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The Pride of Africa – Luxury, Romance & Extravagant Elegance of a Bygone Era
There is something very nostalgic about traveling in a sleeping car on a train. When l was small, I often traveled with my mother by train overnight, and I always loved falling asleep to the gentle swaying of the train and its rattling sounds! The compartments of the old trains with their leather seats and soft lighting were so comfortable and, in the evening, cozy and very romantic. Nowadays, I find traveling by train merely practical and everything but comfortable – I actually try to avoid train journeys. But to travel with the luxurious Rovos Rail with its antique steam locomotive has always been a dream of mine!
Rovos Rail is a family-run private railway company that was founded in 1989 by Rohan Vos, an avid lover of old trains. Since then, he has been offering world-class travel experiences in lovingly restored trains for a maximum of 72 passengers in 36 luxuriously appointed suites.
“The Most Luxurious Train in the World”
In a series of train journeys lasting from 48 hours to a month, the Pride of Africa links some of Africa’s greatest destinations from Cape Town, at the tip of Africa, to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, from scenic splendors as diverse as the game reserves of Mpumalanga to the Victoria Falls, from the desert landscapes in Namibia and the stark beauty of the Karoo to the lush cane fields of KwaZulu-Natal.
Unfortunately, the historic steam locomotives are not allowed to travel further than 70 km from Pretoria – it is such a pity! The coaches can also be hauled by diesel or electric locomotives.
New Route: From July 2019, Rovos will be adding the Trail of Two Oceans journey from Angola to Tanzania to its repertoire. The new 15-day expedition will travel through Tanzania, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. It will include a game visit to the Selous Reserve, a 2-night safari in the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia and a tour of Lubumbashi in the DRC.
Rovos Rail Station
All trains depart from and arrive at the private station in Capital Park, Pretoria – a historic, restored railway station in the Colonial style, where the coaches and steam locomotives are also maintained. Incidentally, the steam locomotives are all named after Rohan’s daughters.
“For those of you who want to discover Africa – in the woodpanelled, gleaming five-star luxury of a bygone era.” – London Daily Mail
The journey at the railway station begins with a festive Champagne reception in the cozy and elegant lounge.
In the museum next to the railway station you can, among others, meet the oldest Rovos locomotive driver, and there are plenty of historical collector’s items for railroad fans to marvel at.
Cape Town Journey
Our 1,600 km long journey in the characteristic green and cream wood-paneled train lasted 3 days and went from Pretoria to Cape Town. This trip and the reverse route, are among the most popular and can be combined perfectly with a safari in the East of South Africa.
With stops in Kimberley (Diamond Mine Museum + Big Hole) and in the historic, small village of Matjiesfontein, we passed impressive grasslands, huge mountain ranges, the barren Karoo semi-desert and the picturesque Cape Winelands.
The luxurious and spacious suites are air-conditioned, have desks, twin or double beds, a mini-bar, a safe, an amenity bag, 24-hour room service and are the epitome of luxury and comfort – facilities that are of the highest standard. They are decorated with beautiful wood paneling, warm colors and elements from the Edwardian era. They offer spacious accommodation for two people, and you have the choice between three styles – Royal, Deluxe and Pullman.
The Pullman Suites (7m²) have a comfortable sofa seat during the day with a conversion to double or twin beds for the evening, and a private bathroom with shower.
The Deluxe Suites (11 m²) each have a living area and a private bathroom with shower (See animation >>)
Guests are welcomed aboard in glamorous style with Champagne, and the mini bar is filled with anything your heart desires.
Every suite has a hostess, who ensures that guests are happy and content and practically fulfills your every wish.
To travel with open windows during the day, lying comfortably on your bed with a gentle breeze while listening to the rattling sound of the railway tracks – quite unique!
In the en-suite bathrooms, original fittings combine with modern technology of hot showers, hairdryers and shaver plugs. Amazing: although it seems small, everything fits perfectly in the bathroom cabinet.
The most glamorous part of the journey is dinner. There is a dress code for the elegant 1940’s Dining Car: Cocktail / Evening Dresses for women and a suit and tie is the minimum requirement for men.
When you go back to your suite in the evening after a delightful dinner, the beds are beautifully turned down. Hot water for tea, a plate of biscuits and nougat also awaits you upon your return, all prepared lovingly.
The four Royal Suites (16m²) have their own living areas with armchairs and a full bathroom with shower and Victorian bath.
Meals in the Edwardian-style Dining Car are an unforgettable experience – upholstered leather chairs, curtains embroidered with roses, sparkling crystal and silver create a stately ambiance. Magnificent cuisine with an emphasis on fresh and seasonal ingredients are served, complemented by excellent South African wines.
Breakfast is served as a buffet or à la carte. Fresh fruit, freshly squeezed juices, cereals and warm egg dishes, leave nothing to be desired.
And the splendid views of the ever-changing South African landscape, just add to the experience.
On the Safari Train, for example, Pretoria to Durban, Victoria Falls and Namibia, there is, of course, many more animals to see, but apart from cattle, we also saw ostriches, wildebeest and springbok on our route.
What the kitchen team manages to conjure in such a small space, borders on magic! The sound of a gong heralds lunch and dinner.
Wines carefully paired with all 5 courses are served.
The atmosphere at dinner is comfortable and more than luxurious – by candlelight, the silver and crystal are even more sparkling.
Some of the dishes served: Grilled local crayfish tails, braised leg of lamb, Cape Bobotie (minced meat with spices, almonds, and dried fruits), traditional Milk Tart and Malva Pudding with Amarula.
The food, impeccable service, and wines are all part of the five-star luxury!
Lounge, Bar & Observation Car
In the Lounge Cars, at the front and back of the train, you can relax with a delicious drink and enjoy the scenery. For smokers, there is a Smoking Lounge at the end of the train.
In the afternoon, cold beverages, wines, champagne, coffee, tea, snacks and much more are served in the Observation Car and the bar.
At the rear of the train, you can sit outside while admiring the bypassing scenery, sunsets, and catch a glimpse into the daily lives of the locals. You also have the opportunity to meet some of the other guests and make new acquaintances.
Before dinner, for an aperitif and after dinner for Cocktail night – the Observation Car is a comfortable meeting place.
The Kimberley excursion on the second day started with a small city tour. After that, we went to the Diamond Mine Museum at the Big Hole – one of the largest man-made archaeological sites in the world.
Diamonds were mined in the former Kimberley Mine until 1914. The Big Hole has an area of 17 hectares, and the water is 40m deep today. During mining operations, it, however, was 240m deep.
The first diamond, Eureka, was found here in 1866 and it weighed 21.25 carats.
After the excursions, we were always welcomed back at the station with refreshing drinks and warm smiles.
On the third day, those who would like to stretch their legs, can disembark 5km from Matjiesfontein and walk to the small town in a group.
Matjiesfontein is a quaint village in typical Victorian Style on the edge of the semi-desert Karoo. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was a favorite weekend getaway for wealthy Capetonians. The secluded village was founded by Scottish railroader James Douglas Logan.
Today, the former spa and resort is a National Monument and living history. There is still a lively bustle in the historic The Lord Milner Hotel.
Our journey back in time with Rovos Rail was a unique and extraordinary experience. We especially enjoyed the peace and quiet, the slow journey, the magnificent views, the delicious food, the friendly service and the luxury. To be rocked to sleep at night and be spoiled with delicious food and drinks is an extravagant luxury indeed. These three beautiful days went by in the blink of an eye. We would have loved to stay on board longer!
Rooms: 36 suites
Transfer: Flight to Johannesburg. Transfer to Pretoria can be booked conveniently through Rovos.
Price: From 1273 EUR per person in the Pullman Suite, Pretoria to Cape Town. Included in the price: 3 meals daily, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, sightseeing trips with a qualified tour guide, entrance fees to places of interest, 24-hour room service, mini bar and limited laundry service on the train.
Note: No Wi-Fi on board of the train
Special features: Luxurious design, grand suites, excellent food, friendly service, beautiful scenery
Perfect for: Couples, people seeking peace and quiet, romantics and nature lovers
Telefon + 27 (0) 12 315 8242
World’s Leading Luxury Train – World Travel Awards 2004-2008
Africa’s Leading Safari Train – World Travel Awards 2004-2007
St. James Guesthouses
Three luxurious guesthouses (The Manor, Seaforth & Homestead) of the Rovos Rail Group in Cape Town’s False Bay; www.stjamesguesthouses.com
Train travel (12 to 15 days) through South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe with 3-star luxury, operated by Rovos Rail since February 2016; www.shongololo.com
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Note: Our wonderful train journey was sponsored by Rovos Rail. Our heartfelt thanks! Nevertheless, the opinions expressed in this article are 100% our own!