Bloemfontein is the judicial capital of the South Africa, but most people know it simply as a stop on the road between Joburg and Cape Town. Take a few days to explore an intriguing city with a wealth of history, surrounded by a nature reserve with game. Museums and military buildings recall the Anglo-Boer War, and a massive statue of Nelson Mandela gazes towards the Waaihoek church where the ANC was born in 1912. But there’s also an advanced planetarium, a casino and good restaurants, including one in a township carwash. Bloem, as locals call it, is the birthplace of Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien, and packs magic – not least in the roses that line its streets (Bloemfontein means ‘fountain of flowers’).
Set on the Tredenham estate at the edge of the city, this has 10 luxury rooms in sophisticated dark colours featuring natural wood. It epitomises the old-school hospitality of the Free State province, and its restaurant celebrates a tradition of fine cooking. Start with venison carpaccio, go on to grilled whole trout with herbed baby potatoes, and finish with amaretto crème brûlée with maple ice cream.
This modern hotel centres on a long pool in a garden with roses in the heart of Bloem’s business district. After a full day, unwind with a swim, sundowners on a lounger, then a satisfying dinner in the Amoretta Restaurant, before retiring to a bedroom with butter-coloured walls, and crisp linen in a big, comfortable bed.
A contemporary Free State take on a gabled Cape homestead, 30 on Whites has a variety of rooms, but ask for number 8, with a kingsize bed, writing desk and private outside entrance. Hospitality is as warm as the electric blankets (winters are cold) and complimentary rusks. A good place from which to explore the nearby Oliewenhuis Art Museum, and the National Women’s Monument.
This small hotel in beautiful gardens punches above its weight with plush armchairs, bateau beds, even a step-up bath if you ask. There’s a pool to relax after hot days before drinks on the terrace, and a fire on winter evenings before a hearty Free State meal. Pop in at the nearby Orchid House, a greenhouse many travellers miss.
For a 151-room corporate hotel in the centre of the city, this packs unexpected charm, thanks to the well-tended gardens, swimming pool, and tastefully decorated rooms in natural colours. But the lodge’s biggest plus is its convenient position. From here you can walk to the zoo, stadium, Supreme Court, university and restaurants and shopping centres.
Under the lodge’s deep, sleepy eves lie large, tastefully appointed rooms with kingsize beds, plush headboards, botanical print or subtly striped cushions and bowls of fresh flowers. Each has its own balcony or terrace to unwind after a day exploring galleries and museums. There’s also shopping at nearby Loch Logan Waterfront, with 100 shops, 17 restaurants and coffee shops, movie houses, salons and a water feature.
This friendly little bed and breakfast on a small-holding south of Bloem has four comfortable ensuite rooms, and four self-catering units popular with families, each with its own entrance and view over a pretty garden. There’s also a pool. Windmill Casino, shopping centres and restaurants are just a few minutes away, but Cherry Lane itself serves a fine English breakfast and will do dinners on request.
Who could resist a guesthouse in the heart of the Free State inspired by a line from Bob Marley: “Some people feel the rain, others just get wet”? Owners Lizelle Venter and her husband, ex-Springbok rugby player Andre Venter, have travelled widely and use what they’re learned to create a winning blend of what they call “modern country meets industrial” – with zebra skin throws on slasto floors, natural wood headboards and glass and chrome finishes. There are self-catering units for longer stays, which are unsurprisingly popular.