Brenda Vos, daughter of Rohan and Anthea Vos, the incredible personality and legendary train adventurer, invited me to experience Rovos Rail first hand. I make arrangements to take the journey from Cape Town to Pretoria and anticipation levels peak with excitement.
Rovos started 25 years ago, that is the time 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.
Check-in at the private Rovos lounge in Cape Town is a bubbly infused affair with a duo playing music and the guests relaxing on the couches and politely conversing with fellow travellers. For most this is their first trip on-board, and like me, the anticipation is tinged with nervous excitement for the unknown.
Shown to our cabins, all aptly named after South African fauna, flora and greats such as Shaka Zulu and Nelson Mandela, our luggage awaits. 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. Given that my travel fairies always shine warmly upon me, I am in an opulent Royal Suite with a huge double bed. And did I mention, an electric blanket to ward off the Karoo chill? 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 we choose to sit out in the crisp air whilst the train moves forward. Time is passed by chatting to newfound friends with a glass of bubbly in hand – now this is luxury.
Luxury In Every Sense
The staff are young, vibrant, professional and charming. They take 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.
The 1600km journey between Cape Town and Pretoria takes you through the beautiful barren Karoo, past lonely windmills and sheep in the fields. Highlights include visits to the historic Victorian village of Matjesfontein founded as a refreshment stop for train travellers in 1890. The other stop allows an afternoon in Kimberley for a city tour, a 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.
Unlike other trains that zoom past 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 draws to an end and we approach Rovos Rail station in Pretoria, a steam train joins us for the last stretch to take us home.
Rovos offers the luxury and romance of a bygone era, under the watchful eye of a family whose heart and passion have gone into creating a 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. This is the way to travel and I’m ever grateful to have had the opportunity. I now dream of journeys to Victoria Falls, through the KwaZulu Natal Battlefields and Game Reserve, a retreat to Dar es Salaam and dream come true with their Cape to Cairo routing.
Useful bits of info for travel on Rovos Rail
- Rovos prides itself on never being on time. It’s not the most efficient way to get from point A to point B. It’s the most luxurious and relaxed way. Try and stay over at your destination. That way you don’t undo the relaxed feeling with dash to the nearest airport.
- 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. 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. Comfortable walking shoes are a must for excursions.
This is a place of sheer indulgence, one that must be experienced any chance you get.