Monday, 9 July 2012

Parys - Vredefort paradise

When we think of the Free State (a land-locked province located, roughly, in the centre of South Africa) we conjure up images of mielies (maize / corn), big skies, open spaces and friendly people. Even so, delve a little deeper and it becomes evident that there's so much more on offer than meets the eye.

Post season mielie (corn) harvest & miles of watery sky

The Vaal River - Parys nestles on the southern side of the Vaal

Off the beaten track, yet close enough to Johannesburg to make a weekend of it, lies the picturesque Free State town of Parys. Perhaps better known for its renaissance-like Afrikaner heritage and as an adventure-smorgasboard for water junkies, it's also a uniquely eclectic mix of traditional food, new money and artistic flair. 

Best showcased, visually, in its summer greens, winter's white lends itself to indoors-exploration, gourmet food delights and log fires. Nevertheless, for the hardy adventurer content to leave the ice-waters of the Vaal to mad-dogs and Englishmen, a trip to the nearby Vredefort Dome, a World Heritage site, is encouraged. Internationally acclaimed as the epicentre of Earth's most cataclysmic asteroid strike some 2.2 billion years ago and with a strike-force 450 million times greater than the Hiroshima nuclear bomb, it's a reminder, perhaps, that life is fragile and our time here, fleeting. The silence is eerie. Here mineral deposits mysteriously spin a pocket compass first north then south, never true! Nevertheless, the enlightened-few leave this place pointed duly north.. and it's in that spirit that most return to nearby Parys, refreshed, energised and open to its charms. 

Like everywhere else you've got to sift the wheat from chaff. Accommodation options are as varied as its people, catering for all but the most travel-weary. 

'Stonehenge in Africa' on the Vaal river is a popular choice for both foreign and local guests alike. At the time of writing the restaurant was closed for refurbishment. Serviced rooms and a self-catering option are offered.

A walk along the Vaal river has its architectural delights
Restaurants dot Bree Street end to end

'Hoi Polloi Bistro', best described as Afro-French eclectic, has an impeccably presented and passionate menu. It's stylish and streets better than the rest; sitting firmly on top as Bree Street's best. Elsewhere we were impressed with the cleanliness and attention to detail offered at 'Coffee and more'; breakfasts are upmarket, reasonably priced and delicious. Avoid the 'Plum Tree Cafe'. The service is panicked, the decor draws inspiration from granny's boudoir / cum pantry and unforgivably, the food is lifeless, tasteless and utterly dreary. For lunch we mistakenly opted for the country-style, home-away-from-home, hand-crafted 'pie-in-a-dish, with potato wedges'; usually reliably South African..  Masquerading as a savory dish this loveless and thoroughly forgettable quagmire of soggy, precooked pastry / filling was a nasty surprise indeed. 

Once in a while, usually by chance and a little like discovering a good truffle; a local delight is unearthed. Most often it's the ambiance of fine food or good wine or an innovative menu. Very rarely it's related to accommodation. Bricks & mortar, fine linen and manicured gardens are not uncommon, even in Parys. However, more rarely, anywhere, when moss-clad mortar, crisp linen and pretty flowers become so much more than single parts of a whole, one night morphs into a restful peace and the experience is priceless. 'Green Gables Country Estate' is uniquely so. At rates equivalent to the price of a meal for two, this owner-managed luxurious retreat is, without question, Parys' best kept secret. Catering for the discerning traveler and serviced daily, guests opt for self-catering or B&B. Parking is off-street and secure. All major cards are accepted and the venue is licensed. 

Winter frost usually renders any garden drab. Green Gables is no different.

Hidden walk-ways lend exclusivity & privacy 

Timeless & manicured

In full bloom and in season the ambiance is spectacular.

Attention to detail is guaranteed.

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