The view from the Protea Hotel in Clarens. Photo: Supplied
While summer has people flocking to seaside towns to top up their tans, one of the best things about winter is a warming weekend away exploring some of the country’s quirky and quaint towns.

Situated between Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal, is “jewel of the eastern Free State” Clarens. This small arty town, situated in the foothills of the Maloti mountains is the perfect location for a chilly weekend away, exploring galleries, shops, cafes, the majestic outdoors, and more.

Here’s how you can get #HotInClarens this winter.

Get the blood going:

To start, get on your feet and get out to explore everything this artists’ haven has to offer.

There’s nothing like a bit of exercise to warm you up, and going on foot is the best way to explore every nook and cranny of a small town. Pick up your copy of the “Clarens and Surrounds Visitors Guide” from one of the local shops to help you on your way.

Get arty:

Known as the “art mecca of South Africa”, Clarens has no shortage of arts and crafts to stuck into. With more than 20 local art galleries, you can peruse, purchase, or perhaps even participate in a class or workshop yourself.

There are also many stores selling local crafts, so if you’d just like to buy something beautiful to take home and remind you of your trip, you can do that too. Take a stroll around the town to appreciate the sandstone architecture of the cottages and pop in at the Clarens Brewery to relax afterwards while enjoying the “art” of craft beer.

Indulge your sense of adventure:

Clarens has many activities on offer for those seeking adventure – with ziplining, archery, climbing or abseiling, hot air ballooning, water rafting, or even a relaxed round of golf or putt- putt on offer, to name just a few options.

Contact Clarens Xtreme or Outrageous Adventures for more information.

Nature:

If you’d prefer to simply be in nature, without the adrenaline rush, Clarens is well-known for its many hiking trails with options for light strolls or walks to suit the whole family, or tougher trails for the slightly fitter. You can purchase a map of the local trails from many local hotels and shops, or get more information online from the Clarens Village Conservancy.

You can also visit the nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park for a game drive, more hiking trails, or horse riding.

Wild Clarens:

Fly fishing is an ever-popular sport worldwide; Clarens can claim fame to some of the best still waters and small streams in the country for some spent in peaceful contemplation and trout fishing.

Lionsrock sanctuary is situated nearby approximately 12 km from Bethlehem. Being home to a diverse range of wildlife and predators makes it an ideal destination for wildlife enthusiasts.

There are several prides of lions, two leopards, a Bengal tiger and other wild cats, the big cats being born in captivity now free to roam.

Across the landscape biodiversity is richly represented, the area is known for the Cosmos flowers and sunflowers, many species of trees and grasses, a variety of buck including zebras, rooihartebees, eland, springbuck, impala, black wildebees and many other antelope species andplenty of opportunities for the bird-watcher – the many farms and reserves in the area are committed to Responsible and Sustainable Tourism.

Ancient Africa:

The Motoulong or Fertility Cave in the Dihlabeng Rural area has rich deposits of fossils, and fossil hunting expeditions are popular. Some of these ancient remnants date back 200 million years. Rock climbing is also an activity enjoyed by locals and visitors alike – you can explore the
area that has been inhabited by the Basotho people for generations, they take the distinctive shape of their headgear from the surrounding mountains.

Warm up:

After a long day on your feet, adventuring, or exploring the outdoors in the winter chill, you’ll want to warm up – and why not indulge your sweet tooth while you’re at it.

Protea Hotel Clarens offers a section of hot cocktails loaded with delicious goodies. Try the decadent “Cookie Monster” with hot chocolate, chocolate liqueur and chocolate Oreo’s. Or the “Mexican Coffee” with coffee and coffee tequila for extra kick, topped with whipped cream, caramel sauce, cinnamon, and churros. Or how about “HOT ‘Popping’ Cherries” (the area is, after all, famous for its cherries) with hot chocolate, cherry liqueur and creamy Amarula, topped with cream, maraschino cherry, and caramel cherry popcorn.

Whether you choose to have these cocktails with or without the alcohol, they’re guaranteed to warm you up!

For more information ahead of your visit to Clarens see http://www.clarenssa.co.za/ or search #MyTimeinClarens.