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AArtistic towns of the Free State are scattered near and far, between farmlands that extend all the way to the imposing Maluti mountains. For years now, the Free State has witnessed the migration of creative urbanites towards the interior of the country in search of peace, quiet and the opportunity to reinvent their lives. Artists, poets, musicians, chefs and writers have given some of the smaller Free State towns and villages a defined creative edge.
The Free State’s arty villages have no doubt been inspired by the surroundings. This is a province that offers arresting rural landscapes, mind-expanding wide open spaces, and local hospitality that can't be beaten. It is an ancient land that inspired the San to paint their stories in the many caves scattered around the countryside. The Free State also has ties to JRR Tolkien, the 'Boy from Bethulie' (beloved South African actor Patrick Mynhardt), poet and author Antjie Krog, and writer Sir Laurens van Der Post.
Creative towns or ‘dorps’ of the Free State include places like Clarens (home to many artists, studios and art galleries), Verkykerskop, Rosendal, Parys, Smithfield, Zastron and Ficksburg. These are just a few rural hideaways that have been put on the map by the creative set. It’s at these villages that you can stop off and buy beautiful Free State art and local craft (many works inspired by the Basotho and Griqua cultures). You will also find antiques, mohair products, authentic crafts and home-made produce.
You can also get to enjoy the magnificent sandstone architecture of the eastern Free State or experience a culinary safari in Clarens or Smithfield. At certain times of the year there are various courses on offer - whether you want to learn to make koeksusters, learn to paint watercolours or find out how to photograph that perfect Free State sunset. Wherever you go in small town Free State, inspiration is always at hand.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Free State Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)51 404 0300
How to get here
Johannesburg and Cape Town take the N1 south and north, respectively, to Bloemfontein. From Durban out of KwaZulu-Natal and then take the N5 at Harrismith. There is also an airport at Bloemfontein, the capital of the province.
Best time to visit
If you are staying in urban Gauteng, the rural Free State offers a good option for a weekend getaway.
Things to do
There are local arts and crafts shops selling mohair blankets, tapestries, woven goods, paintings and sculpture. Visits to local artist studios. Ficksburg is famous for its cherries and hosts an annual cherry festival. Visit the Vredefort Dome in Parys, a crater formed when a meteorite hit earth 2-billion years ago. Smithfield hosts the Platteland Preview Arts Festival, an annual preview of the National Arts Festival. Clarens is referred to as the ‘jewel of the Free State’ and besides shopping and eating, you can also hike, river raft, horse ride, play golf and the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is nearby.
What to wear
The Free State gets very cold in winter (May to August) and very hot in summer (November to March) – dress accordingly and make sure that in summer you remember a hat and sunblock.
Where to stay
There are B&Bs and guest houses in most of the small towns, as well as a choice of farm stays.
What to eat
The Free State is known for its excellent fresh produce and there are restaurants in the small towns where you can taste the local fare.