The Pride of Africa train, Rovos Rail, claims to be “The Most Luxurious Train in the World” so it was not without some eagerness that I immediately accepted their offer to experience this prestigious train experience.
Rovos Rail offers various journeys throughout Africa. And you would be hard-pressed to find another more luxurious way to enjoy the splendour of the African continent. I have always loved trains as a means of travel, and that passion has been heightened quite significantly after experiencing all that Rovos Rail offers.
We stepped aboard in Pretoria, the starting point of a 1600 kilometre journey to Cape Town that would last 51 hours in total. This included two wonderful excursions in Kimberley and Matjiesfontein. This meandering trip is the perfect way to appreciate the diverse landscapes that exist within the borders of South Africa. Grasslands, desert, mountains and winelands all formed part of the mesmerising scenery that gently rolled past our windows.
To say that the Pride of Africa train is extravagant would be an understatement. Yet it somehow manages to exude this level of luxury with elegance and gentility. There is nothing brash or ostentatious about it at all. The glamour of the golden age of train travel permeates the atmosphere, allowing you to gently sink into the indulgence and charm that makes this an unforgettable experience. However, this is not to say that this grace of the bygone era is unaccompanied by modern comforts.
The train consists of as many as 36 beautifully appointed suites, allowing for a maximum of 72 passengers at any one time. The suites, like all the coaches, have been remodelled and refurbished to perfect condition. The beautiful wood-panelled suites each have an en suite bathroom that combines modern technology with original fittings. These spacious suites allow guests to experience both privacy and luxury throughout their journey. And this level of luxury extends to all other areas of the Pride of Africa train.
Depending on the number of passengers, the train can feature up to two lounge cars, two dining cars, an observation car as well as a club car. The lounge cars contain plush couches and wingback chairs where guests can relax and unwind. Although these cars are air-conditioned, guests are able to open the windows – a unique feature that enables passengers to truly immerse themselves in the sights, smells, and sounds of the African landscape. For those who wish to drink in as much of the visual vista as possible, the large glass panels and open air decks of the observation cars dissolve the divide between passengers and scenery. The club car provides these features for guests who prefer to smoke whilst appreciating the beauty of the countryside. The dining cars are notably more formal in decor, in keeping with the formal attire that is required of all guests during dinner service.
Sitting the Victorian era dining car in evening wear was like stepping into another era. This was certainly the case on our final evening, when the waiters and barmen donned tuxedos and gave each guest a rose corsage.
The food was simply incredible, featuring fresh local ingredients and dishes with a distinctly South African flavour. These were accompanied by the finest South African wines, which are known to be some of the best in the world. Our last meal on the train was a ‘Proudly South African’ lunch. This featured delightful takes on South African dishes such as bobotie, prawn skewers, as well as melktert and koeksisters. Overall, the food that was served throughout the journey was on a par with the best restaurants. That’s quite something when you consider the practicalities of preparing four course meals on a train.
What stands out above all else is the impeccable service offered by Rovos Rail. At the station in Pretoria, we were greeted by Mr Rohan Vos, the owner, who personally escorted us onto the train and to our suite. It is undoubtedly his hands-on approach that sets the tone for the friendly and attentive service throughout the journey. The staff happily cater to your every whim. Nothing is too much trouble. More importantly, the staff create a warm and friendly atmosphere that fosters congeniality between passengers, regardless of language or nationality.
Rovos Rail offers something exceptional. I have yet to discover a more memorable or enjoyable way to travel – something that I heard echoed in other passengers’ comments throughout our journey together across the South African landscape.