For people who hail from any one of the Cape provinces in SA, everything north of Beaufort West seems like a blur. Apart from Clarens and the Kruger National Park, we tend to think heading north holds nothing appealing.
But we're missing out, let me tell you. While we're sipping wine (to save water), quaint weekend hideaways like the Free State's pretty Parys is wowing more and more locals with its unique charm.
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We find those charming little places all across SA - think Hogsback, Elgin and Magoesbaskloof, for example. Parys, however, has something extra... like being situated inside a meteor-made crater, for starters.
Here's what to do, see, eat and where to sleep if you make this Free State hideaway your next #WeekendEscape.
Where to eat
Feel like a kid in the Candy Shop
Remember those super-sweet orange candy apricots and pink-and-white coconut ice? How about rocky roads and home-made marshmallows rolled in toasted coconut flakes? It's the taste of your childhood, right?
But if you thought it's forever gone, you're wrong. All the treats of the 80s and 90s - including chappies, millionaires fudge and peanut clusters - are all available at Candy Shop in Parys' main road.
Inside this unssuming little hole in the wall, the sweets are laid out in crates for guests to help themselves. The sweets are then weighed and paid (and consumed on site, in my case).
Bordering the Candy Shop is another ode to old South African culture in the form of a coffee shop and diner with crocheted lace curtains and collectible Huisgenoot magazines from the 1930s. After the sugar rush from next door, they serve a good cup of 'boeretroos' as an antidote.
Taste something new at Hoi Polloi
If you're looking for something more substantial in Parys, Hoi Polloi across the road from the Candy Shop is an obvious choice. This retro-chic spot offers an upper deck with views across town and an interior that's, well, very unique.
An old jukebox occupies one corner, while a massive bull skull is mounted at the back of the waiter station for more dramatic effect. From the ceiling, cups, saucers and dinner plates dangle to accentuate the light from the chandelier they form. It's busy, but without being stuffy or kitsch.
Their lamb curry is a delectable choice for winter and you absolutely cannot leave town without trying the Champagne Float. Made with dry bubbles and two scoops of strawberry sorbet, its grown-up goodness combined with childhood wonder.
What to do and see
Check out Parys' French quarter, the Le Petit Paris Secret Passage
Parys' European namesake is very much celebrated throughout town, but especially in the Le Petit Paris Secret Passage, which is a little courtyard off the main road.
Most of the little shops surrounding the courtyard have a shop window and entrance from the road's side, but then leads visitors through to the secret spot at the back where more shops and the ultimate French flair await.
Handmade handbags, antiques, a gentlemen's outfitter and biltong and home industry shop are all lined up, while a coffee shop serves patrons from a shabby-chic barn door on one side. Sitting amid the falling autumn leaves sipping on a cappuccino, you can surely imagine yourself somewhere in Paris...
Get a sense of the area and Skydive!
World heritage Site, the Vredefort Dome is vast, in fact the meteorite impact that happened in the Free State about 2023 million years ago a crater about 300 km wide - the distance from Johannesburg to Welkom.
So while you can't see it from the ground you can still appreciate the make-up of the soil upheavals and rock formations, caves and crannies if you're that way inclined. A good guide to help you understand the extent of the meteor strike is also highly recommended.
But there are ways to see the crater from a better perspective - like the sky, for example. Although you won't get to see that NASA out-of-space view of the crater on Earth, you'll be able to get a good idea of the impact the meteor blow actually had.
Plus you'll have a good time falling to the Vredefort Dome World Heritage Site from the sky - bonus! Book with Skydive Parys for the coolest local adrenaline experience.
ALSO SEE: Extreme exploring the eastern Free State of Adventure: 5 Things to do
Get your adrenaline going at Domefest
If you're truly after celebrating the Vredefort Dome, you cannot miss the annual Dome Festival or Domefest in Parys.
The festival comprises a series of organised adventure activities, which take place over three days. And when Parysians say 'adventure', they mean it... think warrior races, box cart races, laser clay shooting, horse riding and even dragon boat races!
The public is welcomed to participate in basically all the activities as long as you sign-up early. This year's festival takes place from 3 to 5 November 2017.
Where to sleep - and drink wine
Have a Winelands escape on the Vaal River
To suit the French flair in Parys, a stay next to the beautiful Vaal River is most fitting. At the BON Hotel Riviera on Vaal, you'll practically stay right on the Vaal River's banks, overlooking the water as the sun rises.
If you're going in winter, it's also the perfect spot to compare the Vaal flair with some wintry Winelands magic. While it may be a thousand miles away from the Cape Winelands, the Vaal is right up there when it comes to hosting wine tours. The annual Vaal River Meander Wine Route celebrates its 14th year in 2017, and BON Hotel Riveriera on Vaal is one of the proud destinations hosting the unique event.
SEE:Vaal River luxury: Create your own Winelands escape in Gauteng this winter
The Vaal River Meander Wine Route starts off with the official launch on Saturday, 24 June at The Vaal River Wine Festival at Stonehaven on Vaal.
Festival-goers will be treated to a choice of over 200 wines both on land and aboard luxury cruisers on the Vaal, all of which will be included in the R100 entry fee. The cruisers will depart for 45-minute cruises at regular intervals from 12:00 – 20:00 on 24 June 2017.
The Vaal River Wine Festival has a limited number of tickets available – so book your tickets soon.
After the launch festival, the first day of the 6-week Vaal River Meander Wine Route will start on Sunday, 25 June. The Wine Route is then on every Saturday and Sunday at more than a dozen venues in the Vaal until Sunday, 30 July.
Make sure you get your Vaal River Meander Wine Route Passport so you can see the selection of venues you can visit and which wines they will each be showcasing.
Disclaimer: Louzel Lombard Steyn was hosted by the BON Hotel Riviera on Vaal outside Parys, including flights, meals and accommodation.
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