Clarens - a breath of fresh air.    The perfect escape from city life.   Here we have no air polluting factories, no heavy traffic, none of the stress associated with living in a big city:  just lots of fresh air, a beautiful setting, friendly faces and loads of fun to be had in a totally relaxed atmosphere. The scenic setting, mild climate, nature areas, and the rather special Clarens village vibe all contribute to making Clarens a natural choice both for the people who live here and for visitors from elsewhere in South Africa and around the globe.  The geological history of the area can be read in the sandstone cliffs which surround Clarens and give Clarens its scenic setting and depending on which geological layer you find yourself you may find crystals (in the black rock at the top of the cliffs, or where, as a result of erosion they have washed down into river beds)  or fossils dating back millions of years.  The Rooiberge virtually cradle the town, and to the east Mount Horeb at 2449.5 meters above sea level, overlooks the town of Clarens 639.5 meters below.  (Incidentally Mount Horeb has a yellow smiley face, smiling down on the town.  This is a radio relay station for the Clarens Police Station.) The natural grassland areas around Clarens are rich in wild flowers which add an extra dimension to the enjoyment of the many hiking trails in the area. (Plants found in the Clarens Village Nature Reserve are a regular feature on the Clarens News website. Click here to learn more about the plants found in the Clarens Village Nature Reserve.) Clarens also has The Golden Gate Highlands National Park on the doorstep:  scenic drives, game viewing, hikes ..... and lots more. Art and craft:  Clarens is often referred to as the Art Mecca of South Africa.  And given that Clarens has over  20 art galleries and that so many artists have chosen Clarens as their base, this is hardly surprising. Visitors are invited to do the Art Route, or simply stroll from gallery to gallery to enjoy the wide variety of artwork on offer. Many of the galleries and artists offer also offer art courses giving and aspiring artists have a chance to explore a wide variety of media, find inspiration or simply have some fun. Click here to go to the Art page More and more crafters are now also making their home in Clarens, and you will find interesting articles - many of them made in Clarens - on offer in some of the shops. Crafts vary from leatherwork and glass work, to hand-made knives, candles  and soft furnishings. Adventure: Click here to see the wide range of activities on offer in Clarens.   Those wishing to venture further afield (to Lesotho or neighbouring towns) will find a wide range of tours on offer, or alternatively, they can explore the area on their own.   (Click here for self-drive routes you can do from Clarens.) Clarens Village Nature Reserve. The Clarens Village Nature Reserve is within easy walking distance of the town square, and there are well-marked trails for hikers to enjoy.   Mountain bikers are also welcome, but need a permit to access the trails. Click here for more information on The Clarens Village Conservancy (which manages the Clarens Village Nature Reserve) and here for news on the Nature Reserve in particular. Click here for more information on hikes available in the area. Shopping.  Shopping in Clarens is the antithesis of the shopping mall experience, and Clarens is edge to edge with interesting shops - many of them stocking items which are not easily available elsewhere in South Africa.  Click here to go to the shopping page. Wine and Dine, stop for tea or coffee, enjoy a beer or grab a snack at one of the delicatesens.   Clarens has many excellent restaurants, coffee houses, tea shops, bars and delis.  There is something to suit every palate, whether you're looking for a fine dining experience or some hearty pub grub, it's all here in Clarens. Click here There are also many interesting places to visit within easy access of Clarens. Click here for self-drive sightseeing routes you can do from Clar
Features to look out for are: CLARENS SQUARE. (Situated at the heart of the town, you could hardly miss it.) The square gives Clarens it’s village feel, and is used for many village events. The monument at the centre of the square commorates the five burghers who were killed at the Battle of Naauwpoort. (In September 1865 a commando led by Paul Kruger camped overnight at Naaupoort Nek. The commando was on its way to Witzieshoek where they intended to take on the cannibal chieftainess Mantatisi who had been creating havoc in the area. During the night they were attacked by Basotho warriors and 5 boers were killed in the ensuing battle. The monument commerating this battle was originally erected at the battle site in 1895, and then moved to its present position on the Square in 1962.) Also on the square is a plaque commemorating the construction of the tunnel for the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Click here for more information on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Titanic Rock at the entrance to Clarens on the Bethlehem Road: Clarens was incorporated as a town in 1912, and this was also the year that the Titanic sank, a tragedy which caught everyone’s attention – even here in far-off Clarens. A local resident suggested that the prominent rock feature at the entrance to Clarens resembled the bow of  a ship, and this outcrop has been known as the Titanic ever since.  Titanic is clearly visible from the road, but should you wish to explore Titanic  more closely, one of the Clarens Village Nature Reserve trails takes you round the base of mountain and finishes at the top.  (Please note that the final leg of this trail is not suitable for inexperienced hikers.) (Trail maps are available from several outlets it town.) Naauwpoort Nek.  The road that brings you in to Clarens from Bethlehem passes through Naauwpoort Nek and this is where, in September 1865, a battle took place between Paul Kruger’s Commando and the Basotho.   (Click here for more information on this battle.) Naauwpoort /Sias Oosthuizen Road (the dirt road which runs parallel to the R712, between Maluti Mountain Lodge and Main Street.)   This  is the road that early travellers passing through the area on their way to or from Bethlehem, the Golden Gate, Fouriesburg or Lesotho used to take. Of interest is the Uitspan stone with the words Een Uitspanning carved into the stone.  This is a  sort of “Park Here” sign from bygone days for those wanting to unhitch their wagons and make camp for the night.    The little river nearby and ample grazing made this an ideal stop-over.  Close by is Di Mezza blanket shop, which started out as a general dealer and now specialises in blankets (including the well-known Lesotho blankets). The buildings alongside are amongst the earliest to be built in Clarens and date back to 1928.  On the other side of Main Street, are more shops which have been in operation for more than a hundred years – you could say that  the Naauwpoort/Sias Oosthuizen road was at one time the focus for trade and industry in Clarens. Clarens Village Nature Reserve. The Clarens Village Nature Reserve is within easy walking distance of the town square, and there are well-marked trails for hikers to enjoy.   Mountain bikers are also welcome, but need a permit to access the trails. Click here for more information on The Clarens Village Nature Reserve hiking trails. Shopping.  Shopping in Clarens is the antithesis of the shopping mall experience, and Clarens is edge to edge with interesting shops – many of them stocking items which are not easily available elsewhere in South Africa.  Click here to go to the shopping page. Wine and Dine, stop for tea or coffee, enjoy a beer or grab a snack at one of the delicatesens.   Clarens has many excellent restaurants, coffee houses, tea shops, bars and delis.  There is something to suit every palate, whether you’re looking for a fine dining experience or some hearty pub grub, it’s all here in Clarens. Click here There are also many interesting places to visit within easy access of Clarens. Click here for self-drive sightseeing routes you can do from Clarens. &n
    Leave Clarens on the R711 south, which is clearly signposted as the road to Fouriesburg.  Soon after you leave the town, you will pass a pretty valley on the left, with a small tree-lined river meandering through it.  This is the Little Caledon River, which has its source far to the east in the watershed of the Golden Gate Highlands.  The sandstone cliffs that frame the valleys in the early part of this drive flaunt typical examples of rock overhangs sculptured by many thousands of years’ weathering. After about 6 kms into the drive you will cross the Little Caledon River, which runs away to the right and snakes its way around a maze of headlands until it crosses under the road again further along the drive.  On the left you will see the turnoff to St Fort, a popular guesthouse and renowned wedding venue.  If you look back you will see the Mushroom Rock jutting above the rock shelf atop the mountain directly adjacent to St Fort.  The drive takes a gradual uphill gradient now and passes various turnoffs to guesthouses and farms. After 14 kms into the drive, look out for the Surrender Hill turnoff to the right.  Here you can get out and view a plaque erected to commemorate the surrender in 1900 of a large contingent of Boers during the Ango Boer War.  This site was originally called Slaapkranz and was declared a national monument in 1986.       At this elevated point there are views across the vast Caledon River Valley that stretches to the distant Maluti Mountains – snow-capped in winter - and Lesotho.  The Malutis and the Drakensberg together represent the largest and highest mountain range in southern Africa, originally formed through massive volcanic eruptions 180 million years ago.  The high slopes, often visible on clear days, are also southern Africa’s most significant water catchment area.  Every day, for more than a decade now, a vast volume of water from these uplands is being diverted to Gauteng by means of a tunnel under the valley before you. At the 18.5 km point, after a straight downhill stretch, two district roads from the left join the main road (separate self-drive routes will be published on these roads in due course).  The left fork winds all the way down to the Caledon River, the boundary between South Africa and Lesotho.  The right fork (S505) is a circular route, through pleasant farmlands with striking views, that eventually re-joins the Fouriesburg road further on.               Sitting here at a picnic table you will have a magnificent view to the south of long flat-topped sandstone mountains.  Standing slightly apart from one of these cliff faces is the remarkable Queen Victoria Rock, which unfortunately cannot be seen clearly from your position on the main road.  (A drive along the S505 route (signposted a short way ahead) and a visit to the Lesoba Guest Farm will afford you a perfect view of it.) To the west, on the far horizon, you will get one of your first good views of the great Witteberg Mountain Range, straddling the far end of the Brandwater Basin.  A short distance further along the road, the circular drive (S505) encountered earlier will rejoin the main road.   At about the 30 km point the Little Caledon River crosses under the road, flowing in a south westerly direction towards its confluence with the Caledon River at the Caledonspoort Border Post.  Very soon after the bridge a road turns to the right into the Rooiberg Mountains.  This is the S325 and features a host of signposts to various points of interest.  Of significance is The Rose Hip, which is the restaurant at The Rose House guesthouse facility, both with a reputation for excellence. (Take a short drive down this road and look out for the vineyard at the entrance to The Rose House.  Despite being relatively young, the vineyard is already producing excellent wine, and promises one day to make the Free State famous for its viticulture.) Directly after the turnoff is the Arpa Dam, part of an adventure farm.  The Arpa Dam is also the venue of a winter charity swim at the end of June, called the Polar Bear Plunge, where swimmers brave the very cold water to swim a sponsored distance in aid of a local charity. The last few kilometers to Fouriesburg are on a gradual incline up the slope towards the town, which is situated against a bluff of the Rooiberg Mountain Range.  To visit the town, turn right at the intersection or, alternatively, if you prefer to do the pretty drive to Caledonspoort, take the left turn.  There are places in Fouriesburg town that serve teas and lunches, to freshen up before your return journey.   Article and research by Mary Walker Clarens News: January 2014     Further reading: War in the Valley (Article by Mary Walker) Clarens - History (Extract from an Article written by Tina de Beer for Open Africa (www.openafica.org/route/Clarens-Route)   Click here to go to the Sightseeing/Self-Drive Routes page &n