Rovos Rail – Forward to the Past

The Pride of Africa – Rovos Rail – makes a speciality out of making the style of the past perfect for the present.

We can think of no better a gift for a loved one than one of the magical rail journeys created by Rovos through the panoramas and plains of Africa.
Share your time with someone special or with the eclectic mix of personalities who you’ll meet on board this journey through time.
The beautifully refurbished and upgraded carriages hark back to more elegant times; transporting you into a world where service, quality and style are the norm.

Our journey starts in one of the Rovos Rail private properties at St. James, Cape Town, where our large and sumptuously appointed suite overlooking False Bay sets the scene for what is to come.

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Panorama of our sumptuous sea-view suite at St. James Manor

St.James Manor is one of three period properties run by Rovos, each with its own character but all reflecting the standard so carefully nurtured by the Rovos team. The improbably named ‘Good News’ turns out to be just that – he proves himself to be the perfect host for our stay.

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…and our well appointed bathroom suite at St.James Manor

It seems that no sooner have we settled into St.James Manor in Cape Town than we’re being ushered into our Deluxe suite on board the Rovos Rail train in Durban, the interlude between them simply evaporating in anticipation of our journey on this magical transport.
Rovos operate about eight different routes across South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania with journeys that cover from two nights to two weeks; which in our opinion completely eclipses the single journey offering of the, perhaps better known, Blue Train that just runs non-stop between Pretoria and Cape Town.

 

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Our spacious deluxe double suite with en-suite facilities, wardrobe and four opening/shuttered windows

We’re taking a two night/three day trip between Durban and Pretoria and the first thing that strikes us is that there’s no rush to get this journey over with. We could drive between Durban in Pretoria in about five hours, so it gives you some sort of idea how leisurely and pleasant our time will be on board Rovos.

 

 

Just one look at our programme for the next three days indicates that we’ll be traveling at a steady pace and stopping off for a foray into the old Boer War battlefield of SpionKop followed by a game drive into Nambiti Wildlife Reserve as well as enjoying several other attractions.

Add to this that the train will actually stop overnight en route, meaning we’ll sleep in our suite to a lullaby of birdsong rather than rock and roll and all our meals will be served as we gently trundle through beautiful scenery, so we realise we’re going to be cossetted not crowded on our journey.

rovos-train-20sThe carriages themselves are sadly no longer pulled by classic steam engines as government legislation declares itself averse to bush fires and providing numerous water towers, so the beautifully refurbished rolling stock is pulled by less than elegant state railway diesels but once on board we’re immersed in the atmosphere of what once was.

Our suite on board is perfectly finished and our cabin steward, Joyce, always helpful and attentive – as are all of the staff whose manner and approach to their task is faultless, with the minor exception of short delays at dinner – but who’s in a hurry?

Dinner in the dining car is an event in itself, with everyone dressed formally (collar and tie as a minimum), which gives a sense of occasion and sets the scene for a superb four course meal each night with wines paired to each course; followed by coffee and liqueurs – unless you wish to repair to the lounge car for a nightcap.

 

rovos-train-36-constance-srovos-rail-17We sneak a peek into the kitchen car and are staggered that such wonderful gastronomic creations can be produced within such a confined space – a real credit to both Rovos organisation and Constance who is our chef.

We enjoy the dining car for breakfasts, lunches and dinners during our journey and are constantly surprised and impressed by the standard and variety of cuisine on board that would be a credit to any stationary quality restaurant.

 

 

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We expect to have time on our hands to enjoy more of the plush lounge car or open observation car with its own bar, or to simply relax in our spacious cabin suite but the interesting excursions away from the train on this trip seem to fill what gaps there are.

 

 

The train stops at Ladysmith, which although now simply a sprawling and unremarkable town in itself was a landmark in the travails of the Boer War, around the turn of the nineteenth century, with thousands of British soldiers besieged there for months before a bloody relief was finally achieved. We’re taken to Mount Alice, overlooking SpionKop (Spy Hill), scene of one of the most bloody and futile battles in human history; where our excellent battlefield guide, Raymond Heron, keeps our group absolutely mesmerised by his recounting of the context of South African history and the specifics of the battle of SpionKop. We have never seen so many people spellbound, as virtually the total complement of our train of twenty seven people sits motionless, hanging on every word.
We take a brief break at SpionKop Lodge, owned by Raymond and Lynette Heron, which was General Redvers Buller’s HQ for the battle and now offers accommodation and numerous insights into the various battles conducted by the British with both Boer and Zulu.

 

 

On another occasion we halt long enough in the ‘Midlands’ of Natal for a visit to Nelson Mandela’s capture site where a clever open-air sculpture and adjacent covered exhibition are located; followed by a short diversion to see some highly original and innovative pottery sculptures produced at Ardmore Ceramic Art.
It’s a reflection of the camaraderie that Rovos engenders and the like-minded individuals on board that cultivates a bonhomie among our fellow travellers; such that we find ourselves dining with different companions at each meal.

 

 

By the time we disembark for our safari the following day, banter and friendly chatter has become the norm and as we get to know passengers, begin to better understand their diverse backgrounds and motivations for being on board – it all contributes to the overall pleasure of spending time with Rovos.
Whilst the safari is conducted within a controlled reserve, it nonetheless means that animals are more accessible for viewing within a limited time and in no way detracts from the tapestry that Rovos weaves to complement the notion of our own private train that accommodates and fulfils our own personal wishes. The Rovos team greet us, as always, with a glass or two on our return to the train.

 

 

And for us that’s our overriding impression. We’re a small group of adventurers, transported back in time to a period when luxury private trains pampered to the individual desires of affluent travellers with their own colourful agenda – not that of a grey and regimented state system. Rovos staff themselves, relax with us but are always ever-attentive and courteous throughout our journey; ready with a cold towel and glass of fizz on our return from an outing, or leaving a thoughtful arrangement in our cabin in the evenings. We never did get around to using the goggles, kindly provided for looking out of the fully opening windows in our cabin!

 

 

It’s with some regret that we pull into the dedicated Rovos terminal in Pretoria to disembark and re-join the real world – but not before we’ve had an insight into the immense investment that has, and still, goes into maintaining and expanding the Rovos fleet.

 

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The Rovos yards are replete with steam engines under refurbishment, carriages under repair or complete rebuild and staff who all appear to share the same ethos, friendship and enthusiasm for this prestigious brand.
When you next contemplate Africa, think seriously about making Rovos part, or all, of your itinerary – it’ll nurture the romantic in you!

 

Cherrie's Notes

Have a look at one of the Rovos Rail YouTube videos to give you a flavour of their journeys and if you’d like more information on Rovos Rail and the places we visited en-route then the links are below.

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Rovos Rail

SpionKop Lodge – operated by Raymond & Lynette Heron

Capture Site of Nelson Mandela

Ardmore Ceramic Art by Fee Halsted

Nambiti Game Reserve

Credit: Images of the Boer & Zulu Wars courtesy of British Battles

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