When I travelled on the world’s most luxurious train, I realized that luxury travel is about the journey, as much as the destination.
Brenda Vos, daughter of Rohan, and Anthea Vos of Rovos Rail invited me to experience their Cape Town to Pretoria train trip. 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 and 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 discuss allergies and meal preferences, accompanied by restaurant staff to ensure that your preferred drinks are available. All are included. My option is vegetarian with halloumi and aubergine dishes, soups, beautiful fresh salads, and fruit gracing my plate.
There’s a rule on board. No cell phones, iPods, or Laptops in public areas, only in your cabin. It’s the best policy as you are forced to be social, chat with other guests, and escape into the journey. You dress for dinner too. That’s a jacket and tie for the gentleman and a cocktail dress for the 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, a visit to the world’s largest manufactured 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, locomotives and engines 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 its 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 us 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 wander. Revitalized and invigorated. Inspired and excited.
Ever grateful for the opportunity, and I encourage all to do the same. 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 penultimate African train journey being their Cape to Cairo routing.
Suddenly I completely understand that Luxury Travel is very much about the Journey.
This article was written by me for Rovos Rail and appears in Luxury Travel Diary.
I was twice hosted on Rovos Rail by invitation of the remarkable Brenda Vos.