Tag Archives: Luxury Train in Africa

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.

Rovos: Club-Like Comfort from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam

1 Sep

Society CEO Owen Hardy and member David Cowley, spruced up for the final dinner before arrival in Dar es Salaam, share a drink at the outdoor platform in the rear lounge car. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

(Continued from Part 1)

While the Eastern & Oriental Express or the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express probably win the top awards for utter beauty, Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa is more like a comfortable London club.

That’s where we spent some of the best moments of our recent Cape Town – Dar es Salaam “Owners’ Choice” group tour last month. (To read my first installment, click here.)

Interiors, constructed in Rovos’ Capital Park headquarters in Pretoria, are outfitted in dark, varnished Rhodesian teak, with polished brass, thick carpeting and, in the diners, gleaming silver, crystal and cutlery.

King size bed in Rovos Rail Deluxe Suite. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Our deluxe suite was spacious and tastefully appointed, with all the standard amenities – shampoo, conditioner, fine soap, shoe mitt, etc. — one would expect of a five-star hotel.  We loved it: it was the biggest compartment we have experienced. And if we were delighted, our IRT guests in the Royal Suite, with its two armchairs and full-sized Victorian porcelain bathtub, were thrilled with their half-a-train-car accommodation.

Our first day on the train commenced as so many would thereafter: with leisure spent in the privacy of our cabin, followed by a visit down to the rear lounge car to enjoy its over-sized outdoor section. Soon afterwards, we heard the mellifluous sound of chimes,  rung by a Rovos Rail staff member walking the length of the train, signaling that lunch was being served.

Meals on Rovos Rail are grand affairs. Lunch and dinner typically include four courses.

Cheese course is served at lunch and dinner. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Following a starter is the main course, which could be fish, lamb, beef or, more exotically: springbok (tastes like steak) or ostrich (also tastes like steak). Imaginative vegetarian options also are available. Next comes a cheese course, followed by dessert and coffee or tea.

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc

A word of warning about meals: each course is paired with an excellent South African wine. On our trip, wine stewards Gareth van Wyk and Michael van Rooyen enthusiastically described their wines’ provenance and taste characteristics.

But while sometimes one wine will work for two courses, many times each course will be paired with a different wine, including, at dessert, a liqueur such as Kahlua or Frangelico, or one of the many fine South African dessert wines.

If you’re like me, you’ll want to try them all, but the cumulative effect can be debilitating. And don’t forget: there are many all-train days, when your natural tendency will be to move following the meal to one of the two lounges, where more (“free”) wine and spirits are flowing. So pace yourself.

Fidgety types might wonder what one does all day on a train. On the Pride of Africa, the list of possibilities is long – and each passenger seems to develop his own routine and favorite perch.

In our case, the most serious photographers hung out at the rear. In fact, they rarely left their privileged positions.

Waving children

Children love trains everywhere – including Africa. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

(So don’t be afraid to speak up and request equal time. There’s nothing better than viewing an African sunset from that vantage point. And whole villages seem to empty their children beside the tracks to wave to the train people rattling by. Waving back, one can’t help but feel a bit like visiting royalty.)

Other people liked the indoor section of the lounge, with its sumptuous cakes and finger sandwiches during afternoon tea, or the ready drinks from the bar, available anytime.

Still others liked the front lounge and the services of Nicholas Schofield, the train historian, who delivered five lectures, each about an hour, on African history, politics and culture in his singular, breathless style, which makes him impossible not to enjoy.

Unlike many on-board academics, who seem to hide in their cabins between lectures, the ever-chipper Mr. Schofield makes himself available to all. Arrive early to get the best seats; double-check timings daily because they are subject to change.

Looking out a Rovos Rail window.

IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy enjoys her favorite pasttime: looking out her compartment window. IRT photo by Owen Hardy

Another option is to visit hairdresser Craig Geater’s salon – included in your fare. After almost 3 weeks in Africa, I definitely was ready for a haircut and beard trim, which Craig expertly provided in his tiny quarters. But be reasonable in your expectations. You’re in a moving, sometimes jolting train, after all, so don’t ask for a shave with a straight-edge razor. No one wants an impromptu performance of Sweeney Todd. But it was a blast to be rolling along, Tanzania’s gorges and mountains rolling by, while Craig trimmed our hair.

Finally, if you’re the quieter type, you might prefer simply sitting in your private room, looking out of one of the multiple windows, as did IRT travelers Sam and Betty Nuckolls. Sipping their Jack Daniels, they happily watched Africa unfurl as if they had a front-row seat at an old-fashioned Cinerama movie theatre.

All in all, it’s a great way to travel.

(For up-to-date price and date info, click here: Rovos Rail Cape Town – Dar es Salaam)

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