Bethlehem, Eastern Free State Highlands
Bethlehem is the largest town in the Eastern Free State Region of Thabo Mofutsanyana – a region that encompasses the foothills of the Maluti Mountains as well as most of South Africa’s wheat fields.
Bethlehem sits in a fertile valley at the very northern tip of the Maluti mountain range, close to the towns of Fouriesburg and Clarens, and is the commercial heart of a region that is based on crop farming, nature and outdoor activity focused tourism…and also roses. The area around Bethlehem is South Africa’s biggest rose growing and exporter region, in addition to producing over 60% of South Africa’s wheat.
Bethlehem means ‘House of Bread’ (from the Hebrew). The town was given this name by a local Church Minister due to the surrounding staple wheat crop production, and, supposedly in keeping with tradition, the small river that flows through the town is named the Jordan, or Jordaan River.
A number of outdoor activities can be enjoyed in and around Bethlehem, such as angling, abseiling, canoeing, game drives and river rafting on the nearby Ash River, or at one of the three dams that surround Bethlehem. A Waterfront at Loch Athlone Dam has restaurants and shops as well as watersports activities. As with most towns in the Maluti Mountain foothills, horse-riding and hiking trails are popular ways to make the most of the scenery and wide open spaces.
Annual festivities include the Bethlehem Air Show, the South African National Hot Air Balloon Championship and the Hoogland Classic Auto Cycle Race.
For those who appreciate history and architecture, Bethlehem features numerous Victorian sandstone buildings that can be viewed on the Sandstone Walking Tour – the route can be obtained from the Bethlehem Tourism office.
As one of the larger towns in the Free State all commercial amenities can be found, as well as excellent restaurants, accommodation, sports and community facilities.
Getting there: Bethlehem is considerably closer to Johannesburg in Gauteng than to Bloemfontein. From JHB take the N3 toward Durban. Take Exit 169 (R103/R26) south off the N3 toward Villiers/Frankfort, then turn on to the R26. Follow the R26 to the intersection with the N5 at Bethlehem.