- Overall Impression
- Common Areas
The speediest, most efficient or most comfortable way to travel from Pretoria to Cape Town it was not. What made the two-night luxury rail journey special was the overall experience of travel aboard an antique style train with luxury compartments and amenities, and a small group of guests moving at a leisurely pace and affording travelers the opportunity to spend time with each other with minimum electronic entertainment (there was no television, internet or reliable cellphone signal aboard and use of electronic gear in common areas was discouraged by Rovos).
Travel aboard the Rovos train provided a glimpse of life for the elite in historic South Africa. One of the aspects we enjoyed most was the intimate social ambiance that welcomed conversation with fellow passengers, group activities and meals. Meals, especially dinner, were plated and elegant with a pretty dinnerware, silverware and glassware service, wine and multiple courses. Although seating for meals was by party it was possible to sit with other passengers in the dining car. More than once we shared a table and amenable conversation at meal times with others passengers we met on the train. We enjoyed the trip and would travel by Rovos Rail again on this same route or another and recommend the trip to friends who appreciate the amenities of an antique style train experience.
Duration Two nights
Established The company was established in 1989
Handicapped Access A spokesperson explained that although the train had ramps for easy access from platforms and a wheelchairs for land excursions off the train the company could not accommodate wheelchairs on board the train at all due to the space limitations in passages and suite doorways. Rovos could accommodate guests with limited mobility able to walk short distances on board the train but was unable to accommodate wheelchair bound guests (para or quadriplegic). In order to travel on the train guests had to be able walk with the assistance of a stick or walking frame and “be fairly steady on their feet due the rocking motion when the train is on the move.”
Internet Connectivity There was no internet service on board. Devices that connected to the internet and mobile phones were unwelcome in common areas although I saw a number of passengers in common areas talking on the phone and using their electronic devices openly.
Location From the Rovos Rail Station in Pretoria to the main train station in Cape Town, South Africa
Owned And Managed Rovos Rail Tours (Pty) Ltd (owned by Rohan Vos)
Size There were 34 passengers from nine countries (Brazil, Germany, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and United States) in 19 compartments and 14 coaches looked after by a staff compliment of 14.
Smoking We saw several smokers in the Club Lounge and in the rear most section of the last car of the train.
Specialty Antique and antique style train cars, journey
Transportation From our hotel in Johannesburg we hired a taxi service to drive us about one hour to Pretoria. When we arrived in Cape Town our rental car was awaiting us at the train station.
It was furnished with two single beds with antique rose pattern design set perpendicularly from each other, each facing the varnished wood wall. Whether it was because of the jet lag, size of the mattresses, the movement of the train, frequent stops and starts or the many unfamiliar squeaking and metallic sounds neither of us slept well aboard (we heard about similar experiences from fellow travelers). Patterned hunter green and beige carpeting covered the floor. A comfortable temperature was maintained in the compartment thanks to a remote controlled wall air conditioning unit above the wood wardrobe closet. A small wood table occupied the space across from the bed nearest the sliding wood entrance door.
The compartment entrance had only and interior lock. When we were out of the compartment it remained unlocked. The coaches were locked from the inside so passersby could not open the doors and enter the train. It was necessary to lock our windows and close our shutters any time we were not in our compartment.
Atop the table was a green folder with information about Rovos and its journeys and the 2010/2011 Rovos Rail Journeys magazine. Under the table there was a mini refrigerator stocked with two one-liter plastic bottles of Babamanzi still spring water, a half a bottle of Villiera Tradition brut sparkling wine and individual sealed milk containers. A bottom drawer contained a hot beverage service. Two framed copies of newspaper clips dating back to 1934 hung on the rear wall of the compartment. A half size mirror was attached to the wall nearest the entrance.
We placed our personal items in the wardrobe near the entrance and toiletries in a small bathroom cabinet. Once empty our suitcases fit in a space between the wall and ceiling. There was a phone on the wall above the electricity plug in case we wished to call our attendant or other guests. There was an electronic safe in the closet.
Friday for dinner we had: Timbale of flaked crab with lemon and pink ginger topped with a wasabi rice wafer and Franschoek smoked trout; Slow roasted Karoo lamb shank with mashed potatoes and a green bean parcel; Dalewood Brie topped with Melba toast and a light salad dressed in olive oil; and Almond and sugar palmiers pastries layered with fresh strawberries and cream. Lunch Saturday: Grilled queen scallops with lemon-scented hollandaise sauce; Balsamic and lemon-marinated slices of ostrich fillet with ribbons of blanched courgettes on a bed of whole-grain mustard and mayonnaise potato salad (a favorite); Duo of Huguenot and Amabutho cheddar cheeses (a favorite) served with aloe and chili tomato relish, pickled walnut (a favorite), fresh grapes and warm wholegrain bread roll; and Seasonal fresh fruit salad with shortbread and mascarpone cream. Dinner Saturday was: Sweet potato and lychee soup with peanut butter cream; Grilled Cape rock lobster tails with haricot flavored bisque cream, Mediterranean vegetables and lemon rice; A local Gorgonzola with greens, fresh fruit and whole-grain toast; and Dark chocolate fondant with fresh seasonal berries and chocolate sauce. Lunch Sunday: Traditional South African Bobotie (a gently spiced beef mince dish oven-baked with a layer of savoury egg custard) served warm with fruit chutney and an apricot, julienne pepper and kiwi fruit salad topped with almonds; Garlic and lemon grilled prawn skewer on a green salad with a julienne of peppers, mange tout and cucumber drizzled with coriander and ginger dressing and garnished with toasted cashew nuts; Drunken Pecorino (previously soaked in merlot wine) with a salad of wild leaves and think slivers of apple garnished with chives and dressed with a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette; and South African melktert (a sweet pastry crust with a creamy milk filling and a dusting of cinnamon) served with a small syrup-coated doughnut or Koeksister. Each course was served with a paired South African wine usually although some passengers requested wines on the menu not scheduled for that particular course.
For breakfast there was a fruit selection from a platter (guava, raspberries, mango, green grapes), small yogurt cups, small mixed fruit cups, cereal filled bowls and several options from an a la carte menu: cold cheese and cold cuts plate, omelet, eggs with a selection of sides of sausage, bacon, ham, tomato, and mushrooms. A bread basket contained toasted whole wheat and white bread, a bran muffin and a croissant.
One night at dinner, we were presented with fresh rose bud corsages (yellow for the ladies and pink for the gentlemen). There was a library with newspapers, board games and coffee table books for our use on board.
Facilities Gift shop, dining car, public toilet in the coach before the dining car, lounge, smoking lounge, and Observation Car.
Gift Shop In addition to a gift shop at the Pretoria Capital Park station which was closed the day we were there there was an on board shop. At the beginning of the Lounge Car there was a section dedicated to a gift shop and a a staff person during set times available to assist guests wishing to shop. There were branded souvenirs such as collared polo shirts, sports caps, gold and tanzanite jewelry, crystal glasses, pens and teddy bears. They were out of safari shirts on during our the train journey.
Our excursion to The Big Hole in Kimberley began at 9:45 a.m. and ended at 12:30 p.m. Veronica Bruce, our local tour guide was knowledgeable and courteous. Sunday we woke up at 6:15 a.m. to take photos and have an early breakfast. Most of the passengers including us deboarded to follow a pebbly path that paralleled the train tracks and led directly into the old village of Majestfontein. When we arrived the train was already there. We freshened up briefly and went back out to explore the sleepy looking village.
After a few minutes we reentered the lounge and made our way to the rear of the room for a glass of South African sparkling wine. Tea sandwiches were on another table. We asked to share space with some of the other guests and chatted expectantly for a while until Rohan Vos, an older gentleman with a sense of humor, welcomed us. He extended a special welcome back to those of us who had been on Rovos Rail before (there were eight of us) and described the train ride we were about to embark on toward Cape Town. He also explained that due to a special golf tournament taking place on Sunday afternoon he would not be welcoming us on our arrival in Cape Town as he usually did. His wife was at the station Sunday afternoon, one of the staff members mentioned when we arrived.
After he bid us a good journey the staff invited us by guest names to embark the train for our slightly delayed departure. We followed Innocentia “Inno” Mohloane and her trainee, Tiffany Lowe, to our Deluxe accommodations. Soon our luggage arrived and we unpacked. Shortly after that Inno and Tiffany knocked on our door to orient us on Rovos amenities and the use of our compartment.
Other The trains were made up of different coaches for each journey; in other words Rovos staff assembled the train according to the type and number of suites booked by passengers. We were provided a list of the train occupants including guests and staff and their location. There was a beverage preferences list we used to request sodas for the refrigerator. Light laundry service was possible as was pressing. I completed those Friday night and the pressing items were brought to our compartment Saturday afternoon (I had said to Inno the pressing was not urgent).
Rovos recycled glass, plastic, tins and paper on short (two night) journeys and purchased organic ingredients from local suppliers for its menus.
At the conclusion of the two-night journey we each received a numbered personalized certificate for “The Most Luxurious Train in the World” signed and dated by Johan Vos.
Reviewers Article by Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
Service Our compartment staff stood out for their efficient and friendly attitude. Our compartment was cleaned in the morning and prepared for sleep at night. In between those times, the staff took away dishes and tidied the compartment in the course of the day. Inno, who looked after our compartment while working with a trainee, was pleasant and service oriented. As part of the turn down service the staff prepared beds, emptied waste bins, set the tea service atop the table with a hot water pitcher and left weather and activities cards. On our return from dinner Saturday we found a towel arranged with the bottle of sparkling wine from our fridge on top along with two champagne flutes and bite size morsels of chocolate. One morning, we went to breakfast without hanging the “make up room” tag (the other tags were “room service” and “do not disturb”) outside our door. When we returned Inno was tidying our room. When I asked how she knew we were not in the room she said she had seen us in the dining car having breakfast. The bottled water and Coca Cola Light I requested more of before we departed on the morning walk at 8 a.m. were awaiting us on our return, hot and dusty from our walk.
The dining room staff were less efficient than was necessary (at dinner Friday they brought one main course and it was only 20 minutes or so later before the other two courses arrived). Several times we requested something and they brought something else or nothing at all. It took two requests and the assistance of another guest to be served drinks the first night in the Observation Car.
Would You Take This Voyage Again Yes