At first glance, the Free State may not seem like the ideal choice of holiday destination. For one it is landlocked and has an economy based on agriculture and large-scale mining – which can lead to some pretty bland scenery. The Free State is, however, starting to emerge as a holiday destination with towns like Clarens patricularly gaining in popularity.
This small town, situated in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in the East of the province, has firmly established itself as a trendy destination and offers fine dining, arts and crafts, trout fishing, and outdoor activities. This, together with its small town charm, friendly locals and magnificent scenery has made it into a prime artistic destination the town has become a haven for artists with a growing community of famous residents.
Close to Clarens is the Golden Gate National Park offering a wide range of outdoor activities including hiking and horse riding all amongst the magnificent golden sandstone cliffs. Other small towns gaining in popularity are Ficksburg, with its annual cherry festival that draws traders from around the country, and Parys, a sleepy little town with a strong coffee shop culture as well as many arts and crafts shops to browse.
The Free State province borders on Lesotho and there are many Basotho in the province with the Basotho Cultural Village straddling the border between the Free State and the kingdom of Lesotho. The village is is a worthwhile stop on the itinerary, for anyone in learning more about indigenous culture in the area. If discovering ancient historic sites are your thing then a visit to the Vredefort Dome, site of a giant meteor impact over two million years ago, should be on your agenda.
Despite being landlocked, the Free State offers much in the way of water sports, from the trout fishing in the Eastern highlands to the much less sedate white water rafting on the Ash River, which offers dependable, year-round enjoyment.
Bloemfontein, the capital of the province, is a small and pleasant city, offering all of the amenities of modern living, but at a pace that is a little slower than its counterparts in the other provinces are.
The Free State’s borders are defined on two sides by rivers – the famous Vaal, separating it from the bustling province of Gauteng, and the Orange River to the South, starting in Lesotho. Locals used to call the area Gariep, and it is this area that is home to the enormous Gariep Dam, a magnet for water sports enthusiasts from around the country.
If a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere, surrounded by natural beauty and friendly people is what you want, then the Free State may be just the place for you to find it.