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
With a pretty countryside of rolling hills, the 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 and oldest visible meteorite crater, now one of South Africa’s eight Unesco World Heritage Sites.
The jewel of the Free State, and at 1850 metres, its highest town, 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, fields of spun gold and the magnificent Maluti Mountains, Clarens is a picture-perfect village of whitewashed buildings and quiet, shady streets.
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.
Harrismith is a ramshackle, typical country town, with wide streets, picturesque old buildings around a grassy square, and distant Drakensberg views. South Africans refer to it affectionately as 'the half-way house' due to its central location between Durban and Bloemfontein, as well as Jo'burg and Durban, right where the N3 and the N5 intersect.
The main commercial centre of the eastern Free State, Bethlehem perches among rippling fields of grain and is famous for wheat and wool production. The town has a nice, wide-open feel, and its historic sandstone buildings date back to the 1840s, when the town was founded by Voortrekkers.
Founded in 1823 as a mission station, Philippolis, on Rte 717, is a town frozen in time, and the oldest settlement 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, with thick walls to keep the semi-desert heat at bay.
In a valley surrounded by jagged peaks, 16km from Lesotho’s capital, Ladybrand is an attractive small town loaded with sandstone buildings, dramatic scenery and ancient history – it is home to more than 300 Bushman rock art sites, along with fossilised dinosaur footprints, though these have not yet become tourist sites.