If you look up the word 'quaint' in the South African pictorial dictionary, you will find a photograph of Clarens. Okay...so maybe that's just a literary myth, but there isn't a better way to describe this enchanting little town, which is set against the glorious Maluti Mountains. I recently visited the 'Jewel of the Free State', which cast a spell on me with it's majestic charm and tranquil ambience. Once I got there, I never wanted to leave. 

This is the view of the town from our porch at Rosewood Cottage, where we spent the weekend. I now know what it feels like to breathe in crisp, fresh mountain air and have your breath taken away by the spectacular scenery at the same time. This area of South Africa is renowned for its beautiful sandstone structures. The sandstone is found in the adjacent Golden Gate National Park.

Clarens is a place where artists come to inspire, and be inspired. Many artists chose to settle down in this serene sanctuary permanently. The streets are lined with art galleries, displaying unique paintings and sculptures, one more extraordinary than the next. An 'artsier' place, I have not yet been to. Besides paintings, one can purchase exotic artifacts and curios, as well as handcrafted wooden furniture and metal artwork, all made in and around Africa.

The thing that makes Clarens as quaint and old-world as it is, is the absence of franchises. There are no chain stores or popular fast food branches. Not one. Every store and restaurant is individually owned and designed to blend into the chocolate-box surroundings, retaining the antique character of the town. The numerous deli's sell homemade delights with a difference. Pictured top left are miniature melt-in-your-mouth créme brûlée chocolates, which I regret not buying more of. Bottom left, are glass-jar condiments with adorable names like 'You are Berry Licious' jam, 'You are Peri Hot' sauce and 'Sweet as Nectar' honey. I lost myself in a sweetly scented store selling all-natural beauty products. That's the testing station pictured top right, you can imagine how many indulgent hours could be spent there.

Above are photos of the Garment Gallery, which is one gallery that must not be missed when visiting Clarens. An endearing boutique inspired by the timeless beauty of Mona Lisa, the Garment Gallery seeks to gratify the trendy shopper with vintage glamour. They stock one-of-a-kind and well-tended vintage clothes and evening gowns, as well as new, more modern pieces. Antique strollers store a myriad of lace and crochet scarves, and they house a historic hat collection that Jackie O would be proud of. I am still infatuated by the embroidered pink and white tulle ruffle dress from the 50's (pictured bottom middle). 

Visiting Clarens was like stepping into another world for two days. A place lost in time, where prettiness and creativity flows freely and abundantly. I have discovered that there are two types of people you will find in Clarens: the soulful artists who come here to nurture their ingenious talents; and then there's the rest of us, who come to bask in all of it's rustic beauty.

*All photos taken by me.


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