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This quaint little country town in the Free State has become one of SA’s favourite tourist destinations.

The popular Free State town Clarens was named after the Swiss village of Clarens where Paul Kruger spent his last days in voluntary exile. Founded in 1912, Clarens is situated 20km from Golden Gate, 40km from Bethlehem and borders the northern most point of Lesotho.

The town is conveniently located three hours from Johannesburg and Bloemfontein and four hours from Durban.

Known for its spectacular sandstone mountains and wonderful climate, Clarens is an inspiration. When not exploring the beautiful countryside, visitors can enjoy the many fine art galleries, shops and restaurants. Clarens also offers a wide range of outdoor and sporting activities ranging from the Clarens Golf Club to some of the finest trout and fly-fishing in the country.

Other activities include river rafting, abseiling, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, quad biking, clay pigeon shooting, 4x4 trails, tennis, squash and bowls.

 

What made a tourist town such as Clarens succeed whereas other towns faltered and failed?

The decline of towns is a common phenomenon. Since larger centres have strong economic bases and offer higher order services these cities attract people. What should towns do to intercept migrants on their way to larger centres in search of perceived better opportunities?

 

Clarens was established in 1912 as a retirement town.

The town retained its retirement character until 1985, when the potential for tourism was realised. Until the mid-1980s, the town had approximately 200 residents and currently the town hosts up to  30,000 residents during Easter weekend, according to some estimates (Marais, 2004). Several historical phases signify the development of Clarens, namely: the phase of Clarens as a retirement village, the phase of capital injection from outside, and the Lesotho Highlands Water Project phase. From 1912 to 1985, during the phase of “Clarens as a retirement village,” agriculture was the main economic activity. The town was generally regarded as a retirement village due to the small number of people residing there and, although Clarens still has an agricultural component, most of the farming activities are now conducted in the larger centre of Bethlehem. The first capital in Clarens attracts more and more tourists daily

 

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project heralded the next phase in the development of Clarens.

This project required the construction of a tunnel from the Katse Dam in Lesotho to the Ash River just outside of Clarens  (the same river is used for adventure activities such as white-water rafting). Although other neighbouring towns such as Ficksburg also benefited from the construction of this tunnel, Clarens benefited from the decision for it to serve as the headquarters for the teams involved in building the tunnel. This required the construction of housing units in 1990.

Innovative entrepreneurs embarked on promoting Clarens as an unique and favourable getaway destination

After the completion of the project, the international labourers left Clarens, plunging the town into a recession. This was largely because the economic infrastructure was built around the provision of goods and services to international labourers. However, this resulted in innovative entrepreneurs embarking on promoting Clarens as a unique and favourable getaway destination. The outcome of the marketing campaign was restaurants and bed-and-breakfast establishments springing up like mushrooms in Clarens. During this time, artists took advantage of the opportunity to establish themselves in Clarens because it provided a beautiful setting to work in and from. They opened galleries and studios, selling art at prices unheard of in the metropolitan mainstream. In effect, the Clarens setting provided a ready market for selling art and other craft products, and the existing restaurants expanded their menus and additional outdoor activities flourished.ection from outside the Free State province came between 1985 and 1989.