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FFood in the Free State has for too long been pigeonholed as fodder for an unsophisticated carnivore with an appetite for little besides sport and meat. Prepare to be surprised: a rich, aromatic casserole of delicious things has been quietly simmering in the melting pot of Free State food.
Food in the Free State needs to be understood in an agricultural context.
The province is the country's breadbasket and produces much of South Africa's wheat, maize and potatoes. Add dairy, beef, lamb, wild game, trout, cherries, apples, peaches and asparagus and you've a pantry filled with gourmet delights. No wonder restaurants and chefs are popping up faster than the province's famous mielies.
Towns like Clarens, Ficksburg and Parys are good places to experience the best the Free State has to offer.
Clarens is packed with artists, and creative abundance flows easily from palette to plate. Though you're spoiled for choice here, 278 on Main and the Purple Onion Deli are not to be missed.
For a double helping of Free State food, art, and hospitality go to Parys. Craft beer, excellent Lebanese food and juicy grass-fed steaks are the order of the day in 'Paris by the Vaal River'.
Ficksburg/Rosendal is another Free State foodie area to explore. A famous cherry festival every November, and some of the country's best organic cheeses are a hint of the gastronomic delights on offer.
Fill your tummy with seasonal, home-cooked meals at the Rosendal Handelshuis. If you're after the best boerekos and wholesome meat, seek out the quaint village of Verkykerskop and its organic butchery.
Bloemfontein is the Free State's fine-dining capital. For brilliant posh-nosh, go to One on Park for the degustation menu and impeccable silver service by the final-year students of the Central University of Technology. For swoon-worthy classical French cuisine prepared using the Free State's best produce nothing tops the De Oude Kraal Country Estate restaurant.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Free State Tourism Authority
Tel: +27 (0)51 409 9900
Tel: +27 (0)51 933 2130
Tel: +27 (0)58 256 1542/1189
Tel: +27 (0)56 811 4000
How to get here
The Free State province is in the centre of the country and less than half a day’s drive from places like Johannesburg Pretoria and Mafikeng. Bloemfontein, the capital city, can be reached by air and road.
Tours to do
Pick cherries in Ficksburg, go on an asparagus pack-shed tour in Clocolan, or walk a medicinal herb trail with a Basotho guide in the Qwaqwa National Park.
Bloemfontein has public transport and metered taxis. Not all Free State towns have car hire; it’s best to hire a vehicle in the larger cities. You won’t need a 4x4 unless you’re planning to visit very remote areas.
Length of stay
You could happily spend a few days exploring the back roads of the Free State.
What to pack
For exploring and the possibility of hiking, pack good shoes. For eating and imbibing, pack a loose belt.
What to eat
Try Green Goose organic cheese, cherries and asparagus in season, local trout, pasture-fed beef, traditional homemade sweet treats, boerewors, biltong, and Free State mielies (sweet corn).
In February, Clarens hosts one of the country’s best craft beer festivals; in November Ficksburg holds its famous Cherry festival.
Cherry products from jams to liqueurs, witblits (‘white lightning’ – a local, very potent, white fruit brandy), eastern Free State trout and seasonal fresh asparagus. Meat products made from grass-fed beef and lamb.
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