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BBloemfontein is about as laid-back as a city could be. The famous City of Roses, capital of the Free State, heart of the heartland, has all the urban trappings minus the fast pace of the metropolis. Take a day. Stop in at art galleries. See what’s on at the Sand du Plessis Theatre.
When you’ve had your fill of Bloem, head up the N1 to Winburg, which is one of the oldest settlements in South Africa. Continue on to the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve, where you might sight what is said to be the world’s largest herd of black wildebeest.
Travel eastwards from the reserve to Senekal, and admire the stately old town and its sandstone architecture. Hop on the N5 and make a stop in the village of Paul Roux for arts, crafts and countryside tranquillity. When you’re feeling rested, return to the highway and head on to Bethlehem.
As you enjoy the scenery, take note of the stacks of hay bales in sweeping fields dotted with windmills and cattle.
Bethlehem is home to many commemorative sites and museums. There is also the Basotho stone mound, which harks back to the early gold-mining days of South Africa. The Basotho mine workers would put stones down before leaving for work. At this spot, they prayed to their ancestors to keep them safe. Then, when they returned, they would place more stones in gratitude. The result is a striking hill of sacred stones.
With soft sunlight reflecting off the area’s sandstone cliffs, journey on to the arty town of Clarens. The town is over 100 years old and home to many art galleries, quaint shops and lively restaurants. You’ll also be close enough to enjoy a scenic drive through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
Don’t be surprised if you end up staying a few days – the Hay Bale Route is one of South Africa’s gems. And you’re always very welcome.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Free State Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)51 409 9900
Best time to visit
The Free State is beautiful year-round. You’re most likely in for snow if you visit in June or July.
Things to do
There is plenty to do in the Free State. Make little stops to explore quirky villages and towns. Enjoy rambling hikes and visit cosy pubs. There are often events and festivals happening in Clarens – keep an eye on its official website for more information.
What to pack
If you plan on enjoying a hike, pack comfortable walking shoes and sunblock.
Where to stay
There are plenty of places to stay in and around Clarens, which makes a good base for visitors to the Free State.
What to eat
Every road trip demands a packet of salty biltong. Save room for a hearty supper in Clarens.