Rovos Rail: The Pride of South Africa
There are two remarkable luxury trains operating in South Africa today. The Blue Train, which is probably the most famous internationally and has been running the longest, and Rovos Rail which some travellers find the more dramatic, romantic and historic experience.
Rovos Rail History
Rohan Vos first received permission from the South African National Rail Network to run a train on their system back in 1986. Three years later the first Rovos Rail train went into service. His vision was to create a railway service using restored Pullman Coaches from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, and to be pulled by Restored Steam Engines along some of the route.
Vos wanted to create romantic journeys that would not only supply the tourist route between Cape Town and Pretoria, but also travel up to the Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/ Zambian border and make annual grand journeys that went right up to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
About the Rovos Rail train
The result is the magical train he calls “The Pride of Africa”, with outstanding service and luxurious cabins and suites. It is, not surprisingly, an expensive trip and is not within the reach of all. But for train buffs and fans of luxury travel, it has to be one of the experiences that should be on their wishlist. We were lucky enough to do one of their trips from Cape Town to their home base of Pretoria, where they have their own Railway Station.
The train is usually at least 18 coaches long, and around 400 metres in length. It’s a fairly exclusive travel experience, usually taking between 48 and 72 passengers per trip.
The Rovos Steam Buff bonus!
The train is pulled by electric engines for most of the journey, while a steam engine pulls the train out of – or into – their Pretoria station. You get a chance to step out, take a look at and even get into the cabin of the Steam Engine when they change over. (Some years ago, there was an incident when the carriages were not secured and rolled away and derailed, causing much damage to some of the carriages.)
Where & When does Rovos Rail go?
Rovos runs year-round on its various routes through Cape Town, Pretoria, Victoria Falls and Durban, with four or five departures every month. Special ‘annual trips’ to the likes of Dar Es Salaam, Namibia, Collage and its Golf Safari trip run across the year, with some offering 2 or 3 annual departures.
Check out the Rates & Dates section of the Rovos website to see the full schedules and price options for each journey.
Book a Journey of a Lifetime with Rovos Rail!
You can book your Rovos Rail luxury train trip via our friends New Fusion in South Africa, experienced travel agents who specialise in running these once in a lifetime rail holidays across Southern Africa.
The trip from Cape Town to Pretoria
The trip on Rovos Rail takes 2 nights, unlike the Blue Train, which does it in a single night. This makes the trip more leisurely, in fact it feels more like an expedition than a trip. The train stops fairly often to change drivers and is stationary for some of the night, to help people get some sleep.
The train moves about a fair bit and of course it’s never that easy to sleep soundly on a moving train, so they go into sidings for a couple of hours each night, for some guaranteed shut-eye.
There are 2 stops along the way. This allows time to get off, stretch your legs and do some sight seeing.
T This is an old fuelling station town dating back to the 1880s. Coming here is like stepping into a time warp, with a colonial style hotel and an interesting and surprisingly large Travel Museum with a large collection of vintage cars.
T The second excursion takes you to the Kimberley Hole, which was where the massive diamond mine was dug. Today the town is still the home of De Beers Diamonds. The tour and information was thoroughly fascinating.
How much does a trip on Rovos Rail cost?
Prices range from SAR 13,600 (around £840) for a Pullman Suite on the shorter trips from Cape Town all the way up to a staggering SAR 91,500 (around £5,700) for a 16metre square Royal Suite on the longer Dar Es Salaam journey.
What’s the Sleeper Accommodation on Rovos Rail like?
We booked a Deluxe Suite. On board there are 3 types of suites:
· Royal Suites – These take up half of a carriage and are around 16 square metres. They have a lounge area, huge bed and bathroom. The bathroom actually has a bath in it.
· Deluxe Suites – These are around 10 square metres and have a seating area with small table, a huge bed that reaches across the whole suite and an en-suite bathroom with a shower.
· Pullman Suites – These are 7 square metres big and have a sofa that converts into a double or twin beds at night. They also have their own en-suite bathrooms.
These are all very plush, with rich wooden panelling and traditional fixtures and furniture in line with the pre-Wwr era Rovos Rail aims to capture. They have serious “wow” factor, especially the Royal and Deluxe suites. It is fantastic to lie on the large double beds and watch the scenery pass by during the day.
What’s the Food and Drink on Rovos Rail like?
The fare is all-inclusive, and so in your suite you’ll find have wine and soft drinks that are replenished regularly. There is a bar in one of the lounges, and at dinner you have a very large selection of incredible South African wines to choose from to accompany your meal.
The food really is fantastic – especially considering that all they have is a tiny kitchen on the train. You eat in one of at least two dining carriages, which are also reconstructed Pullman cars. Usually they are from different eras, letting you experience different atmospheres. The seats are grand and the place settings equally so. There are both 2 and 4 seat tables, so you can stick to a more romantic twosome, or sit at a larger table to meet your fellow travellers if you prefer.
Breakfast gives you a massive choice of both hot and cold food. Lunch and Dinner are grand three course meals, with a good choice of main courses. Dress during the day is smart casual, but at night is more formal, with men expected to wear a jacket and tie.
Public Areas on the Rovos Rail train
In addition to the dining carriages, there are a number of public areas where you can and sit, chat and just enjoy the journey.
There are two lounges that take up an entire carriage each. On our trip one was from the 1920s, with another from the 1940s. These have various sofas and comfortable chairs, with snacks and nibbles served throughout the day. In late afternoon, there’s also Afternoon Tea with cakes.
One of the carriages is in the middle of the train, while the other is at the rear. The carriage at the end has an open-air observation deck where people can smoke. But most passengers sit out, enjoy a drink and watch the stunning scenery scroll by.
What’s special about the Rovos Rail experience?
Rovos has a few little touches that make it stand out from its luxury rail competitors. Rohan Vos takes huge pride in his company and train. Impressively he will usually both see the train off and meet it at its destination. He usually gives a short talk and welcomes passengers to every journey.
Is Rovos Rail worth it and what type of traveller would best enjoy it?
The journey on Rovos Rail is fantastic. The restored carriages all have a history, and the company takes great pride in sharing details of all of them. Not only do they run the train service, but they lovingly restore all the carriages at their base in Pretoria.
The service on board is excellent and warm. But most of all, you have the feeling that you are taking part in something unique and special. We did it once, and will do it again on our next trip to South Africa. Highly recommended for anyone who can afford to see South Africa in some style.
Written by Gary Bembridge of Tips for Travellers
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de Rovos Rail Official Site: http://www.rovos.com/
T This luxury train journey was approved by Railway Stays
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