From the moment we drove into town, we knew Clarens would be a place we return to again and again.
Yes, it’s small. You’ll get the lay of the land before you find a spot to park your car. And, a few days is really all you need to hit all the shops and points of interest in the town itself. You ‘ll need more time – or, at the very least, a stomach that accommodates much more than mine, unless you’re looking for just vegan food and craft beers as I do.
Still, if you’re anything like me, you’ll crave a return. And, while you’re sure to find your favourite haunts in this mountain village, you definitely want to check out some of mine. At the very least, they’re tough to miss.
Stay at The Crooked Cottage
Unless there’s a festival or event happening, Clarens is literally overflowing with accommodation options. Whatever it is you want in a place to sleep, you will find it. There are budget backpackers, serviced suites and everything in between.
If you’re planning your first trip to Clarens, I recommend checking both Booking.com and AirBNB. I found excellent properties and prices on both, before settling on The Crooked Cottage. There’s also a Protea Hotel, if that’s more your style. (It’s not mine; I want my own kitchen – almost always.)
You can easily and enjoyably walk to the Main Street shops from anywhere in Clarens proper. If you chose a spot in one of the golf estates, you might want to plan to drive into town. You could walk, but you’re crossing freeways to do it. There’s plenty of parking all over town and plenty GP plated-4x4s to prove it.
Though Clarens isn’t a huge party town most of the time, if you need serious quiet for a good night’s sleep, pick an accommodation that’s not on Main Street near the square.
I settled on our 1-bedroom cottage, almost on the strength of its back patio.
Yeah, it had the kitchen I wanted, the possibility of bringing the pups if I decided, and offered an irresistible price point. But the idea of sipping morning coffee on these couches while gazing at the mountains totally swayed me.
The inside was just as cute – even with my clutter and new purchases thrown into the mix.
I would absolutely choose to stay at The Crooked Cottage if it’s available when we return. And, if you’re planning your visit, I can highly recommend it. The host is delightful and helpful, the space is calming and completely self-contained, the bed is comfortable and the walk to town was a breeze.
Meandering around Clarens
A block away from the central square, you’ll find this super quaint church. I’ve got a thing for village churches. To be fair, I’ve never attended a service in one (outside of weddings). But, I can’t help myself when I see one; they stir feelings of contentment and peaceful village life – even if I’m on my way into the first pub I see.
This church, seemingly scorching (it wasn’t that warm) under the African sun was no different. Indeed, the manse next door and the mountains peering out from behind only added to the completeness of the setting.
By default, especially if you amble along the Clarens Gallery Trail, you will pass these peaceful buildings (even if you choose to pop into the nearest pub immediately after). But if, for some strange reason you don’t head that way at all (though I’m really scratching my head about that one), take 5 minutes out to enjoy the view.
Heading from the church up Main Street, the square splits Main Street into a box. This is where you’ll find the vast majority of shops and restaurants. And, it’s pretty obvious which streets to follow off Main for more adventures and not-so-hidden gems.
There was no fighting the urge to enter the local waste-free living shop, though I escaped relatively unscathed.
The same cannot be said for the second hand book store on the opposite side of the square. Leaving was truly difficult, and I was forced to buy books. The number of volumes I turned down in the interests of my budget and our minimalist lifestyle should, however, say something about my restraint levels.
Needless to say, these are not shops to miss – as long as the lockdown hasn’t already obliterated them.
If you look closely at the sign on the grey building with the red roof, located right on the corner of the square, you will see that this is one of the most important stops in town – Highland Coffee.
Whether your accommodation provided rudimentary instant coffee, or you feel like you need to ground yourself after buzzing between shops, this is the right place to be for a bit. While you’re there, grab a copy of The Clarens Chronicles (there should be a few laying about), and spend some time learning about the buildings you’ll be eating and drinking in for the rest of your stay. It’s surprisingly fascinating.
Shop and eat at The Purple Onion
Of all the shops in Clarens, The Purple Onion is the one you probably shouldn’t miss. It’s a giant cross between a deli and a general store, with plenty of tastings and delicious, delicious pickles and jams that shouldn’t be missed.
Better still, if you want to throw together a picnic with all the goodies you’ve been unable to walk away from, you totally can. The picnic tables out back are reserved for that – and you get an unforgettable view of the valley embraced by the mountains behind it.
Fill your home with antique finds
While Clarens is better known as an artists town, there are a few antique and second hand shops that might just blow you away – they did us at any rate.
The first was This n That – to find it, pass the Protea Hotel heading away from Main Street, and make a left where it’s most obvious. I realise that’s a totally nondescript set of directions, but you really don’t need more – as long as this pop up shop remains where we left it.
We left with a couple of antique (and still usable) mixing bowls – and the story of how they travelled from Dullstroom to Clarens. Obviously, that resonated, though we were sold on them well before we knew the story. Now, those bowls are some of the most frequently used items in our kitchen. During the hard lockdown, I had them out daily for breads or malting wheat (because alcohol ban demanded I craft Tudor-style ale – which was delicious).
Connect with This n That
- Tue-Sat: 8h30-16h30 | Saun: 8h30-14
And finally, I really, truly hope this store survived lockdown. It’s difficult to tell as it’s tough to find online. But the single most impressive space was the jumble of antiques at Voetstoots (which means as is for those without any Afrikaans).
Connect with Voetstoots Antiques
- Main Street, corner Van Reenen Street, Clarens
My kitchen scale, which weighs in pounds (and forces me to do math) hails from this home, as does our blue milk churn (purely decorative, we don’t have any cows). And, just about every week we mention the need to return for the numerous finds we initially praised ourselves for leaving in favour of not buying things we don’t need.
It turns out, we need them in a Marie Kondo joy-sparking way. But, that’s pretty much how I feel about Clarens in general. I’m definitely heading back; it’s only a question of when.