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Golden Eagle’s Imperial Suites: Palatial Quarters for Discerning Travelers

17 Oct

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Want to take your Trans-Siberian Express train journey into stratospheric levels of luxury?

Book an Imperial Suite, complete with large double bed, lounge area, fully en-suite bathroom with underfloor heating, and more.

There are only three per departure (up from two — a third was just added for all future departures) and they are always the first cabins to sell out.

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Imperial Suite made up for night with large double bed.

If you’re interested in traveling in 2019 or 2020 on the Trans-Siberian Express — or one of Golden Eagle‘s other great itineraries (Silk Road, Caspian Odyssey, and Arctic Explorer, among others) — call or e-mail us today.

We asked Eleanor Hardy, President of the Society of International Railway Travelers, why she always recommends these palatial Suites for the most discerning travelers.

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The Golden Eagle rounds Lake Baikal.

What kind of traveler do you recommend book an Imperial Suite?

The Imperial Suite is ideal for those who prefer upgraded rooms in hotels and larger staterooms on cruises. In other words, if you value your space and need a bit of extra room to spread out, the Imperial Suite is for you.
You’ll be in your cabin for 12 nights on the Trans-Siberian Express, so being comfortable is a must. Most travelers take this journey only once in their lives, and booking the Imperial Suite really amps up the ‘wow factor’.

What do travelers love most about the Imperial Suite?

Past travelers love the expanse of space, the large double bed, and the roomy bathroom. They love the special attention from their steward, not to mention the optional in-room dining for a romantic dinner.

But the thing they end up loving the most is the private sightseeing with private car and driver throughout (where possible). This service has been a huge plus to those who want a truly custom experience off the train.

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Impeccable service in the Golden Eagle dining car. Guests who book Imperial Suites can also choose to dine privately.

Anything commensurate with the Imperial Suite on other World’s Top 25 Trains®?
Yes! Many of our trains now offer extremely opulent cabin choices.
The newest luxury accommodation on any of our World’s Top 25 Trains®
are three Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Expresswhich began service to rave reviews during the 2018 season.
The Grand Suites offer expansive space, plus many extras including free-flowing champagne, private transfers throughout, and private dining in your cabin if you wish. (Click here and here to read IRT’s firsthand reporting of the Grand Suites.)
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Grand Suite ‘Istanbul’ on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy

Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa offers the Royal Suite, which is half a train car (its bathroom contains a Victorian tub and separate shower), the Deccan Odyssey in India offers an enormous Presidential Suite (each of which has not one but two private bathrooms), and the Golden Eagle Danube Express now offer Superior Deluxe cabins, which feature a bit of extra square footage — and covetable private wi-fi.
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Presidential Suite on the Deccan Odyssey.

The Eastern and Oriental Express offers two Presidential cabin on every departure, and there are likewise two Deluxe Double cabins on every departure of the Belmond Andean Explorer. (See blog post here about IRT’s exclusive luxury rail journey of Peru — personally vetted and designed by Eleanor Hardy).
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Deluxe Double cabin on the Belmond Andean Explorer.

And India’s Maharajas’ Express offers Presidential Suites that at 220 sq. ft. are still the largest train accommodation in the world.
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Enormous Presidential Suite on the Maharajas’ Express.

Last but not least, in the non-train realm, our favorite historic sailing yacht the Sea Cloud, (IRT CEO Owen Hardy calls it the ‘Orient Express of the Seas’ in his firsthand account here) features two extra-opulent choices:

 

Marjorie Merriweather Post’s eponymous Suite, which she decorated herself, is dazzling in whites and pinks. Her husband E.F.Hutton’s Suite, meanwhile, is handsome in dark teak.

Both feature Carrara marble bathtubs, working fireplaces, golden bath fixtures, walk-in closets, polished teak, and antique furniture.

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Enormous king bed in the Marjorie Merriweather Post Owner’s Suite aboard the Sea Cloud. IRT Photo by Owen C. Hardy.

Any parting words?
Book one of these over-the-top cabins today and expand your idea of what it means to travel by train! Call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or e-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com. Our expert staff look forward to speaking with you.
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Eleanor Flagler Hardy is President and co-owner of The Society of International Railway Travelers. She has traveled on almost all of the World’s Top 25 Trains®, including Golden Eagle in Russia and central Asia, Golden Eagle Danube Express in Central Europe, Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa in South and East Africa, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in Western and Central Europe and Turkey, Eastern & Oriental Express in Singapore and Thailand, Belmond Andean Explorer in Peru, Belmond Grand Hibernian in Ireland, Belmond Royal Scotsman in Scotland and England, Ghan and Indian Pacific in Australia, and Tren Crucero in Ecuador, among many others.

Exotic Luxury Train Tour: A Caspian Odyssey with Angela

28 Sep
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Photo courtesy of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains.

Mt. Ararat (above), reputed resting place of Noah’s Ark, towers over Yerevan, Armenia. It’s the jumping-off point for the Caspian Odyssey Along the Ancient Silk Road tour.

The 16-day tour visits Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan — and includes a ferry crossing of the Caspian Sea.

It’s one of the Golden Eagle luxury train’s most exotic tours.

IRT’s Angela Walker, Vice President for Operations, accompanied a group of our travelers on the Caspian Odyssey several years ago.

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Photo courtesy of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains.

Below, we present a few of Angela’s photos and impressions:

The Golden Eagle — with its young staff —was a comfortable home for our journey through six countries and cultures. It provided all the comforts of home — and plenty of vodka!

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IRT Photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

My fellow travelers were high-spirited and great fun. Here we are in Samarkand, wearing traditional Uzbek hats during a local fashion show.

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IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

I snapped this photo of a darling little girl during a serendipitous moment in Ashkabat, Turkmenistan.

During a regular tour stop, a wedding party suddenly pulled up honking in several decorated cars. Dressed in colorful costumes, they danced and celebrated as they happily welcomed us to join in. It was wonderful to interact with the locals in such a special way.

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IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

In Almaty, Kazakhstan, next to the WWII memorial, I spied these adorable children mimicking the marching soldiers.

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IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

In the hills outside of Almaty, we were greeted by men in traditional costumes showing how they use their birds for hunting.

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IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

These four delightful ladies in our group were friends from Peru and Argentina. Here, they enjoy the train’s lounge car—especially its lively pianist, who entertained nightly.

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IRT Photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

Here I am visiting “The Door to Hell” — a gigantic gas crater in the middle of Uzbekistan’s Kara Kum desert, which has been burning for over 40 years.

It was so exciting to drive out to the Darvaza gas crater, in the pitch-black night, to see this site — essentially, a giant hole of fire burning in the middle of nowhere.

And to know that it’s been burning since 1971 — I don’t think there’s anything like it in the world!

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IRT photo courtesy of Angela Walker.

Home, sweet home. After a day of touring along the Caspian Odyssey’s incredible path, it was always great to return to the Golden Eagle and my private, en-suite quarters.

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IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

Time for a refreshing drink! In this case, a sampling of one of the Golden Eagle’s special vodkas.

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The 16-day, escorted tour operates just once a year. Next year’s dates are Sept. 19 – Oct. 4. In 2020, the tour runs Sept. 24 – Oct. 9.  If you book the 2020 journey before Dec. 31 this year, enjoy 2019 pricing.  

To see the complete itinerary, click here. For prices, click here.

To book, call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or e-mail us.

We look forward to welcoming you aboard!

Angela Walker is Vice President, Operations and senior luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers. This is Ms. Walker’s 20th year with IRT, and she has traveled on most of the World’s Top 25 Trains.

 

Deccan Odyssey’s New Itineraries Break the Mold, Showcase India’s Rich Diversity

14 Sep

 

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The Deccan Odyssey luxury train.

India —  the world’s largest democracy, the most linguistically diverse country in the world, and home to wildly varying terrain, from the Thar Desert in the west to the Ganges Plain in the north, from the Himalayas to the shores of the Arabian Sea– is anything but a monolith.

How, then, could any traveler visit once and see the entire subcontinent?

The Deccan Odyssey luxury train has the perfect answer, in the form of four new journeys for those second- or third-time visitors to India looking to move beyond the traditional ‘highlights reel’.

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Presidential Suite on the Deccan Odyssey. Each Suite has a large double bed, dedicated sitting area, and two private bathrooms.

Something all four trips have in common: the stunning Deccan Odyssey itself. All cabins are fully ensuite with private bathroom and shower (ask for a Presidential Suite if you want extra-palatial surroundings). The train also features two dining cars that serve both Indian and Continental options at every meal, a lounge, a spa car with steam bath, exercise facilities, and a massage room.

We asked our friends at Cox & Kings — sole operators of the Deccan Odyssey — to share a few highlights with us from each of the new itineraries:

Hidden Treasures of Gujarat: Visit Gir National Forest — the only place in the world where you can spot Asiatic lions in the wild. Explore the otherworldly landscape of the Little Rann of Kutch — the largest saline desert in the world. Visit Palitana, the most sacred pilgrimage site of the Jain religion, where spectacular clusters of temples are exquisitely carved in marble. Click here for full itinerary details, dates, and pricing.

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Little Rann of Kutch.

Maharashtra Splendor: Tour Fountainhas in Panjim, capital city of Goa, with its winding alleyways and bright red and blue tile-roofed houses. Ride on the Konkan railway route, bound by the Arabian Sea to the west and the Sahyadri Hills to the east. Wonder at the majesty of both Ajanta and Ellora Caves (both UNESCO Heritage sites). Click here for full itinerary details, dates, and pricing.

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Ajanta Caves.

Jewels of the Deccan: Tour Bijapur, historic capital of the Sultans of Deccan, and visit Ibrahim Rouza — the supposed inspiration for the Taj Mahal.  Wander through the weaving village of Guledgud, renowned for producing stunning fabrics by hand loom. Visit Aihole — the cradle of Indian architecture — where more than 70 unique rock-cut temples were constructed by the Chalukyan kings. Explore the bustling bazaars in the old city area of Charminar in Hyderabad. Click here for full itinerary details, dates, and pricing.

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Ibrahim Rouza

Maharashtra Wild Trail: Take a thrilling sunrise game drive in Tadoba Tiger Reserve, where it is not uncommon to see both tigers and wild dogs. Leopards, sloth bears, gaur (Indian bison), and rusty spotted cat can also be seen here. Enjoy another full day of game drives in Pench National Park, a biodiverse forest home to Malabar pied hornbills, Indian pittas, ospreys, grey-headed fishing eagles, and the green pigeon — the State Bird of Maharashtra. Visit the holy city of Nashik, now India’s premier wine-producing locale, and enjoy a lunch and tasting at a vineyard. Click here for full itinerary details, dates, and pricing.

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Tadoba Tiger Reserve.

And if you’ve never been to India before and want a more traditional first-time itinerary, we’ve got options. The Indian Sojourn — an 8-day itinerary from Mumbai to Delhi that visits many of India’s most iconic landmarks — is a great place to begin exploring. Click here for full itinerary details, dates, and pricing.

 

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Mumbai’s Gateway of India.

 

Ready to begin planning your next trip to India?

Call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or e-mail us.

We look forward to welcoming you aboard!

Rachel M. Hardy is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, and Virtuoso luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers®. She specializes in luxury rail and adventure travel in Europe, South America, Africa (rail & safaris) and Canada — and she is about to embark on her second trip to India. She was the first advisor from the Americas invited to see the new Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Our agency is a proud member of Virtuoso and the exclusive Belmond Bellini Club.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IRT Founder’s Ardent Wish? Celebrate New Year’s Eve in Vienna with Golden Eagle Danube Express

11 Sep
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Viennese dancers on New Year’s Eve at the Rathaus, Vienna’s lovely City Hall.

We sat down with The Society of International Railway Travelers’ founder and CEO, Mr. Owen Hardy, to discuss his ardent desire to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Vienna with the Golden Eagle Danube Express. Tour dates are December 28, 2018 – January 5, 2019. Click here for itinerary details.

Mr. Hardy, please tell us why you “simply must” go on the “New Year in Vienna” trip on the Golden Eagle Danube Express?

Officially, I have four reasons: Budapest, Vienna, Prague and the Viennese New Year celebration.

Unofficially, movies. Specifically, Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and Orson Welles’ “The Third Man.”

 

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Pictured left: diners enjoy New Year’s Eve gala dinner at Rathaus City Hall in Vienna.         Pictured right: a festive, snow-capped Vienna.

 

Say that again? These films aren’t your typical happy tourist fare.

I know, I know. But they exude a delicious atmosphere of romance, love and artistic grit that I project onto their respective cities.

Plus, I love music of all kinds, especially classical, and these cities overflow with it – even on the street corners.

And I love Vienna’s Secessionist or Wiener Werkstaette art movement, examples of which can be found not only in Vienna but also in Budapest and Prague.

What about the train itself?

In my student years, I crisscrossed Europe with a Eurailpass, sleeping next to strangers in couchettes night after night. But these days, I like my creature comforts.

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Brand-new Superior Deluxe cabins aboard the Golden Eagle Danube Express feature a private bathroom and shower with all the amenities, large double bed, and sitting area. Not pictured: private Wi-Fi that comes with every Superior Deluxe cabin.

A Superior Deluxe cabin (click here for full cabin details) with large double bed, fully en-suite bathroom and shower, and sitting area would do quite nicely — and the three included nights at Budapest’s palatial Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace would not disappoint, either. (Tip: don’t miss the top-notch spa at the Four Seasons Gresham Palace.)

Another highlight from the itinerary, in your opinion?

The night at the opera at Prague’s Karlin Music Theatre will be an extra-special event.

Plus, Prague overflows with stunning architecture. My last tour guide in Prague said she’d lived her whole life in the city but had only scraped the surface of its wonders. I believe her.

 

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Prague’s Charles Bridge at dawn.

 

So what do you suggest our guests do?

Call us (if you’re a Luddite like me) at (800) 478-4881  — +1 502-897-1725 if outside the US / Canada. Everyone else, please email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Anything else you want to say (and make it short!)?

Life is short. Old age creeps up on you. Go waltzing in Vienna at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

I guarantee you won’t regret it!


Owen C. Hardy is the CEO, founder, and co-owner of The Society of International Railway Travelers.

The New Year’s in Vienna tour runs December 28, 2018 – January 5, 2019. Click here for full itinerary details and pricing. Click here for details of the Golden Eagle Danube Express train.

To book your space on the New Year’s in Vienna tour, call (800) 478-4881 or +1 502-897-1725, or email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

 

IRT Wins Big at Virtuoso Travel Week, Leads Luxury Rail Competition

17 Aug
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IRT’s Nora Elzy, Angela Walker, and Rachel Hardy with Lucy Clark, Director of Sales for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and Eastern & Oriental Express trains, enjoying the Bellini Club party with Bellagio’s famous fountains as a backdrop.

We at IRT just returned from the most exclusive luxury travel show on earth — Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas at Bellagio Hotel & Casino.

We met with many of our top travel partners over the course of the last six days, and now we are brimming with exciting news, IRT accolades, and fresh travel ideas to share with you.

First, a brief primer for those who don’t know: Virtuoso is the world’s foremost luxury travel network, with about 25 billion dollars a year in buying power. IRT’s membership in Virtuoso expands our reach and capability when planning your journey by connecting us to the best luxury travel partners all around the world.

Also great for you, the traveler: exclusive amenities at all Virtuoso hotels, and special access to unique travel experiences through our other partners. Virtuoso amenities and complimentary upgrades resulted in an average of $450 in added value per booking last year.

Now, a few highlights from our week…

IRT Top Seller (yes, in the world!) for VSOE Grand Suites

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Belmond staff present IRT with our very special award — a vintage VSOE sign with plaque in recognition of our Grand Suite and overall astounding 2018 sales.

We met with our great travel partners at Belmond  — owners of several of our World’s Top 25 Trains®, including the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Belmond Royal Scotsman, Belmond Grand Hibernian, Belmond Andean Explorer, & Eastern & Oriental Express.

We were thrilled to receive special recognition as the top agency in the world for sales of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express‘ new ultra-luxe Grand Suites!

IRT was the only agency in the Western Hemisphere to be invited to the unveiling of the Grand Suites earlier this year (read Rachel Hardy’s blog post here describing her first impressions).

In short: Grand Suites are the only accommodations aboard the train that are entirely en-suite with private bathroom and rain shower. They also feature a large double bed, separate sitting area, and many other exclusive amenities.

Interested in booking your very own Grand Suite? E-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com, or call 1-800-478-4881 (+1 502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada).

A list of departures on the VSOE can be found here. Space is very limited! Only 3 Grand Suites are available per departure.

Rachel Hardy Nominated for Cruise Award

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Rachel Hardy honored as a ‘Virtuoso Rising Star’ for luxury cruises.

Rachel Hardy, our Vice President of Sales & Marketing and a luxury travel advisor, was nominated for the ‘Rising Star’ award for luxury cruises.

While our niche is luxury rail travel, we do have a few particularly enticing cruise offerings that we think have great parallels with luxury train travel.

One example: the stunning Sea Cloud sailing yacht that plies the Dalmatian Coast between Athens and Dubrovnik, among other itineraries. IRT CEO Owen Hardy calls the Sea Cloud the ‘Orient Express of the Ocean.’ Read Owen’s blog post here, or find itinerary details, dates, and pricing on our website here.

 

IRT President and co-owner Eleanor Hardy Inspires as Featured Speaker

Our very own Eleanor Hardy was a featured speaker at this year’s Virtuoso Travel Week. The aptly-named panel was called “Excellence is no Accident.” The room was packed! Watch a short clip below:

 

Exciting New Rail Destinations in the Works!

We aren’t at liberty to give you details now, but two of our valued rail partners are planning exciting new rail destinations that will be unveiled in the near future. We will update you as soon as we are allowed, so please stay tuned!

If you are ready to book your trip, or if you have questions, please call us at (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725 if outside the US / Canada — or e-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

We look forward to welcoming you aboard!

Rachel M. Hardy is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, and Virtuoso luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers®. She specializes in luxury rail and adventure in Europe, South America, Africa (rail & safaris) and Canada.  She was the first advisor from the Americas invited to see the new Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Our agency is a proud member of Virtuoso and the exclusive Belmond Bellini Club.

 

 

 

 

 

 

S. African Splendor: Our Luxe Ride with Rovos Rail, Part II

25 Apr
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Rachel Hardy, the author, with Alpheus, a member of Rovos Rail’s impeccable wait staff. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

If you haven’t yet read the first installment of this story, we suggest you go back and read it here first. Or, read on for day two of our journey on Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa!

It’s day two of our Pretoria-Cape Town adventure aboard Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa.

And what can I say but “Yum!”

We start with a leisurely breakfast in the dining car. Guests can order a freshly prepared omelet, sausage, bacon, mushrooms or roasted tomatoes. Fruit, cereal, yogurt, homemade breads, coffee and tea are also on offer.

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Tables set for breakfast in the dining car. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

After our meal, we make a beeline for the observation car.

Joe, the train manager, had advised us the evening before that we might see flamingos shortly before arriving in Kimberley this morning.

And indeed, we’re lucky. There they are — in the thousands — feeding in a shallow lake right next to the tracks. An excited crush of guests fills the observation car to witness the spectacle.

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Angela Walker and other Rovos guests keep their eyes peeled for flamingos. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

Soon afterwards, we arrive in Kimberley, the birthplace of South African diamond mining, where we disembark for a short tour.

The mine is a yawning crater lake. Appropriately named the “Big Hole,” it’s the largest man-made excavation site in the world. It’s bizarrely beautiful, despite being a place of enormous human suffering. After a quick to visit the Diamond Mine Museum, we rejoin the train.

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Rachel at the “Big Hole” in Kimberley. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

Back on board, we make for the dining car — and lunch. Outside our window, the scenery is changing. We’re entering the Karoo, a semi-desert region defined by vast, open plains.

Impala, wildebeest, and springbok flash by. Miles ahead, a thunderstorm threatens, creating a shallow rainbow that seems to arc right alongside the train.

After another wonderful meal, we drift back to our cabins for a nap. Others head to one of the public cars to read or simply gaze at the African scenery flashing past.

Having enjoyed our luscious lunch, I’m not particularly hungry for what comes next—afternoon tea — even if it is served at 4:30 p.m. But how often do I have afternoon tea?

Served in both lounge cars, it includes fresh fruit, finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam and decadent pastries. I especially eye the scones.

Given the train’s all-inclusive nature, I consider a before-dinner drink as well.

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Rachel and Angela dressed for dinner. IRT Photo.

Dinner is yet another lavish affair. If anything, it’s even jollier, now that guests have gotten to know one another. Alpheus, our server and unofficial staff “hype man,” alerts us to a cocktail hour after dinner in the rear bar car.

Sure enough, the observation car is full and lively. The bartender offers an array of drinks: in addition to his fully-stocked bar, choices include mojitos, tequila sunrises, margaritas and the local “Springbokkie” (Amarula and crème de menthe), our favorite here in South Africa.

The party’s in full swing as we depart for our cabins around 11, exhausted but happy.

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Pride of Africa outside Matjiesfontein. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

The next morning, I’m one of the early risers who choose to disembark for a three-mile walk into Matjiesfontein, a quaint Victorian village where the train stops for several hours. I’m struck by the town’s stark beauty. Its dramatic desert hills are dotted with brush. I spot occasional animals in the distance.

I also note the town’s historic hotel, shops, cafes, and a small transportation museum boasting vintage autos and rail cars.

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Pride of Africa on the Matjiesfontein platform. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

After we re-board the train and sit down for lunch, our train descends the face of an escarpment, and the scenery abruptly changes.

The Pride of Africa chugs through a series of four tunnels (the longest is over eight miles), then pops out into a totally different world of large mountain ranges and lush vineyards. We’re approaching beautiful Cape Town.

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Rachel & Angela on the open-air observation car with Cape Town’s Table Mountain coming into view behind. IRT Photo.

We enjoy the observation car one last time, as the city’s iconic Table Mountain looms sharply into focus.

Too soon, we pull into the station. There to welcome us is Mr. Rovos Rail himself: Rohan Vos, owner and mastermind of Rovos Rail.

We pose for a quick photo with Mr. Vos and his staff — and then it’s back to reality.

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Rovos Rail owner Rohan Vos, far left, poses with his staff and IRT’s Angela Walker & Rachel Hardy outside the Cape Town train station. IRT Photo.

If you are ready to book your own Rovos Rail adventure, or if you have questions, please call us at (800) 478-4881 — (502) 897-1725 if you’re outside the U.S. or Canada. Or email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Click here to a link to more info about the train, with all itineraries listed. We look forward to welcoming you aboard!

Rachel M. Hardy is a luxury travel advisor and VP, Sales & Marketing, for the Society of IRT. Angela Walker is a 20-year veteran of The Society of International Railway Travelers, and has been on many of our World’s Top 25® Trains. She is a luxury travel advisor and VP, Operations. Both are based in our Louisville, KY headquarters. They have just returned from a month-long study tour examining trains, hotels and experiences in Europe and South Africa.

South African Splendor on Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa

20 Apr
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Rovos Rail guests await their train at Rovos Rail’s private Capitol Park Station.  IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy

By the time we arrive at Rovos Rail‘s private station in Pretoria, my colleague, Rachel Hardy and I are both brimming with excitement. We are about to embark on a 3-day journey to Cape Town on one of the world’s most luxurious trains: Pride of Africa. We are here to discover if this train, on our World’s Top 25® Trains list for decades, is still up to snuff ahead of IRT’s special group trip on Rovos Rail in November, 2019. By the time we arrive in Cape Town, we have decided that the answer is an emphatic “Yes!”

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Rachel Hardy and Angela Walker with a Rovos Rail hostess. IRT Photo.

The check-in process is a breeze. Rovos Rail hostesses greet us with champagne and juice as our luggage is whisked away by friendly porters. We are ushered inside the beautiful old station to relax and enjoy the view through the stately French doors. Gently swaying palm trees line the platform, and beyond, the famous Rovos Rail train cars fill the tracks as far as the eye can see.

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Rovos Rail porter smiles as he loads luggage on our train. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

A short time later, Rovos Rail’s visionary and idiosyncratic owner, Rohan Vos, summons interested guests for a tour of the grounds. (Mr. Vos began Rovos Rail in 1989 against almost insurmountable odds. His story – Rovos Rail’s story – is fascinating and could fill an entire book. It is only fitting that ‘Rovos’ is a portmanteau of his first and last names!)

The station — abuzz with the activity of more than 400 Rovos Rail employees – sprawls over 60 acres. From the sales offices to the kitchens to the maintenance platforms – where we watch carriages being transformed from dusty old shells into sleek, green Pride of Africa cars – Rovos employees in a variety of green uniforms hurry to and fro, painting, welding, sawing, hauling, cleaning and doing all other manner of task.

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Rovos Rail employees at the station. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

A variety of animals (goats, emu, ostrich, donkeys and cows) hover around the periphery and impart a distinctly Old World air to the scene. Also on the station grounds: a small museum with Rovos memorabilia going back 20 years, a lovely gift shop and storage facilities.

Mr. Vos leads us to the locomotive depot, where he describes the painstaking restorations his team has accomplished over the years. He also explains the train’s bogies and braking system in some detail – a real treat for rail fans – before shepherding us back to the station for our departure.

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Rohan Vos gives a behind-the-scenes tour before departure. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

By now, we’ve come to appreciate Mr. Vos’s hands-on approach – so no one is surprised when he himself delivers the welcome speech and explains the rules of life on board. One point he particularly stresses: mobile phones and computers are prohibited in public areas.  He wants this to be a social occasion, and, as he explains, cell phones are the modern day adversary of good conversation.

He suggests we put our electronics in our safe and forget about them for a few days – a challenge for us, and surely some other guests. We settle with putting our cells on ‘Airplane Mode’ so we can continue to (discreetly) use our phone cameras without guilt.

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Rachel gets a visit from the dining staff and chef. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

Mr. Vos invites each of us aboard by name, and our hostesses greet us and show us to our cabins. Rachel and I each have a Deluxe cabin to ourselves. Mine is laid out with two L-shaped twin beds (a configuration that is slowly being phased out in favor of side-by-side twin beds with an aisle in between), while Rachel has a large double bed.

In each of our cabins is a table with two chairs, a large wardrobe with safe, ample storage space for luggage under bed and overhead, and a spacious bathroom with sink, toilet, and shower.

Large picture windows – some of which open to let in the breeze – run the length of our cabins.

 

(In addition to Deluxe Cabins, which clock in around 118 square feet, the train offers Pullman Cabins (diminutive but doable at 76 sq. ft.) and enormous Royal Suites, which are 172 sq. ft. and feature a larger bathroom with deep claw foot bathtub and large living area.)

After a cheerful briefing from our hostess, Louwrene, and a visit from the dining supervisor and chef to inquire about dietary requirements, we set off to explore the public cars at the rear of the train.

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Rachel and guests enjoying the observation car before dinner. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

We first encounter the smoking car, which is entirely enclosed in glass and surprisingly devoid of bad smells. (Smoking is also allowed within the confines of your cabin.)

Next, we find a quiet, comfortable lounge car with couches and armchairs, which quickly becomes the ‘go-to’ spot for guests looking to read and nap after lunch. A small gift shop is tucked in one corner.

The last car on the train is by far the most special: it is divided between a traditional counter bar with stools, a lounge area with banquette seating (our favorite place for playing the many board games available), and, best of all, an open-air observation platform with bench seating, accessed through a sliding glass door.

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Rovos Rail open-air observation car. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

As we are making our rounds, the train manager, Joe Mathala, greets us enthusiastically and strikes up a conversation about his long and storied career with Rovos. He quickly rattles off the other Rovos trains currently in service – where they are now, where they are headed, what time they will arrive – and regales us with behind-the-scenes tales.

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Joe Mathala, train manager, made us feel at home. Pictured here with guests at lunch in the dining car. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

The South African sun sets rapidly over the increasingly rural landscape, and we retreat to our cabins to dress for dinner. On Rovos Rail, dinner is a formal affair. Jacket and tie for men and cocktail attire for women are required, at a minimum, and everyone happily obliges.

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Angela in the Victorian-style diner. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

The dining car is a 1920s-style Victorian beauty with teak pillars, shuttered windows with tasseled drapes, romantic, soft lighting, and beautifully-set tables with crisp white dining cloths, china, and crystal. Red anthurium flowers add a natural adornment to each table.

The service is excellent; we are well-attended by four able dining staff who bounce back and forth from the kitchen car to the tables, serving, pouring and clearing, all with a smile.  Joe is also ever-present, assisting his staff while still managing to mingle with the guests.

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Alpheus, our sever, pours wine at dinner. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy.

Throughout the journey, the prix fixe menus – four courses expertly paired with South African wines – highlight local specialties, including fresh seafood, ostrich fillet, and Bobotie (spiced mince beef oven-baked with a layer of egg custard). Rachel, a vegetarian, also gave the culinary team five stars for inventiveness and flavor.

We loved the desserts, especially the decadent Koeksister (in Afrikaans, “fat sister”) – fried dough soaking in sweet, drippy grease – paired with a traditional South Africa melktart, dusted with cinnamon.

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My cozy bed, laden with gifts from Rovos Rail, turned down for the night. IRT Photo by Angela Walker.

After dinner, we retreat to our cabins to find gifts from Rovos Rail arranged on our turned-down beds: crystal glasses to keep, bottles of champagne, and chocolates. (As if we needed more food!)  The gentle rocking of the train lulled me to sleep as soon as I hit the pillow.

 

Stayed tuned for part two of our Rovos Rail report, which will be published within the next week. Subscribe to our blog here.

Or, if you are ready to book your own Rovos Rail adventure, call us at 1-800-478-4881 (1-502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or e-mail us: tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Angela Walker is a 20-year veteran of The Society of International Railway Travelers, and has been on many of our World’s Top 25® Trains. She is a luxury travel advisor and VP, Operations.  Rachel M. Hardy is a luxury travel advisor and VP, Sales & Marketing, for the Society of IRT. Both are based in our Louisville, KY headquarters. They have just returned from a month-long study tour examining trains, hotels and experiences in Europe and South Africa.

 

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