For many South Africans, the only time they pass through the Free State is on their road trip on the N1 between Joburg and Cape Town. But that's a shame as the province has loads of little-known treasures to offer the traveller willing to linger a little longer. For the nature lover, road tripper and adrenalin junkie, there's much to explore.
Here are just a few of our Flight Centre favourites of what to see in the Free State:
While not a lesser-known gem as such, Clarens is worth a spot on this list because it is a real treasure. Hit the gas and make the three-and-a-half-hour trip from Jozi, Durban or Bloem to the teeny town of Clarens in the eastern Free State, at the foot of the Maluti Mountains. It's ideal for a short weekend road trip and is spectacular in every season.
Head into the great outdoors for hiking and horse riding or browse the quaint town square filled with galleries and curio shops. Be sure to pop into the renowned Clarens Brewery, one of the country's first brew-pub, cidery and distilleries.
For those seeking tranquillity, nature or adventure, this is a good spot. Of all its charms, the area is probably most famous for fly fishing and, according to the experts, it offers the best trout fishing in the country.
Adventurers can take their pick from hot air ballooning and mountain biking to abseiling and hiking. Horse riding is another recommended pastime.
Hit the dinosaur trail
Clarens is not only fantastic for horse riding and fishing. The town may have been established in 1912, but thousands of years before then dinosaurs roamed the land. Family members interested in geology and palaeontology can trace the footsteps of dinosaurs, keeping their eyes peeled for fossilised footprints. Tours are suitable for all ages.
If you'd like to try your hand at fishing, pop into Kroonstad. Located in the northern Free State, it's a popular fishing spot and boasts other water sports and adventure activities.
Koppies Dam Nature Reserve is situated about 70 km outside of Kroonstad. Popular with anglers, you can try fish for yellowfish, barbell, mudfish and carp. There's also sailing and canoeing.
Bloemfontein is certainly not a hidden gem, but this city is often overlooked by travellers whizzing through on their way to Joburg or Cape Town. It's particularly beautiful when the city's many roses bloom and is a prime spot for birdwatching.
Visit the Free State National Botanical Garden and spot over 100 species of bird along with some interesting flora and fauna. It's also a fantastic spot to enjoy a post-lunch stroll or a slightly more strenuous hike.
Basotho Cultural Village
If you're visiting the Golden Gate Park, take a turn off the R712 to visit the Basotho Cultural Village, an18th-century Basotho Village. It's a real village, not a museum, so be respectful when visiting. Travellers can learn about the nation’s rich culture, meet a chief and a traditional healer and sample some of the local cuisine.
The town's website describes Rosendal as the "Free State's best-kept secret." It may be not objective, but could very well be true.
The hamlet lies nestled at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains and is a paradise for nature lovers, photographers or adventure lovers. It's the perfect antidote to the big city. Pack the car and head to Rosendal for quality family time in the great outdoors.
Ease into the slow pace of life, enjoying great food, hiking, horse riding, mountain biking, hunting for rock art or the work of local artists. Or simply enjoy lazy picnics. The hamlet also boasts some beautiful sandstone buildings.
Follow the star to Bethlehem to find open spaces, fresh air and the charm of small-town living. Hikers can make a beeline for the Wolhuterskop Hiking Trail, a two-day hiking trail that is particularly beautiful. For those wishing to try their hand against Lady Luck, pop into the local casino.
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