This Winter, if it's not cold enough already, head to Clarens and discover the small drinking village with a fishing problem.
Clarens is having a moment. The village boasts with more resident artists than probably any other place in South Africa and it gives the place a pretty laid back attitude that sucks you in whether you are just visiting or lucky enough to stay. The development of a golf estate on the outskirts of the village has forced growth and depending on who you talk to, this is either the best or worst thing to happen to the region. Whether you’re for or against expansion and the traffic/condos/gentrification that follow, no one is throwing shade at all the new restaurants, microbreweries, and shops that are surfing its wake.
Despite the rapid changes, our pioneer heritage instills undeniably palpable, can-do spirit making the Freestate a unique, rich place to plan a winter adventure. Living in Johannesburg but visiting often we thought: the world doesn’t need another boring travel guide of lists. So we’ve gone ahead and broken down a good way to spend the day in Clarens and it's surrounds for five types of traveler: hipster, outdoor enthusiast, athlete, plus an itinerary for you and your buds, or your significant other. Don’t fall into any one category? All suggestions are available à la carte.
Without further ado, here are our top choices (and some best practices) for taking in Clarens’s sense of place if and when you happen to find yourself around.
For the Hipster
First stop is Highland Coffee Roastery. They are a micro-roastery and take great care and pride in roasting their 100% Arabica coffees to perfection in small batches. They also cater for various ways to have your coffee, be it pour-over or Aero Press. Just up the road is The Courtyard Bakery and Cafe which serves a range of breakfasts and light lunches. Pies, quiches, bread, rolls, and cakes are baked on the premises daily and are available as both sit-down meals in the café or as a take away from the bakery section (wine, cheese, and chocolate also available at the bakery). Head downtown to Mona Lisa's Garment Gallery. This shop has an antique collection and vintage clothing from the 1920’s to 1940’s. You should also go past Art & Wine Gallery. They offer the best opportunity to experience the widest range of top quality wine and unique artwork by established artists.
For the Outdoor Enthusiast
Of course, you packed your hiking boots, right? Good. Lace up and get over to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Discover one of South Africa's most dramatically beautiful national parks, some trails take only an hour, others longer, and there’s an overnight trail for the adventurous. Most of the shorter hikes are unguided following markers and keeping to the paths. The 120m-high Brandwag Rock Hike offers a whiff of adventure with a chain to help you up a steep ascent. The commanding views from the summit are well worth the climb. You can camp at Glen Reenen’s Rest Camp. Or if you prefer a little bit of luxury the Golden Gate Hotel is a great option. Both located in the park.
For the Athlete
Does white water rafting, quad biking, abseiling and zip-lining sound like your idea of a good day out? Then head over to Extreme Clarence for all of that and so much more. The choices are vast – from a variety of adventure sports, game drives, cultural tours to family vacations and unique custom build expeditions. The day tours around the Golden Gate Park and into Lesotho are a must. They even offer a shuttle service to the Afriski resort in Lesotho.
With your Pals
Head straight to the Clarence Brewhouse to get sufficiently un-thirsty before dinner. Afterward, the Highland Bistro is a good place to have some home made, quality comfort food and a fine selection of whiskeys. A short walk across the square is Friends Pub where you can continue imbibing in front of a roaring fire, chat with the locals and dance the night away to some classic rock 'n roll. When (if) you wake up the next morning/afternoon Artist's Cafe will help your refuel with honest to goodness South African cuisine. If you feel up to it finish your day with a friendly game of paintball or if your head is still aching from the night before, give archery a try.
With your Significant Other
In my opinion, the best time to visit Clarens is in the winter, especially after the first snow has fallen on the mountains and the temperature drops below zero, all the more reason to snuggle closer to the one you love. Book in at La Poste, an apartment in the middle of town above a gallery with one of the friendliest cat's we have ever seen. Even if you arrive late they will ensure the apartment is toasty and the bed is warm. Make sure you book in advance for a romantic dinner at Gosto's before strolling back. The Posthouse, which is literally just down the stairs, serves a brilliant breakfast in front of a roaring fire to warm you up for the day ahead. Take a drive through the Golden Gate National Park and explore the loops. You will see Zebra, Springbok and if you are lucky some snow. Head back to town and pick up some lunch at the Purple Onion Deli.
Louis Ackermann is a freelance writer and photographer learning something new everyday. He loves adding things to his bucket list, slow smoking brisket and getting lost. You can follow him on Instagram.