Fouriesburg could still be the capital of the Free State....well, according to some who live there. They lay claim to this due to the fact that President Martinus Theunis Steyn lived here for a time during the Anglo Boer War when he was the leader of the Orange Free State Republic.
At that time, where the President lived, automatically became the capital. In the bedlam of war this was never officially rescinded; hence the suggestion of ‘capital’ status - which, of course, nobody takes seriously. The house where Steyn once lived still stands, and is privately occupied. The town lies in the middle of a scenic area known as the Brandwater Basin. With some 600 permanent residents, views towards the Maluti Mountains in Lesotho, and a reputation for peacefulness, it is much sought after by those looking for a relaxed lifestyle. Charming sandstone buildings abound, many having been turned into bed and breakfast establishments.
One of the roads in the middle of the town has been closed off at one end, and grassed over, so residents on this street might imagine they are living in a meadow, rather than a town. At Mama Fourie's Guest Cottage in this cul-de-sac, self-catering guests can take breakfast in an old bus.The Dutch Reformed Church sits majestically on an enormous town square. Each side offers a different architectural perspective. Tiny St. Mary's Anglican Church is worth a visit, while the sandstone municipal offices are full of character. A local school, catering to about 350 children, has won first prize on three occasions for being the best in its category. Incidentally, their headmaster at the time of winning was actually a headmistress. Maybe that accounts for it!
The Fouriesburg Country Inn is charming. The dining room, with red wallpaper and velvet drapes is typical of the splendour of yesteryear, but that does not mean lumpy beds and creaking floors. It has had a facelift. In addition, a magnificent house, reduced to a burnt-out shell during the Anglo Boer War, was bought and restored by the former owner of the Inn. It now offers four huge bedrooms which share an equally enormous communal lounge, as an annexe to the main hotel.
Meiringskloof Nature Park is popular with those who love the outdoors. Surrounded by sandstone cliffs, with caves and indigenous bush adding character, it offers great walks, as well as a 4x4 trail in the adjoining Didibeng Mountain Park. Accommodation is in chalets or camping – always a cheaper option and sometimes more fun. Nearby is Surrender Hill, where some of the Free State kommandos laid down their arms during the Anglo Boer War. While the British general who accepted their surrender had indicated they would be treated with respect and honour, what actually lay in store was the setting up of concentration camps for women and children.
People who have lived in the town for years sometimes tell the tale of a lady doctor who was an accomplished rider. She made many of her rounds, visiting the sick, on horseback. Those looking for mementos to take home might find these in the glassworks, or the pottery outlet in town. Di (Subs correct, not the usual Die) Plaasstoep restaurant and pub also as an attached shop offering some quirky gifts.
On a more modern note, a local community combined forces to use their government grants towards establishing a huge apple orchard. Here, on the road leading to Bethlehem, acres of apples grow under cover, and the community is thriving from this source of
income. While many think only Ficksburg grows cherries, this is not so. Clocolan and Fouriesburg also have trees - some resting at the foot of the towering rocky outcrops for which the Eastern Free State is famous.
Fouriesburg, being at the heart of a flourishing asparagus farming area, also hosts the annual Asparagus Festival in September each year – at which time accommodation is at a premium, so pre-book.
Residents of Fouriesburg take pride in the fact that while Clarens may offer galleries and shops, their town offers adventure; every weekend sees those who relish outdoor activities descend upon the hamlet for their shot of adrenalin. There is a spectacular five-day hiking trail (The Brandwater) for those who love to strap on their boots and head into nature.
Fouriesburg is also the major starting point for a fabulous scenic drive to the Katse Dam in Lesotho. Fouriesburg Country Tours in the town offers day tours on a regular basis. Contact: 058-2230028; www.fouriesburgcountrytours.
Some accommodation options:
Fouriesburg Country Inn 058-2230207; www.fouriesburgcountryinn.co.
Meiringkloof 058-2230067; www.meiringskloof.co.za. They also have information on hiking trails.
Glen Skye 058-2230849; www.glenskye.co.za
Mama Fourie's Guest Cottage 058-2230656; www.mamafouries.co.za