I love all travel. It’s common knowledge that I would go anywhere. To look, see, learn, listen. To gain a better understanding of our world and connect more with her people.
Interesting thing is that I’m often so focussed on the destination that I don’t give enough thought to the how I get there. Be it car or plane, the mode of transport is too often a practical means to a much anticipated end.
Yet when I was invited by Brenda Vos, daughter of Rohan and Anthea Vos of Rovos Rail to experience their Cape Town to Pretoria train trip, I realised that I’ve been doing it all wrong.
Travel is essentially about the journey and there is no finer way to take it then on the World’s most Luxurious Train.
My Rovos Rail experience starts with check-in at their private lounge in Cape Town; a glass of bubbly in hand, a duo playing music and guests on couches chatting casually with fellow travellers. For most of us this is our first Rovos trip and the anticipation is tinged with nervous excitement for the unknown.
Once onboard I notice that the cabins are all aptly named after South African fauna, flora and greats such as Shaka Zulu and Nelson Mandela. My luggage awaits in mine, an opulent Royal Suite with a huge double bed and electric blanket to ward off the Karoo chill. There are three types of accommodation available, Pullman, Deluxe and Royal suites. All are air-conditioned, have mini-bars, wood-panelling with windows and shutters that open to the endless views, en-suite bathrooms and loads of storage space. There’s even an in-house laundry and ironing service on offer. They have thought of everything!
With just 40 people on-board (the max is 72) during my trip, the two dining carts, lounges and bar areas are always partly free. The observation car and its open-air balcony at the back of the train is undoubtedly the most popular spot, and I chose to sit out in the crisp air whilst the train moved forward. Time is passed by chatting to newfound friends with a glass of bubbly in hand. This is luxury travel.
The staff are young, vibrant, professional and charming. They take great pride in maintaining a very high standard, are always near to offer assistance yet allow the privacy required to relax and chat. On check-in, the chef comes to your cabin to talk about allergies and meal preferences, accompanied by restaurant staff to ensure that your preferred drinks are available. All is included. My option is vegetarian with haloumi and aubergine dishes, soups, beautiful fresh salads and fruit gracing my plate.
There’s a rule on-board. No cell phones, iPads or Laptops in public areas, only in your cabin. It’s the best policy as you are forced to be social, chat to other guests and escape into the journey. You dress for dinner too. That’s a jacket and tie for the gentleman and cocktail dress for ladies. It adds a dimension of splendour to an already extraordinary experience.
The 1600km journey between Cape Town and Pretoria takes you through the beautiful barren Karoo, past lonely windmills surrounded by sheep in the fields. On this journey there are stops at my favourite Victorian village Matjesfontein and an afternoon in Kimberley for a city tour, visit to the world’s largest man-made excavation, the Big Hole and the Diamond Mine Museum. It’s a fascinating history and certainly encourages a return. As we leave Kimberley the sun sets over the Kamfers Dam wetlands, stained pink with its high population of flamingos.
The history of Rovos started 25 years ago when Rohan bought a coach or two with the intention of restoring them and hitching them to South African Railway trains for family holidays. From here it was locomotives and engines that would be lovingly restored and named after his children Bianca, Brenda, Tiffany and Shaun. A thriving business developed, fuelled by family involvement, passion and dedication. This year Rovos proudly celebrates their 25 year Anniversary as a rail service that has certainly set them apart; one of unsurpassed luxury and attention to detail that I was soon to experience
Unlike other trains that travel at 100+km or more, Rovos has a policy of travelling at 60km per hour. This leisurely pace brings the beauty of the passing landscape to life, that and the occasional stops and driver change. How soon my body adjusted to the rhythmic rocking of the train on the tracks – a soothing sound that I missed once disembarked.
As the journey drew to an end and we approached Rovos Rail station in Pretoria, a steam train joined for the last stretch to take us home.
Rovos certainly offers the luxury and romance of a bygone era, under the watchful eye of a family whose heart and passion have gone into creating an impeccable service appropriately named ‘The Pride of Africa.’ After only 48 hours on-board I’d retreated into a world of relaxed wonder. Revitalised and invigorated. Inspired and excited.
Ever grateful for the opportunity I encourage all to do the same. Best news is that Rovos run a 2-for-1 special for South Africans on their Cape Town and Durban Safari every June, July and August! Contact reservations to learn more.
With luxury train travel very much crept into my heart, I dream of extended journeys to Victoria Falls, through the KwaZulu Natal Battlefields and Game Reserves and even a retreat to Dar es Salaam. The pen ultimate African train journey being their Cape to Cairo routing.
Suddenly I completely understand that Travel is the Journey. One of sheer Rovos Rail style indulgence.
View of the observation cart at Matjiesfontein.
The incredible staff and train manager Gareth van Wyk offering bubbly on the platform in Kimberley.
The view to forever from the back of the moving train.
A typically gorgeous Karoo landscape.
Lounge, books, games, magazines.
The dining room as the world goes by.
Wine and bubbly station.
The beautifully presented meals and one happy traveller.
On the observation cart – could life be any better?
First look at dawn in the Karoo.
A sign of excellence.
Catch my full Rovos Rail photo album here.
All windows and blinds open and you can stick your head out and take in the views as you move forward. There are even goggles to protect you eyes from bugs that may be flying by …