I am filled with excitement that I can finally experience, and tick off my bucket list, one of the world’s most luxurious rail travel experiences: Rovos Rail. My journey started off slowly with a 2-hour flight delay between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Luckily, we always advise our clients to book an overnight in Pretoria or Cape Town prior to the train departure. So that there is no chance of missing the connection due to flight delays.
As you enter Pretoria you are met by lush, green tree-lined streets. In the height of summer it would be a spectacular display of purple flowering Jacaranda trees). The Castello Di Monte Hotel is set in a quiet suburb looking out over the Waterkloof Park in the distance. There are great views from their 360° observation tower or Terrace Room balconies. The Tuscan style house comprises of Classic Rooms (without balconies) or Terrace Rooms (with balconies).
Both suite types are very spacious with large bathrooms. Plus all the amenities you can expect from a five-star guest lodge. They also have Honeymoon Suites or a Presidential Suite available if you are looking for more space. Dinner is a la carte to suit all tastes with some good South African wine options.
In the morning you may like to enjoy a tour of the city before your transfer to the Rovos Rail train, ready for its afternoon departure. But the two lounge areas or terrace are great spots to relax with a book and a pot of tea.
On arrival a team of porters meet you, with smiles from ear to ear, to assist you with your luggage. At check-in, personalized luggage tags ensure that your bags reach the proper carriage and room. On entering the private lounge armed with a glass of bubbly, you relax in comfort and style to await your departure.
On the platform there is a historical steam “loco” letting off some steam for your viewing pleasure. And for the real train enthusiasts to enjoy. There’s also a short tour of the train yard and workshop. This gives you a great perspective as to how these trains come to be the spectacular cabins they are. All too soon, it is time to board.
“All aboard” and we are escorted to our cabins to freshen up before drinks in the Observation Car and Dinner. Suddenly you are transported back in time to the good old days. A time when elegance and style was at its pinnacle. They have spared no expense to ensure your travel will be comfortable and relaxing. You meet your carriage hostess who will take care of every need during the two night/three day journey.
As they rely on the South African Rail lines, the train can sometimes experience some delays due to signals not working properly. Or they sometimes have to wait in sidings for freight trains to pass. But a luxury train like Rovos is the epitome of ‘slow travel’. It is all about the journey. And not the destination.
Dinner is an extravagant fine dining affair with formal dress code. The South African cuisine is paired with a fantastic selection of South African wines. Remember to let them know ahead of time if you do have any dietary restrictions.
Luckily I have quite a good sense of balance, as the bathroom regime before bed could become quite tricky with the moving train. I do suggest you use the earplugs provided. Unless you are a sound sleeper or have taken a sleeping aid. The first night might be a bit daunting as you are still getting use to constant movements and sounds.
You are gently rocked awake in the morning. But take your time getting up as you need to find your footing again. After breakfast between 08:00-10:00 you have time to relax and enjoy having some time to yourself.
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Exploring Kimberley and the Big Hole Diamond Mine
You can meander to the observation car and lounge or relax in your room if you prefer. Lunch time gong chimes. We enjoy a 4 course tasting menu with wine to pair with each course. The wines are really exceptional. I don’t feel guilty as an afternoon siesta is my next thought.
After high tea in the lounges we are notified that we disembark the train just outside Kimberley. We then head off to see the Big Hole diamond mine – the largest man-made excavation in the world.
We watch a short film about the history of the mine. Then we head over to the viewing deck to see the giant hole in the ground. Here many men lost their lives in search of the valuable gems. There are some replicas to view some of the more famous and larger finds, as well as a vault with some real stones. Beautiful specimens indeed, hence the saying “Diamonds are a girls’ best friend”. Then we head back to the station for more champagne prior to boarding for our final night on the train.
Dinner is extra special tonight as friends have been made. So you are ensured of good company and some surprises along the way for the last dinner.
Journey to Cape Town
Sunday has arrived and the last leg of our journey to Cape Town. Travelling through the Karoo to Matjiesfontein, we stop off for a short walk in to the village. Walking out on the platform, a gentlemen and his guitar serenades us. This perfectly preserved Victorian railway village takes you back to an era long forgotten, except for the well preserved history in the museum at the station. You walk down the main road past the historic pub. The legendary Lord Milner Hotel is in the centrepiece of the village and a transport motor museum has some grand old vehicles.
Our journey continues to the cape through the picturesque Winelands while lunch is served. After packing up, there is some time to meet for the last time in the Rovos Rail observation car. Or head to the lounge for High Tea and some farewell drinks. But then you see Table Mountain in the distance and you know that you have reached the end of the line and your amazing journey has come to an end. This was truly a wonderful experience and not something that will be forgotten any time soon…
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Co-founder & Director
This Rovos Rail trip report was writing by Gloria Darvall, one of Cedarberg Africa’s senior consultants. Cedarberg Africa is a Africa safari specialist focusing on Southern Africa. We tailor-make itineraries which are designed around YOUR interests. We have been in business for nearly 25 years so we know what we’re doing!
Photographs credit – Gloria Darvall