Eastern Highlands & Southern Free State
With the Kingdom of Lesotho tucked into its crook, the mighty Eastern Highlands are the Free State’s star attraction. The wild, rugged border winds its way past snow-shrouded mountains in winter and amber foliage in autumn – the views are spectacular, particularly in the northwest around Clarens.
Northern Free State
Pretty country of rolling hills, northern Free State offers a growing number of hiking, mountain-biking and fishing opportunities. Near Parys in the far north, at Vredefort Dome, is the world's largest visible meteor crater, one of South Africa’s seven Unesco World Heritage Sites. Further south is a golden region of maize farms and sunflowers.
The jewel of the Free State, Clarens is one of those places you stumble upon and find yourself talking about long after you depart. With a backdrop of craggy limestone rocks, verdant green hills, spun-gold fields and the magnificent Maluti Mountains, Clarens is a picture-perfect village of whitewashed buildings and quiet, shady streets. It makes a bucolic country retreat.
Harrismith is a useful junction town where the N3 to Jo'burg or Durban and the N5 towards Bloemfontein intersect. It's also a jumping-off point for exploring the Drakensberg range just inside the border of KwaZulu-Natal. It’s a ramshackle country town with wide streets, picturesque old buildings around a grassy square, and distant Drakensberg views.
Ficksburg is a lovely little mountain village on the banks of the Mohokare (Caledon) River that’s home to some fine sandstone buildings; keep an eye out for the town hall and the post office. Nestled into the purple-hued Maluti range, Ficksburg is particularly fetching in winter when dollops of snow cover the craggy peaks.
In a valley surrounded by jagged peaks, 16km from Lesotho’s capital, Maseru, Ladybrand is an attractive small town loaded with sandstone buildings, dramatic scenery and ancient history. It’s also a handy place to overnight on your way to and from Southern Africa’s mountain kingdom.
Dreaming about a journey into the wildly beautiful heart of nowhere? Ditch the pavement and let your subconscious guide you down rich, brown, dusty byways in this remote valley, to random oases scattered amid the rough-and-ready countryside. Off Rte 26 between Fouriesburg and Ficksburg, Rustler’s Valley is home to the enchanting Franshoek Mountain Lodge.
Founded in 1823 as a mission station, Philippolis, on Rte 717, is a beautiful place, and the oldest town in the Free State. Seventy-five of its buildings have been declared national monuments, including the library, and many places are built in Karoo style (made with thick walls to keep the heat at bay).