which are so much more than just souvenirs; there are some really stylish and expensive looking items that would look at home in anybody’s house. There’s a great shop which sells old antiques, including great big front doors with stained glass, and those lovely old cupboards and chests of drawers that creak when you open them. And that beautiful smell of old books. Oh my gosh, I could have stayed in that shop for ever, but we had to go and collect Dane who’d elected to stay in bed that morning instead of exploring with Lance and me. We were going on a picnic.
Seeing as though Friday and Saturday were such well fed and watered days, we decided to go for a drive away from the town on Sunday.
Turns out there’s a lot to do in the surrounding area. You could easily stay there for a week. We went to the Golden Gate National Park which is about 20 kms away and one can easily stop off for horse riding, fishing (trout I’m assuming), quad bike riding and even zip lining on the way. You could stop off at the day spa or go to the shooting range, cherry picking and white water rafting. We didn’t have time to do all that, but never mind! I’m going back soon. I’ll be checking these guys out: http://www.clarensxtreme.co.za/
The National Park is lovely, we didn’t see too many animals, but we did see zebra and some or other buck type things. They really are all the same to me, sadly. If you’re more casual you can stay at the camping and caravan park, just beyond the beautiful hotel and chalets which are run, funnily enough, by my boss’s wife’s cousin and his husband, who is the executive chef! Who knew! The hotel looks like something you’d find in the Alps. I didn’t take a picture because we were driving and … you know how it is.
Clarens is definitely a place I’d go to again, even on my own, although it’s always more fun with your mates.
This coming Saturday I’m going to China Town, in the South of Johannesburg. I’m pretty excited about that: the last time I went to China Town, it was in the old downtown Johannesburg about 20 odd years ago!
I can’t wait to take some pics . I’ll also figure out how to upload them without you having to do neck stretches to see them.
Have a great week peeplies!