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Posted on: Monday, 1 March 2010

A rose by any other name – how Rosendal steals the show in the Free State

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Rosendal Country Retreat

Rosendal Country Retreat

Rosendal has managed to get onto the map. I’m not sure how, because in searching for it you begin to wonder how the average person gets there at all, nevermind how the former farming community managed to find its way into the social whirl of a ‘happening’ little town. Nonetheless, there it is. In the middle of the Free State (see, I told you it was in the middle of nowhere).

Getting there from Clarens takes almost two hours because, instead of being able to get there directly as a crow would fly, roads take you in a rather circuitous route via Ficksburg; you can’t get there easily from Bethlehem; and the N1 ventures absolutely nowhere near it … Despite this, Rosendal is only a three-hour drive south-east of Johannesburg, albeit circuitously (boy, the drive from Ficksberg is one of the most beautiful when it comes to Free State drives), and entirely do-able for the weekend. Infact, to hear Rosendalers speak, this is quite the place when it comes to weekend breaks …

Rosendal Theatre

Rosendal Theatre

The other thing you need to know about Rosendal is Chris van Niekerk (the actor who plays Francois in 7de Laan? Ja, him). Chris not only has a shop – die Our Handelshuis en Koffiestoep – in Rosendal, but he opened a theatre right next door a few years ago that is still going strong. In fact, Chris has done so well with this little venture that recently featured Karen Zoid over the Valentine’s weekend, that he’s been roped into running the new theatre in Tulbagh too.

What is it then about Rosendale that has everyone gawping? First of all, it isn’t Clarens. Despite the fact that we will always LOVE Clarens, the town definitely no longer holds the allure of a ‘newly discovered’ dorp. Artists haven it might once have been, but now everyone’s been there and done that. It’s a bit passé, darling. Rosendal, however, is brimming over with ‘dorpness’.

There are dirt roads that intend remaining sand ridden; there is a lot of sandstone in evidence, tin roofs, quaint rustic cottages, rusty windmills, an already admirable collection of artists, and of course, the theatre. The town also happens to have simply beautiful views. It is surrounded, just about, by mountains (the Witteberge), a healthy number of green willow trees line the sides of streams, and wild flowers and grasses litter the roadsides. It’s a picture of beauty and quaintness. Small wonder that people are talking about it.

Meer-katkolonie Gallery

Meer-katkolonie Gallery

Fifteen years ago, properties in Rosendal went for a song. You could get away with paying around R9,000 for your little peace of heaven. But by 2006 the place was being touted as the ‘undiscovered gem’ of the Eastern Free State and the tide turned – the likes of Pam Golding moved in, and the rest is history.

Now you’ll pay in the region of R200,000 for a  piece of sand, no home, no established garden – nothing – and a 3-bedroom house will easily cost you as much as it would in Johannesburg, if not more. And they’re not all the sandstone ‘huisies’ with a stoep that you have in your mind’s eye (although there are enough of these in the village to make a stay here seem that way).

But then city ‘escapes’ have become huge for those who can afford to get away over weekends, and more often if possible. There is something hugely important about being able to breathe fresh air, and the sky here is so blue, it even gives the description so often used for the Free State – ‘big sky country’ – a run for its money. From one end of town the mountain views are incredible, and from the other you can experience heavenly sunsets. And one cannot reitterate enough how beautiful this part of the Free State is.

NG Kerk Rosendal

NG Kerk Rosendal

The main road through town is the only one to have undergone the indignity of a tar top, and it’s where you’ll find the heart of town – local artists’ galleries, Turksvy Trading for antiques, general bric-a-brac (it’s choc-a-block full of interesting things) and what they term ‘retro kitchenalia’. Suzani’s, which sells some pretty unique handmade cloths, even if they’re imported from Uzbekistan and similar, and the Meer-katkolonie Art Gallery are also here. Make sure you have time for at least a cup of coffee at Die Ou Handelshuis, and if you can coincide a visit with a theatre performance, more’s the better.

Oh, and make time to drive around the town to look at the architecture, beautiful gardens, and the oh-so-dominant, sandstone NG kerk. It’s a typical Free State town with a touch of artistic licence that gives it something people want to hold onto – no surprise that it’s as popular as it is.

Accommodation in Rosendal is still a tad scarce. Most people here either stay here or have a weekend house to escape to, but there is a gorgeous country retreat and the odd guesthouse in Rosendal that more than adequately cater for those sweeping through or scoping the place in the hope of finding their little ‘gem’ – I must tell you though, the secret’s out, and Rosendal has already been discovered.

Useful Rosendal Links:
Rosendal Attractions
Rosendal Accommodation
Rosendal Guest Houses
Free State Guest Houses

Photo Credits:
NG Kerk photograph by Jan de Beer, Saturday Star


Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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