Growing up in South Africa, we spent many school holidays exploring the country. Holidays abroad were the exception as there was little need (plus it was expensive) to travel abroad when you had so much on your doorstop. My parents moved to New Zealand when I was 13 and although we went back to South Africa fairly often, it felt like you were going home. As an adult, going to South Africa ‘on holiday’ with my husband was a different experience. Matt is British and has been there 3 times. He absolutely loves it. His enthusiasm and love for the country rubs off on me and I feel like I am seeing things for the first time. On the other hand, there is still a pull and it feels like my soul has come home. In between visiting family and friends, we always try to do something new. For this trip, we planned a short 3 night stop in Clarens after reading The 25 best small towns in South Africa article. (http://www.savisas.com/blog/best-small-towns-south-africa/)
Clarens is known as the ‘Jewel of the Free State’ and is a lively, beautiful and arty small town. The winter days were cold yet crisp and sun warmed you up. The blue sky complemented the golden hues of the mountain surrounds; you felt like you were walking around an oil painting. The roads around the town are gravel which simply adds to the charm of the place. The art scene is what sets Clarens apart. One of the highlights included meeting Richard Rennie – a master water colourist and he opened the first art gallery in Clarens in 1990. But where there is art, there will be coffee. Here are my picks:
- Patcham Place
This B&B was our home for 3 nights so it makes sense to start here. Patcham Place is well located close to the town centre. Richard and Carol were fabulous hosts and laid out a scrumptious breakfast each morning. The filter coffee was strong and rich without tasting too bitter or watery. Plus, both hot and cold milk options were provided – you did not need to ask. The rooms were clean and comfortable and we loved our stay here.
This is the specialty coffee shop in town as they have their own coffee roastery in the shop. As a result the place smells divine. The café is small but cosy and there are plenty of games to keep you entertained. We sat by the fire and puzzled over our cappuccinos.
Insiders tip: Richard and Carol suggested we stop here for a coffee on our way to the Golden Gate Park. This cute lil café serves Lavazza coffee and has a yummy selection of small bites to choose from. It is one part café and one part gift shop – full of quirky trinkets.
It was a warm, sunny morning so we sat outside on the picnic tables. The place was buzzing families and dogs. There is a kids play around there so mum and dad can enjoy some breakfast while the kiddies play on the slides and see-saw. The cappuccinos are on the larger side (so more milky – ask for an extra shot if you like yours stronger) and will keep you full for most of the morning.
Even mid-afternoon, this place was packed. The staff were very friendly and smiley. We sat outside (again) and ordered 2 cappuccinos, a chicken/mayo sandwich and a bacon toastie. All yummy and devoured within minutes. The bakery next door had lots of freshly baked bread and cakes – great if you are staying in self-catering.
We were too hungry to even think about taking photos so there are no pics from this delightful lil place.
We didn’t have a coffee here as we stopped by for dinner but the hot chocolate was good, the fire place cosy and the atmosphere was warm and inviting. Dinner was great – the chef (from Ghana) comes around and checks that everything is okay with the food.
Clarens was really a delight and we were reminded how wonderful small towns are. Everyone we met was friendly, warm and welcoming – along with the coffees, it is these small touches, gestures and smiles that make a holiday experience more memorable.