Awaken the nostalgia of travel from a bygone era with crisp white table linen, silver cutlery, fine china and crystal glasses, as you and your fellow guests, dressed in your finest evening wear, are served by waiters in coat tails. Dining on the move is one of life’s greatest pleasures, especially when it's fine dining complemented by exemplary wines. While your taste buds savour the sensations, you can take the opportunity to drink in some of the country’s most spectacular scenery.
This is luxury rail travel, a classic experience that invokes an era of elegance and romance. All meals are freshly prepared on board the trains by executive chefs and guests are lavished with attentive service and every imaginable comfort.
Opulent suites ensure that you journey in the utmost contentment - on Rovos, all suites have been restored to their original Edwardian style - and all come with private ensuite bathrooms, some with Victorian era baths. Personal service of the highest calibre is standard, with a dedicated butler at your beck and call to make you feel like the royalty of old.
There are three options for Southern African rail travel: Rovos Rail, The Blue Train and the Shongololo Express (owned by Rovos). The trains operate a number of different routes and experiences across Southern and East Africa, making it easy to combine into most itineraries.
Rovos Rail is often referred to as the most luxurious train in the world. Its carriages are the epitome of grandeur and sophistication, all vintage wood panels and period décor, which capture the romance of days gone by. ‘The Pride of Africa’ has a fleet of 75 carriages and you can choose from 3 suite types. The Royal Suites take up half a carriage and have their own private lounge area and Victorian bath. The Deluxe Suites have a smaller lounge area and en suite bathroom, and the smallest Pullman Suites have either a double bed or bunk beds which can be converted into a couch.
During the day you’ll unwind in the observation or lounge cars, where sweeping wing-backed chairs and deep sofas are perfect for observing the countryside. In the evenings you’ll dress for dinner in your most glamorous evening clothes (jacket and tie for men) before heading to a pre-1940’s dining car for first-class cuisine served by attentive waiters.
To maintain the spirit of travel in a bygone era, there are no radios or tv sets on board and the use of mobile phones, laptops and anything that will disturb the other passengers is confined to the privacy of your suite.
Rovos Rail Journeys
Rovos Rail trains travel specific routes on set days at set times, and you have to stay on for the entire route. The ethos is about experiencing the journey rather than rushing to the destination, so it’s important that you’re on board for the whole enchanting Edwardian-style adventure.
Cape Town Journey: a popular two-night trip between Pretoria and Cape Town. On arrival at Rovos’ private colonial-style station in Capital Park Pretoria, you’ll sip cocktails and enjoy canapés before climbing aboad to depart through Highveld grasslands, the semi-desert Karoo, dramatic mountain ranges and the vineyards of the Cape Winelands.
Victoria Falls Journey: a three-night adventure that travels through Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand goldfields, enters Botswana at Mafikeng and continues to the Zimbabwe border at Plumtree. The train travels through the Hwange National Park, offering plenty of game-viewing opportunities, before finishing at the Victoria Falls.
Durban Journey: a two-night safari between Pretoria and Durban that only operates during summer and includes a game drive and battlefields tour.
Golf Journey: an eight-night golf safari that starts and ends in Pretoria taking you to some of the most famous golf courses in the country.
Namibia Journey: an eight-night safari trip that only takes place once a year in April/May, travelling to Kimberley through the Northern Cape, and the Karoo to the Fish River Canyon. On arrival in Windhoek, you’ll take a short flight to the Sossusvlei pan in the Namib Desert and spend a night in Etosha National Park, before ending your journey in the beach resort of Swakopmund. Tip: this is very popular – you’ll need to book at least 2 years in advance.
While Rovos is all about old-world style, the Blue Train is a more modern experience although, like Rovos, the emphasis is on detailed attention to personal service. You'll have an iPod docking station in your suite, but you’ll also have a butler to take care of your every need.
The De Luxe and bigger Luxury Suites include all the things you need for a comfortable and entertaining journey, including a full-length bathtub and wifi connection. Once you’re done relaxing in your luxury pad, you can head to the elegant lounge car with its huge windows that are perfect for gazing at the passing scenery. Dining on The Blue Train is a five-star experience with all signature dishes being made from the freshest local ingredients. The large menu gives you substantial choice for your evening meals.
Blue Train Journeys
The Blue Train travels between Cape Town and Pretoria in 30 hours. The northern route includes an off-train stop in Matjiesfontein, a Karoo town that perfectly reflects the archaic charm of train travel. You can take a trip on the Old London Bus and be summoned to dinner by trumpet…yes, much like a royal subject.
The southbound trip includes an off-train stop in Kimberley, the mining town whose biggest claim to fame is the Big Hole, the largest hand-dug excavation in the world.
The Shongololo Express is named after Africa's millipede, known locally as the shongololo, because of its similar snake-like appearance and sinuous movement. Now owned by Rovos, the train embarks on three journeys that travel across South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.ig
The major difference between Shongololo and the other two trains is that Shongololo is a 3 star rail experience, while Rovos and the Blue Train are aimed at high-end passengers seeking the ultimate in 5 star luxury. Guests can also purchase optional off-train extras including visits to cultural, historical and heritage sites, as well as overnight stays at safari lodges.
The train can accommodate 72 guests in either Emerald or Gold cabins. You'll be served modern and traditional local cuisine in the dining cars, accompanied by top South African wines. There is also bar car, small smoking lounge and an observation car with open-air balcony.
Shongololo Express Journeys
Shongololo hosts 3 journeys:
Southern Cross – Pretoria to Victoria Falls (12 days)
Dune Express – Pretoria to Swakopmund (12 days)
Good Hope Golf – Pretoria to Cape Town (15 days)
All journeys have golfing options attached for enthusiasts.
Keen to plan your cross country luxury rail experience? Contact our specialist travel consultants to discuss the scheduled departure dates and how you can include this bucket list experience in your itinerary.