In 2016 Tourism Month will be celebrated in Parys and surrounding areas of the Free State. Parys, on the northern border of the Free State is a charming old town dating back to 1876 which was established as a supply centre for farmers.The imposing Dutch Reformed Church played an important part in society. Its position on the banks of the Vaal River reminded a German surveyor of Paris and he renamed it after the French city.
With the arrival of the railroad and the building of a concrete bridge across the Vaal River, the town became a popular destination for weekend visitors from the surrounding towns. The river banks, covered in trees, offer respite from the summer heat and locals take to the water in inflatable tubes as the current is slow-moving. In the latter years, the town has become a magnet for artists and the streets abound with chic galleries, antique and bric-a-brac stores and trendy restaurants. The town offers many activities from tandem sky-diving to fly fishing, art lessons, abseiling and hot air ballooning. At nearby Vredefort you can visit the Dome, the site of a meteorite impact over 2,000 million years ago and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Further afield you can visit another charming village, Clarens – which is in the Eastern Free State. The town lies in the soaring foothills of the Maluti Mountains on the border of Lesotho. The nearby Golden Gate National Park is a year-round magnet for visitors and is also home to the Basotho Cultural Village. The reconstructed authentic cultural village depicts their lifestyle and traditions over the past 400 years. View excellent examples of traditional arts and crafts. Clarens is set around a large village square which erupts into a bustling market on weekends. The surrounding streets are filled with art galleries, craft shops, breweries and beer gardens, restaurants and coffee shops. There are many activities on offer include horse riding and golf on a course with magnificent views.
Just 100km further south at Ficksburg you will find the Sandstone Steam Rail Company which was established by a consortium of overseas and local investors and enthusiast to restore steam trains for tourist travel along the historic Bethlehem-Bloemfontein rail road. The company runs local excursions along the main route and branch lines to destinations such as Maseru and Ladybrand, as well as developing ancillary tourist facilities along the routes. Excursions are of relatively short duration, with frequent stops to allow passengers to enjoy the scenery and facilities along the route.
South of Bloemfontein there is an oasis in the form of the mighty Gariep Dam and Nature Reserve which is a haven for anglers, water sports enthusiasts and game watchers. The reserve of over 11 000 hectares has the largest herd of springbok in South Africa and you can take a tour of the dam wall, which is an astonishing engineering feat. There is a hotel as well as a campsite for an overnight stop or for those wishing to spend a few days at the dam.
There are many more gems in the Free State just waiting to be discovered by you on a weekend excursion from Gauteng.