Winter Getaways: Travel Africa with Rovos Rail

The Rovos 'Pride of Africa' steam trainI was fortunate enough to experience one of Rovos Rail’s tour packages this past weekend, and – without prompt or obligation – I can give Rovos a firm 9/10 for their Pretoria to Cape Town trip.

I can simply describe it as a world of 5-star luxury in motion, and it’s why Rovos Rail Tours is often times spoken about with such reverence, in global travel.

It had been a while since I set foot in an airport, and I had missed the hustle and bustle of an international airport, so I flew across the country feeling nebulously content. I’m a young adult with a healthy appreciation for decadence, and a penchant for finding all manner of gems – whether in fashion, film or even travel. Saying that, I embrace the fact that I would personally travel any great distance at any time, to experience unrivaled award-winning hospitality.

I have embarked on road trips all over the country with my mother; so I had a few expectations regarding the locations and scenery. However, travelling by train is a whole new ballpark that you couldn’t hope to emulate, as any imitation would be an unmitigated disaster. Choo-chooíng across SA on a Rovos 2-days luxury travel package reveals some of South Africa’s most hidden scenic gems, and creates picture-perfect moments most memorably.

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The ‘Pride of Africa’ is the train we got to board on a trip Rovos takes regularly throughout the year – with its passengers often times combining it to include the Victoria Falls route, or a great many other alternatives. This trip had about 31 passengers made up of nationals from Australia, America, South Africa, and China, as well as some of the most diligent body of staff members that revealed themselves to be integral to us getting the best experience ever – right from the minute they call to confirm your reservation, to the point in which you exit Rovos’s train at your destination.

The itinerary for the duration of the trip mapped out Pretoria, Johannesburg, Germiston, the goldfields of Witwatersrand, Kimberley, some Lesser Flamingo spotting; the Diamond Mine Museum, the Karoo, Beaufort West, Matjiesfontein, Whitehall Siding for a walk; small towns like Worcester, Tweedside and Touws River; and the 13.5km long Hex River pass tunnel.Lesser Flamingos outside Kimberley

Guests were ushered to their rooms where your luggage had already been taken, and the room set up to one’s specific needs. My Deluxe suite seemed like a guest room at Westminster Castle, with its textured gold, black and maroon embellishing’s backdropped with Cherrywood and perfect lighting. The rooms generally work modern space-optimization conveniences with aristocratic old-world grandeur.IMG_20160611_101512

An information file contained maps, the Rovos Rail Journeys magazine, laundry lists, discreet gratuity envelopes, beverage request forms and more. Each room is fitted with bathroom heaters, and an air conditioner that I made sure to set to a toasty 27 degrees due to this winter chill.

A nice touch was daily weather temperature cards placed in every room the previous night, so one can dress appropriately for the chill that makes its way through the train halls.

One has screens you can open and shut whenever the need to see the outside world piques your interest; while my main preoccupation became snuggling up to the thousand+ thread count sheets and poofy duvets and electric blanket. Guests could spend the entire duration doing whatever they wanted (within reason) and the only firm rule held by the staff, is the strict dress code for dinners’ fine dining at exactly 19:30pm.

The train has libraries with guest languages considered, a gift shop, tea every day, amenities, and staff at your beck-and-call any time. No technology is a prerequisite the minute you leave your cabin, because the owner – Rohan Vos – believes strongly in reviving the culture of basic human interaction and guest communication without hindrance. Besides, the network works so sporadically, that it renders most devices useless – and the tech actually clashes with the décor and ambiance. I could only Instagram a couple of times so “woe is me” but not really 🙂

Stripping one of the intimate familiarity of their technology actually enhances ones senses a little. When it came to dining, I was much more attuned to the ambiance set by the music, food and décor; and it made me experience fine dining much more profoundly. I can only really tolerate Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc so the vast wine tasting embarked on every day was wasted on me, but I am told how impressive the Meerlust Rubicon and Josstenberg Noble Louxe Harvest were, by wine aficionados.

The food was really the clincher for me: a 4-course dining experience daily with quality food in reasonably filling portions, had me in a permanent state of the itis. I was forced to recall all my past knowledge of fine dining etiquette, without the aid of Google, but I managed to use the right utensils (by side-eyeing those within my eye line first, just to be sure) and stuff myself silly with good food and all the chocolates that kept popping up on me around the train.

The only complaint voiced by guests throughout the trip was noise, which I cannot understand considering noise is expected and unavoidable on a mode of transport that utilized metal railway tracks….but anyway…I slept like a baby on account of the rocking motion of the train – though my mother professes that I was such a fussy sleeper as a baby soooooo yeah…

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Seeing Kimberley once again, and getting the full diamond mine tour was really interesting. I avoided entering the museum homesteads – and touching anything – in the abandoned town that tourists see upon entering the landmark area of The Big Hole. I watch way too much Supernatural to not be cautious enough. Even though we spent a significant portion of the journey in the Kimberley area, practically every place we traveled through presented some exceptional views.

I personally think that among the list of great things about this trip, one of the best is that it is impossible to sugar-coat the socioeconomic realities within South Africa, which showcases itself prominently in the aesthetic of South Africa’s landscape, which this train runs through. You will see towering mansions, ransacked shacks and abandoned buildings in the same breath. There are bone-dry drought-experiencing farm lands right by flourishing green wine estates; and the guests viewing such sharp socioeconomic juxtaposition of real people, from the rich comfort and removed relative safety of their rooms, get a serving of archetypal tourist experiences, as well as unavoidable realities of the country – which makes for quite a bit to meditate on later.

A huge thank you to Brenda Vos, Ian Morrison, Portia, Patricia and every other member of the Rovos Rail staff, who had a hand in my birthday cake and presents surprise, in making me feel so welcome, and providing me with an invaluable and unforgettable travel hospitality experience.

This is the trip you want for any special occasion, or simply just to getaway. This trip is great for every season, accommodates any nationality and your individual needs; the train is available for private hire, and anyone who is tired of typical travel and accommodation situations, can revel in the beauty of Africa in a uniquely Rovos way.

Klaas in Session gives Rovos Rail a 9/10.

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Visit www.rovos.com to find out more.

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