Tag Archives: Luxury train

Experience the love of adventure…

… and the conservation of Africa’s wildlife

Ellie and May Instagram

Rovos Rail are now stocking the stunningly beautiful products of Ellie and May in our gift shops on all our journeys. Come and experience the love of adventure and the conservation of Africa’s wildlife onboard our train. The Ellie and May story is truly a remarkable one, which started with the hope of keeping a family smiling with the ongoing legacy of a loved one. Ellie and May is a lifestyle apparel brand contributing to conservation and the love of adventure. Every purchase of one of their products goes towards raising awareness about elephant conservation in Africa.

Ellie and May Instagram

How it all began

In 2013 a very tragic accident happened which left a very close family absolutely shattered. Their lives changed forever on that day and their family member, Mike, will always be missed. But they chose to be an optimistic bunch and try to see the positivity in all things. Ellie and May started with them forming ideas about a fund in Mike’s name for conservation. The logo of Ellie and May is based on a tattoo, which is now also the face of The McMillan Conservation Fund.

Ellie and May Instagram

The products

There are three different types of products including Ellie buckets, Ellie caps, and Ellie beanies. Each cap comes with an ellie & may sticker with which you can spread the word and the love. Snap a pick whenever you see a Ellie & May sticker and tag @ellie_andmay and #jointheherd, to unite all on Instagram. The caps embody a vibrant personality, while being trendy, brightly coloured, and adventurous. All sold caps are also helping to raise awareness for African wildlife.

Ellie and May Instagram

Please note that Ellie and May items are subject to availability and not are always in stock and available on board.

Ellie and May Instagram

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Rovos Rail adds the world’s first floral rum to all journeys

The Journey to the Sun has begun, with Suncamino Floral Rum!

Rovos Rail Suncamino Rum
Suncamino Floral Rum Instagram

The journey to the sun

Rovos Rail added the world’s first floral rum to our already impressive range of spirits. Suncamino Floral Rum is the brainchild of three Capetonian friends who shares a love of adventure, the outdoors, and the ocean. These friends got together and created something magical. Suncamino is a Spanish word, which means “Journey to the sun”, and what a journey it has been. Part of what makes the Suncamino journey so special is their mantra, which is simply: bring good company, a bottle of Suncamino, and pick a spot on the map – The rest will take care of itself.

Rovos Rail Suncamino Floral Rum
Suncamino Floral Rum Instagram

Where it all began

The idea behind Suncamino rum originated in Cape Town. Thereafter the three friends travelled to Barbedos and developed their signature 8yo blend with the help of a local distiller. This incredibly smooth rum ages for 8 years in a typical Caribbean climate in ex-bourbon barrels. As the world’s first floral rum, the intention behind aging the rum is to preserve the naturally beautiful aromas. As well as to develop a rum that is perfect in its natural form without having to add a lot of extra trimmings.

Rovos Rail Suncamino Floral Rum
Suncamino Floral Rum Instagram

Why choose Suncamino on Rovos Rail

Once the blend was perfect, the friends travelled to sunny Cape Town where a local botanist subtly infused the rum with natural floral extracts typical of the Cape. It is a beautiful bouquet of floral botanicals that complement the rum’s signature notes. What makes this rum so incredibly unique is some of the exceptional flavours found in the rum which includes Hibiscus, Honeybush and Orange Blossom. Suncamino Floral Rum can be enjoyed in a range of ways, it is only dependant on your mood. We invite the dreamers, the travellers, the chance-takers, and those who know the quality of life to bring their passion for everyday adventure to enjoy the rum on our train journeys.

Rovos Rail Suncamino Floral Rum
Suncamino Floral Rum Instagram

Suncamina Floral Run can be enjoyed on a trip to Cape Town and all Rovos Rail journeys. Come as you are and you will be welcomed.

Please note that items on our wine list and bar menus are subject to availability and not always in stock and available on board.

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On Track to Romance and Relaxation

Rovos Rail in Africa, The world’s most luxurious train

Blog post courtesy of Gillian Mclaren

Image by Rovos Rail

The departure

Epitomizing a bygone era in train travel, Rovos Rail, The world’s most luxurious train provides a stylish experience on the 870-mile journey from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, to Pretoria in South Africa. Departing from Victoria Falls Railway Station – established in 1904 – insouciant baboons stroll on the platform, as rumpeter hornbills call from the canopies of Natal Mahogany trees. An à capella african choir serenades us enthusiastically, as we proceed along the red carpet to board the train. Like travelers of the Belle Époque, we are led by our hostess to our vintage sleeper coach, with its walls of burnished Mahogany. Our luggage is waiting, our double bed made up in crispy white linen and in our ensuite bathroom is immaculate. A canvas toiletry bag holds useful amenities. Low beams from the setting sun filter through three windows. The train blows her high-pitched whistle, then with a chug, we are on the way.

Image by Rovos Rail
Image by Gillian McLaren

Ladies and gentlemen are required to dress formally for dinner, so passengers arrive at the dining car looking elegant. Tables are made up of two-seaters and four-seaters, so guests may dine together or individually. White damask tablecloths, silver cutlery and cut glass crystalware complement fine china. Our sommelier, wearing a dapper waistcoat, pours the first wine with a flourish. We taste the iced Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc to be paired with the starter, declaring it to be delectable. Chosen carefully to be enjoyed any time during the journey, the wines are South African with 4-5 star ratings, including the renowned Meerlust Rubicon. The table d’hôte menu, with vegetarian options, has 3 courses, followed by a cheese plate, then dessert. Exceptionally tasty and presented with flair, the cuisine – with its accent on fresh local ingredients and traditional dishes – is a consistent highlight each day of the four-night journey on the world’s most luxurious train.

Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Gillian McLaren

After the formal dinner, guests repair to their cabins, or stroll down carpeted corridors to the Lounge Car or Observation Car – that includes an open air balcony – for post-prandial conversation and a nightcap. Perfectly designed to mingle with fellow travelers, or to find a quiet corner, these cars have picture windows, comfortable sofas, wing backed chairs and booths. To re-create the feeling of timeless travel, in grandeur and quietude, the use of mobile phones is discouraged. This adds time for a game of cards, backgammon, scrabble, to peruse the leather-bound books, or to watch the scenery go by. The Club Car is a glass-enclosed space for smokers to take pleasure in their cigarettes, or cigars, while being able to watch the countryside on both sides of the train.

Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Rovos Rail

Returning to our sleeper carriage, we find the shutters closed, soft lighting over a turned down bed, plus a gift of Wedgwood nougat. Clothing that we had chosen for the excursion in the morning has already been pressed by our hostess. Though adrenalized by excitement and anticipation, the motion of the train and repetitive sound on the tracks eventually rocks us to sleep.

Image by Gillian McLaren

As the sun’s rays ease over the horizon at Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, we enjoy a continental breakfast, including pastries still warm from the oven. Quality Twinings tea or cappuccinos are available. Disembarking for a game drive through this far-flung wilderness, an image of the savannah, in soft pastel light, is reflected on the side of the train. Sweeping plains of grass yield a rich reward of elephant sightings, including a breeding herd with tiny calves. We are driven through a forested area where the road is narrow and not often traversed, adding to our sense of being deep in remote Africa. We are surprised by a giraffe that peers down at us, seemingly curious, then he continues to strip leaves from a Camel-thorn tree.

Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Gillian McLaren

Keeping up the tradition of excellence, for the morning coffee stop, a long serving table with a banquet of snacks has been prepared for us. Beneath spreading Leadwood trees is a semi-circle of canvas chairs. This is hosted by the owners of The Hide, a prize winning safari lodge.

Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Gillian McLaren

Back at the train, we are greeted by staff, with champagne or pressed fruit juices. While we are savouring lunch in the dining car, the train is still traveling through Hwange National Park. With a mighty screech of breaks, the train stops! Someone has spotted lions on a kill, so we rush to the windows to watch the action of these big cats. Friendships are forged as we chatter about this sighting and how we are reveling in our Hwange venture. The adventurers of the Victorian era on the world’s most luxurious train could not have had it better than this.

Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Rovos Rail

When Rovos Rail halts at Gwanda, a village in Zimbabwe, we hop off the train for a leisurely walk to explore and to meet the local people. A donkey cart moves alongside pedestrians, while entrepreneurs hawk their array of goods, including vegetables, dried Mopane worms (protein rich), cigarettes, mobile phone time or second-hand clothing. Established premises in brick buildings sport names like Conquering Family General dealerLiquid Sports Restaurant, and Mbalabala Cocktail Bar.

Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Gillian McLaren

After a joyous time of street photography, I welcome the soothing air conditioning in the Lounge Car, as I quaff a chilled litchi virgin cocktail. Crossing the border from Zimbabwe – over the Limpopo River – into South Africa is a seamless process, organised by Rovos Rail staff. Panoramic views unfold as the train crosses the Tropic of Capricorn, heading southwards towards Pretoria and the olde world Rovos Rail Station.

Image by Rovos Rail

For a change of tempo from the pace of city life, the demands of media and from one’s usual pre-occupations, this is a perfect way to slow down, to unwind, to allow thoughts to flow freely. Cuisine is superb, the wines and spirits par excellence and the service unobtrusive. It’s an enriching journey, a way to reconnect with yourself and with your partner, if you travel these tracks together on the world’s most luxurious train.

Image by Gillian McLaren

For more travel features by Gillian McLaren (@Jetset_Gillian): www.gillianmclaren.blogspot.com

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V for Vagabond, an independently minded wine

What better wine to enjoy on your next Rovos Rail adventure than with an acclaimed Cape dry white which defies perceptions of origin and which is tantalisingly called the Vagabond.

The Vagabond – made by The Fledge & Co. – is like a luxurious train journey; it is not about the destination but the level of satisfaction that you feel when you see the world at a more sedate pace. The wine is similar and takes a good few years to show at its best. Every vintage is like a voyage of discovery and can be compared to a cricket test match where each session should be played carefully and strategically.

The name Vagabond stems from the fact that the winemakers do not own vineyards but travel around diverse wine growing regions from Swartland to Agulhus in search of the best grapes they can find.

Vagabond Rovos Rail

The Fledge & Co. is the remarkable undertaking by husband-and-wife team Leon Coetzee and Margaux Nel who have attracted plenty of attention for their nonconformist approach to winemaking.

Fledge is a passion project that started back in 2007 and is an expression of the couple’s desire to handcraft authentic wines to enjoy with fine food with good company. The wines are unflinching, eclectic and experimental and express their true sense of place (terroir) through a combination of “old school” techniques and innovative methods, while driving an agenda of concern for their soils and the environment with a carbon-neutral or carbon-sensitive footprint.

Margaux Nel has an impressive wine pedigree and is a seventh-generation winemaker from Calitzdorp (South Africa’s Cape port capital) in the Klein Karoo where the Nel family has plied their trade for many years. She is also the winemaker for Boplaas (the family estate) where The Fledge & Co. is also produced.

Margaux is in charge of the cellar while Leon collaborates with the farmers they work with and together they blend The Fledge & Co. wines. Explains Leon: “We are currently working with nearly 50 different vineyards and around 28 different varieties from across the Cape.”

The Vagabond is produced from vines planted from 1971 to as early as 2010; many are old dryland bush vines while others are grown more conventionally but all are produced by farmers who believe in sustainability.

The blend changes with each vintage but varietals generally included are Chardonnay, Steen (Chenin Blanc), Viognier, Verdelho, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. Sometimes there is even a blast from the past with the inclusion of the rare Hungarian Hárslevelü – fully skin fermented as one would a red.

Says Leon: “Our aim is to showcase the best of the Cape in a glass and produce a wine which works well with food but can also be enjoyed on its own. We want to defy preconceptions which is why the Latin on the front of the bottle says Prudentia Sine Vino (An Independently Minded Wine). It is only in the Cape that one has the freedom to blend such a diverse (some may think mismatched) variety of different grapes together to craft a reflection of the diverse tapestry which makes up this wine.”

Vagabond’s components are vinified separately, either destemmed or whole bunch pressed and barrel fermented in old French oak for nine to 15 months until the final blend is made. It is racked into tank and left for another six to nine months on the lees. It is unfined and unfiltered when bottled and only sold when Margaux and Leon believe it is ready which is usually three years after vintage.

The wine profile is a mélange of orange blossom; ripe cling peach; yellow, orange and green citrus; pineapple; hay; hints of Rooibos and flint while honeyed almond and white spice abound on the bouquet. It is a perfect partner for roast fowl, duck or pork, traditional Cape Malay and mild Cantonese cuisine or enjoyed as an aperitif.

Devotees affectionately call this wine the “Geel Slang”, Afrikaans for the resplendently golden yellow Cape Cobra sometimes found in the vineyards, a beautiful reptile with an impressive strike.

Accolades for The Vagabond include Winemag.co.za Top 10 for 2015, 2017 and 2018; Tim Atkin MW 93pt for every vintage that has been reviewed by him and Platter’s 5 Star for the 2018 vintage.

The Vagabond is a bit like The Travelling Wilburys – a supergroup of changing band members, though always with a consistent sound, says Leon proudly.

Anorak Facts:

W.O. Western Cape (Regions include Elgin, Stellenbosch, Tradouw, Swartland, Klein Karoo, Agulhas)

Vintage 2016 yielding 5940 bottles  Alc. 12.64 %        pH 3.24         TA 5.8 g/ℓ          RS 2.2 g/ℓ

Vintage 2017 yielding 7476 bottles  Alc. 13.16%         pH 3.31         TA 5.7 g/ℓ          RS 2.1 g/ℓ

Vintage 2019 yielding 6300 bottles  Alc. 13.18 %        pH 3.19         TA 6.1 g/ℓ          RS 2.1 g/ℓ

Please note that items on our wine list and bar menus are subject to availability and not always in stock and available on board.

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Rovos Rail and Mr Bubbles

South African sparkling wine and the name Pieter Ferreira, aka Mr Bubbles, are as synonymous as fish and chips, James Bond and a shaken martini and Rovos Rail and a world-class travel experience.

One of South Africa’s fastest growing wine categories, Cap Classique is the South African version of champagne with the wine made by the same “traditional method” used by the French whereby the second fermentation occurs in the bottle.

Pieter – who proudly carries the moniker “Bubbles” and who is chairman of the Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA) – is considered by many to be the godfather and the guru of the local industry which he has helped elevate on an international stage.

He has been instrumental in cementing Graham Beck as one of the world’s leading producers of premium Cap Classique and has been with the estate since its maiden vintage in 1991. He recently became Graham Beck’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) after 32 years in charge of the cellar.

However, a life in wine wasn’t always on the cards for the ebullient Ferreira. The Durban born, self-confessed “surfer dude” loved science and also considered becoming a dentist.

However, rugby Springbok and South African wine pioneer Jan Boland Coetzee arranged for a young Pieter to work as an apprentice to Achim von Arnim at Clos Cabriere in Franschhoek. The rest, as they say, is history and Ferreira helped Von Arnim launch his Pierre Jourdan bubbly with Ferreira also working in Champagne: at Mumm in 1987 and at Moët & Chandon two years later.

Pieter and his wife Ann Ferreira started their boutique Cap Classique Pieter Ferreira label in 2012 with the first vintage released in 2019.

This new venture comes from their dogged pursuit of the perfect bubbly, striving to produce sparkling wine which showcases the very best expression of South African Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with their Blanc de Blancs, a 100% Pinot Noir Rosé and a blended Brut Vintage.

This 100% Chardonnay Cap Classique (Blanc de Blancs) 2015, currently being served by Rovos Rail, is sourced from carefully selected sites from the Robertson region, renowned for its rich limestone and weathered shale soils. The limestone content allows for an ideal platform for growing grapes with the acidic backbone and chemical composition required for the making of a perfect Cap Classique base wine.

A small portion of the base juice undergoes fermentation in French barrels. Once in bottle, it spent a minimum of 72 months on the lees.

Sip on a glass or two of the 2015 Pieter Ferreira Blanc de Blancs and you should pick up balanced flavours of citrus fruit and lime zest that are layered between notes of brioche and pastry combined with a vibrant mouth-feel with flavours of citrus, tropical fruits, honey and toast. It has a fine mousse and elegantly dry lingering finish.

Says Pieter, who happily admits that bubbles have consumed his life: “The beauty of Cap Classique is that it is uniquely South African. It will forever remain the better alternative for those who don’t want to do Champagne. There is a great amount of respect for Champagne but with our great weather and sunshine we will also always provide great value. I still believe it is the most ‘underrated’ wine category in the wine world.

“We’ve developed a uniquely New World style while remaining true to the essence, technique and tradition of champagne itself. Bubbly or Cap Classique has become a lifestyle drink and is not only there for celebrations anymore. A great glass of bubbly sets the tone for ‘what-ever-happens-next’! It is a great palate cleanser and makes for the best aperitif,” he explains.

Pieter says that bubbles are the most versatile wine for food pairing: “There is no right or wrong anymore. Bubbles have the ability to play the ‘enhancer’. My favourite pairings are Brut Blend – oysters on the rocks (anytime); Blanc de Blancs – fresh pan-seared fish with a beurre blanc sauce; Rosé – breast of duck (still moist and pink inside) with roasted vegetables and a matured Cap Classique– cheese board (mainly hard cheeses).”

We are so thrilled to welcome the Ferreira family to ours and look forward to serving this delicious bubbly on board our journeys.

2015 BLANC DE BLANCS ANAYLSIS

Alcohol: 12.59%vol; RS: 3.12g/l – Extra Brut; TA: 7.14g/l; pH: 3.17

ACCOLADES

2020 Platter’s South African Wine Guide Newcomer Winery of the Year

Platter’s 5-star for the current 2015 vintage

CE’s rating: 95/100

Without doubt, it’s the best Cap Classique I’ve tasted to date” – wine writerAngela Lloyd, January 2021

Both the Ferreira’s are at the top of the sparkling pyramid” – Madeleine Stenwreth MW, January 2021

“This is categorically the best bottle-fermented sparkling wine I’ve ever drunk from South Africa” – Christian Eedes in Wine Magazine, April 2019

Please note that items on our wine list and bar menus are subject to availability and might not always be available on board.

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Rovos Rail welcomes The Green Man

With South African tourism opening up and slowly making its way back to a new normality, Rovos Rail is once again at the forefront of everyone’s bucket list of travel adventure and experiences.

The private railway company has recently updated its wine and bar list to focus on some of the country’s premier local wines and producers which it believes rival some of the best in the world. Peruse the exciting offerings and you would be hard-pressed to argue this.

Who wouldn’t want to work their way through some wines featured on the carefully curated list while taking a scenic trip to Cape Town or raising a toast with a glass of bubbles, in their luxury suite, while travelling to the magnificent Victoria Falls? These are memorable experiences that will last a lifetime.

Each week we will take you on a journey through some of these acclaimed boutique producers whose wines you will discover on your next Rovos Rail tour. And don’t forget Rovos Rail packages, rates and prices are fully inclusive of all meals and beverages on board, with suggested food and wine pairing recommendations given on all menus.

It was American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, “Too much of anything is bad but too much champagne is just right.” So what better way to begin than with one of South Africa’s finest bubblies, Silverthorn’s Chardonnay Cap Classique, The Green Man. Just the act of popping open the bottle feels festive!

Silverthorn is an exclusive boutique winery situated in the Robertson Valley where John and Karen Loubser pour their heart and soul into producing some of the country’s finest sparkling wines. Silverthorn is now among only a handful of South African producers who have devoted their expertise to solely producing this sophisticated style of wine.

The wines are made according to the traditional method (Méthode Champenoise) of making champagne by creating a second fermentation in the bottle. The term Cap Classique has been used in South Africa since 1992. EU law and the laws of most countries reserve the term “champagne” exclusively for wines that come from the Champagne region located about 160 kilometres east of Paris in France.

Before starting out his own label, John was the winemaker at Graham Beck where he discovered his passion for Cap Classique whilst working under the mentorship of acclaimed winemaker Pieter “Bubbles” Ferreira.

The multiple award-winning Green Man (the first vintage in 2004 was released in 2006) was born out of the Loubser family’s love of nature and the environment surrounding them.

Explains John: “Half human, half nature, the Green Man is an ancient mythical figure representing the spirit of the forest, the continuous regeneration of life and the interdependence of all things. He has appeared throughout the ages from as far afield as ancient Babylon and India to abbeys and cathedrals all over Europe. In his modern guise, The Green Man has appeared under a new name – ecology. It is this spirit, as well as the delicate green hue of this wine, that inspired me to break with traditional name ‘Blanc de Blancs’ and personify the wine with the name The Green Man.”

The farm has also honoured its very own “Green Man”, longest-serving employee Willem Willemse, who oversees the Silverthorn vineyards. John and Karen commissioned Academy Award winning filmmaker Craig Foster, of My Octopus Teacher fame, who took images of Willem and superimposed them with pictures he had taken of nature. This series of mythical and dramatic artwork can now be viewed at Silverthorn.

Willem Willemse by Craig Foster

Continues Karen: “People from throughout the world seem to be taken with the Green Man; from our German agent sending us the most extraordinary Green Man sculpture for our Tasting Room opening to a customer from the UK bringing us the most gorgeous little ceramic Green Man when she visited.”

The Green Man is 100 percent chardonnay which spends a minimum of 24 months on the lees. Limestone soils in the Robertson region give it an intense purity. On the nose you will find fresh aromas of green apple and mineral undertones with my favourite aged bubbly smell of all, baked brioche. This elegant bubbly has a delightful creamy texture with a fine mousse and a long finish. It is well suited as an aperitif on a warm summer’s day or paired with an array of seafood; think freshly shucked oysters, salmon tartar or scallops lightly marinated in a zesty citrus dressing.

2019 THE GREEN MAN ANALYSIS

Alc – 11.64%; RS – 7.0g/l; pH – 3.2; TA – 6.2g/l

Please note that items on our wine list and bar menus are subject to availability and not always in stock and available on board.

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Happy Birthday Rovos Rail

Happy Birthday Rovos Rail!

Image: Rohan and Anthea Vos

Three cheers for Rovos Rail! 30 years, we can hardly believe it. It’s our birthday today and it is honestly the most surreal and extraordinary feeling.

We sometimes can’t believe what we have managed to pull off in three decades. There have been many uphill battles Rovos Rail has had to fight over the years; a series of tragic local and international events that have almost brought us to our knees nearly forcing us to close our doors. But here we are, 30 years on with Rohan and Anthea still leading the charge, never backing down and providing all 440 of us with work we love.

Together with the creative and talented team at 10th Street Media, we produced a short film to document our 30-year history. We’ve released a couple of teasers over the past few weeks leading up today, our birthday. Should you wish to watch the full documentary you are welcome to do so by clicking here.

We would not be celebrating our 30th birthday if it weren’t for our loyal supporters . We’ve been fortunate to have amicable and prosperous relationships with local and international tour operators and travel agents who have entrusted us with their clients, our guests, for many years and we’d like to thank all of you for your enduring support.

And to our guests, especially our “repeat offenders”, your enthusiasm and enjoyment of our train is what fuels our fires and keeps us moving forward. Thank you for travelling with us and we hope to see you again soon!

To view all of our trailers and other 30th birthday creative and promotions click here. Visit our website at rovos.com, e-mail reservations@rovos.co.za or call us on +27 (0) 12 315 8242 (Pretoria) or +27 (0) 21  421 4020 (Cape Town).

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Pretoria to Victoria Falls with Rovos Rail

The Rovos Rail journey from Pretoria to Victoria Falls has certainly become a firm favourite. We recently had guests, Mr and Mrs Hume, who travelled on this journey in celebration of their 80th birthdays! They took the time to send us a lovely e-mail but also a really kind and enthusiastic review on their trip.

Thank you Mr and Mrs Hume and happy birthday from all of us at Rovos Rail!

Rovos Rail was simply transporting. In so many ways. Born of the dreams of a tall, handsome visionary who dreamt of having a private refurbished train on which to take his family on a tour of South Africa, it soon evolved into one of the most luxurious trains in the world.

Rohan Vos (pronounced “Foss”), having obtained permission from South African Railways to operate a private train, soon found that the myriad of petty fees and costs levied by the state operator,  made a private train simply unaffordable. So, not to be daunted, Vos expanded his idea into a commercial tourist train. Following his passion of transforming derelict rail carriages into masterpieces of mahogany-paneled Edwardian grandeur, finished with the finest brass and silver trimmings and crimped, etched glass lampshades, Vos has created a traveling jewel which affords the discerning traveler the chance to glide through the rugged African veldt while being pampered in the best ways known to man.

Brother David had driven us from his home in Johannesburg to the start point. But at first we had trouble finding it, nestled as it was under unlikely tall palm trees in a disused section of Pretoria’s railyards. Adding to its sense of mystery. Then there it was, a colonial-era station house, transformed into a spacious, gracious lounge filled with leather couches and period pictures, all gently blown by the breezes of twirling, broad-bladed ceiling fans. Young waitresses plied the guests with trays of champagne in frosted flutes.  We had arrived. The sense of expectation was electric.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

Vos himself seems to treat the departure of every train as a landmark event in his family’s history. He was there in person to shake every hand and wish everyone a good time. Before  boarding he devoted almost a full hour to explaining the history of ROVOS, and to giving his guests a tour of the workshops adjoining the station house, where coaches are refurbished and train pieces from bogey wheels to window latches are serviced and repaired. For our amusement he had arranged for one of the original steam engines to be drawn up at the siding. We crawled all over it, amid its wisps of escaping steam, like kids on a Jungle Jim, striking poses for each other’s cameras.

Eventually, we boarded. Our bags already loaded into our spacious cabin, we soaked up every detail of the luxury hat engulfed us. The broad double bed, the warmth of the wood panels, the space, the work table, the adjoining shower room and toilet, the ample hanging and cupboard space, the mini-bar, to be stocked up as we ordered. What else could there be? We were soon in the Observation Car, chilled Chenin Bancs in hand, the logoed cut-crystal glasses glistening like golden orbs against the arid grassy plains passing beyond the windows.

Lunch was as much a dream as a meal. We struggled to balance our focus between the scrumptiousness of the food and wine and the beauty of the fittings in the ornate Dining Car, with its tasseled velvet curtains at each window. Mini-quiche served with Hamilton Russell Constantia Chardonnay was followed by grilled salmon on rice with asparagus accompanied by Sutherland Saugivnon Blanc. All served under the regal audience of a large Protea flower, one per table, South Africa’s unique symbol of enduring elegance. Echoed by the pleasure of Meriel’s ethereal presence . Butter balls in a silver-plated dish completed the picture.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

As the train gently lurched its way forward my history came into focus. We crossed the Limpopo at Beit Bridge, named after Sir Alfred , Cecil Rhodes’ minor partner in the De Beers diamond company, . The fund he established helped finance my Doctorate at Oxford. Bulawayo, place of my birth, was up ahead. First would come Collen Bawn, famous century-old quarry and cement plant, then Gwanda, Balla Balla, and, finally, Essexvale where, about  a hundred years ago, my father Denny cycled out with his gold pan to prospect the streams.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

We stopped at Gwanda to visit a curio market. Besieged by politely badgering African kids the Rovos guests shuffled from stall to stall against a backdrop of African singing as a troupe of young locals vigorously danced for us.

By now dusk had fallen and I knew I would not actually see these places, but would be in them. Night would steal them from me as history had already done, almost.  So that night we slept near Bulawayo without seeing it, at Mpopoma. After sunrise our journey continued and more names, each with memories, came into view: Pasi Pas where Denny had taken me one day in the late 1940s to buy sandstone from the quarry to build our house on Norfolk Road; Nyamandhlovu (“flesh of the elephant”) where my Plumtree classmate Mike Wood’s father had been Native Commissioner; then Saw Mills once the center of Rhodesia’s hardwood industry (Yellowwood an Muqua), now standing weeded and overgrown, grazed by a small herd of motley looking goats. Gwaai River would be next, followed by Dett and Hwange where we are to stop for a game drive.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

The game drive exceeded all expectations. Starting early on open, tiered-seat Jeeps (supplied by The Hide) there was a sense of exhilarating excitement cruising across Hwange’s endless grassy khaki-colored grasslands. We saw few animals to start with. It was still too warm for them to start their evening browsing. There were a couple of giraffes and a lone Impala bull, partly hidden in the shade of thickets, and some bird life but not much else. Cleophas the guide had asked us what we would like to see. We all said, predictably, “The Big Five”. One guest said “Cheetah” and I added “Kudu”. “The Big Five not possible” he said, “because Hwange no longer has rhinos. Cheetahs not guaranteed and Kudu unlikely but we can hope..” He finished. He said we could see lions but they were 30Kms away. We said that was too far. After a while, deep into the plain we came across a muddy watering hole in which there was a lone elephant bull. It stood motionless like an apparition, its tusks completely covered in glistening black mud like a dark chocolate version of itself. “This bull” the guide explained “has probably been estranged from the herd. He may be in decline and is facing his own extinction in what will be a lonely life from now on.” We left him alone and moved to another water hole with four more younger bulls, caking themselves in mud and dust. Cleophus explained that, once thus covered and caked, they would find a tree and rub their sides against it. Any ticks and other parasites apparently get ripped off the elephant with the caked mud. Tuskers toilet.

As we left the elephants another viewing Jeep closed on us, saying that the reported lions were still at the same place. We decided to go there. On arrival we saw only a small green patch in the sea of golden grss, with sme scattered bushes and a fallen tree trunk. The we saw that there were two huge male lions, one lying on his side snug into the bush for the shade, the other stretched out below the fallen tree trunk. We came within a few yards from them. They showed no interest in us at all. Occasionally the one would look out into the distance across the plane. We did not know it at the time but he was eying his mates, three lionesses hidden in the grass a half mile away. As we watched the lion under the tree trunk rolled into its back, turned its head lazily and gazed at us with his head upside down. Sizing us up from down under.

Before long, as the sun lost its heat, sinking towards the horizon and throwing a liquid gold light across the glowing pain, we suddenly saw that it had come alive with animals. Herds of Impala appeared from nowhere, there were giraffe gliding like glinting cranes through a patch of trees, we saw two Kudu does, and there was a family of waterbuck not far from where the lions lay. Cleophus explained the waterbuck were not afraid of lions, partly because they knew did not favor the taste of their flesh, but also because, strong swimmers, they could take to the water if attacked. They made a regal sight as they stared across the pain. As we drove quietly away, Cleophus suddenly stopped the Jeep some yards from a small grass-covered mound. “Cheetahs” he whispered. Then we saw the two small heads of the cubs, ears twitching in the sunlight as they gazed intently outwards. As Cleophus moved the Jeep some feet forward we could then see the mother. Sprawled languidly across the back of the mound, mostly hidden in the grass, she stared intently across the plain with steady, sullen eyes. Was it to be Impala or something else for dinner?

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls
Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

We moved on. In the mosaic that is the Hwange reserve, patches of rich green grass and scrub intertwine the pale khaki of the grassland. In one such patch we came across aa small herd of Zebra grazing actively in the declining daylight. The whiteness on their beautifully plump and proportioned bodies glowed brightly like liquid silver in the sunlight between the jagged stripes of carbon blacking. Lionfish of the plain. Their high manes gave them a full-dress military look, like Trojan Centurions trussed up by Versace.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

It was time to begin to head back to base camp, close to the train, where drinks awaited us.  By this stage we were all elated and flushed with joy. We had not seen The Big Five, but close. Nic had seen his Cheetah, I had seen my Kudu. Nic then shouted that he saw more elephants up ahead, crossing the road. As we snapped our gaze in the direction of the elephants none of us could believe what we saw next on the road ahead of us: a huge male lion, followed by a lioness, sauntering on the bare sandy earth of the roadway towards the Jeep. The male lion did not stop when he saw us, but just kept walking. Less certain, the lioness went to ground and, her belly on the sandy surface, watched intently. The male lion just walked slowly but relentlessly right up close to the Jeep. Seeing that we were not going to move, he padded into the grass on the side of bare track, a few feet from where we sat watching. The jet-black tassel on the end of his tail was twitching, as if nervously, as he passed us about four feet from the edge of the vehicle.  Once he had passed us he simply spun round and lay down to rest no more than six or seven feet from the back of the Jeep. Nicolas had taken a video of the whole incident. Who said we had to drive 30Kms to see lions?

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

Nicolas reminded us about the herd of elephants up ahead, so we drove on towards where they had been. Sure enough, we rounded a bend in the road behind a fleeing flock of Guinea Fowl that sprinted un the road ahead of us, we found ourselves in the midst of a large herd of elephants. Some of them, particularly the younger ones of which there were many, flapped their ears furiously, lifted their trunks skywards and emitted coarse hissing sounds. It was time to return to base camp. We had had a thrilling set of episodes, it was invigorating out on the plain. Birds were everywhere chasing insects in the dying light. The sun had suddenly melted into a faintly crimson glowing orb. The game view was over.

The whole train was now gathered for drinks and grilled snacks at a camp facility, part of The Hide operation. In an amazing act of management prowess ROVOS had decamped the whole drinks camp, had guests all re-board the train and within an hour served a corsage and candle light final dinner in the Dining Cars. Bravo ROVOS!

All that was left of the ROVOS Rail trip was for us  to arrive at Victoria Falls. There it was suddenly, distant spray rising out of the dense bush, a siding sign, glimpses of the white facades of the gracious Victoria Falls Hotel, and the sounds of African harmonies, as a group of leopard skin-clad Shangaans danced and sang a welcome on the platform.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

A magical dream had ended. A new welcome awaited.

(All images provided by © Mr Ian and Mrs Meriel Hume)

Visit our website at rovos.com, e-mail reservations@rovos.co.za or call us on +27 (0) 12 315 8242 (Pretoria) or +27 (0) 21 421 4020 (Cape Town).

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Rovos Rail celebrate with us

Winter Warmer

Photo credit: © Jos Beltman, Holland 

Autumn has arrived in South Africa and that means our annual Winter Warmer is here! This offer available to South African passport holders and SADC member states only.

The Winter Warmer is a 2-for-1 special on our two-night Cape Town journey and is available from April to 30 September 2019. The offer is for a one-way journey for two people sharing in a Deluxe suite.

The 50% reduced rate is R15 550 per person sharing in the Deluxe suite (normal rate is R31 100 per person sharing). The rate is fully inclusive of all meals on board, all alcoholic and other beverages on board, the off-train excursions, 24-hour room service and a limited laundry service. It does not include flights, transfers, pre- and post-tour accommodation or gratuities for the train staff. 

Cuddle up on board with us this winter and travel from the grasslands of the gold-rich Highveld to the haunting barrenness of the Great Karoo; trundle the spectacular mountain ranges and scenic winelands of the Cape.

Should you require further information please get in touch by e-mailing reservations@rovos.co.za or call +27 (0) 12 315 8242 (Pretoria) or +27 (0) 21 421 4020 (Cape Town). Visit our website here.

Terms & Conditions Apply

PLEASE NOTE: Rovos Rail is 100% reliant on Transnet for its traction and service (diesel and electric locomotives as well as drivers and railway infrastructure). Rovos Rail therefore cannot be held liable for any delays due to trains not running to schedule. Excursions cannot be guaranteed and will only be undertaken if time and circumstances permit. Departure and arrival times are approximate and cannot be guaranteed. We reserve the right to alter our routing at any time between departure and arrival points. We caution against same-day air travel on departure or arrival days due to possible delays with flights or the train.

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The Lost Art of Train Travel

It’s always a lovely and welcome surprise when guests take it upon themselves to write a story for us. There seem to be many budding writers, poets and filmmakers on board as we are sometimes sent wonderful pieces of writing and video footage which often have the same theme – the lost art of train travel. How we’re all in a hurry to get to the destination so that we can “unwind” but once there we never put our phones down because everything needs to be shared online.

We received the below from Chris Hammond who, in his own words, could imagine himself as a history professor wearing a tweed blazer with leather elbow patches! Chris travelled from Cape Town to Pretoria on the train with his wife, Robyn, and when met on arrival at Rovos Rail Station they said that it surprised them how long it took them to relax and do nothing but eat, drink, sleep and mingle. “Train travel, in this form, is a lost art and it took some getting used to”, they said. “Well, just half a day and then we locked our phones away and didn’t seem them again until we got into Pretoria!”

The Lost Art of  Train Travel by Chris Hammond

Humans haven’t yet figured out a way of travelling through time but that doesn’t exclude us from experiencing the indulgences of a bygone era, which is exactly what Rovos Rail offers the discerning traveler – a step back in time and a tantalising taste of the romance and craft of the Age of Rail.

The furious pace of our modern lives has sadly distorted our opinion of travel. The goal these days, largely, is to get from Place A to Place B in the least possible time, with as little inconvenience as possible. The journey has become a means to an end, the objective to will the time away with distraction after distraction so that we can reach the destination and carry on with our frantic lives. Now is not the time to explore the effect of this ‘always-on’ mentality on our collective psyches and stress levels, but suffice to say that, at the very least, it is unhealthy.

A century ago there were fewer options. We couldn’t jump on a plane in Cape Town and land in Johannesburg two hours later. A trip then necessitated an understanding of the journey and an appreciation of the time that it would take to cover that distance, invariably, by train. With that came an acceptance that the journey would consist of what the modern day traveller might call ‘dead time’ – a period of time where communication with the outside world was effectively impossible and seemingly little could be accomplished. The traveler was forced to seek ways of extracting pleasure from the journey itself, a notion that Rovos Rail has revisited and refined into something of an art form.

From the moment you set foot in the Rovos departure lounge, you are transported to a time that exists now only in books and in memories we hold of stories passed down to us from generations that have gone before. Vaulted, high ceilinged corridors and a rolling, red carpet lead to an elegantly appointed lounge, where the soothing chords of a string quartet float through the air and the sparkle of a glass of champagne on a silver tray welcome the guest to the Rovos experience. There is no option other than to exhale, relax and allow yourself to be transported back in time.

Nothing is rushed. The train departs when it is ready, and the landscapes pass lazily by as passengers are encouraged to unwind, to mingle and to enjoy the scenery. It is easy to forget how vast and beautiful this country is, and to watch through the windows as the space unfolds into the Karoo in front of your eyes is restorative.

Exquisite attention to detail allows for fascinating interactions with the train, as the story and history of each carriage and indeed of Rovos Rail itself is discovered to those intent on finding it. The history revealed is remarkable and enchanting, so much so that had Barney Barnato himself walked into the dining carriage it would not have felt surreal.

Undeniably the sensation of not being rushed, or of having time to spare, has become so unfamiliar to us that it takes some getting used to. It’s not long however, before one can sense the layers of stress falling away and the thrill of adventure return.

Of course, it helps immensely that your every need is catered to. Magnificent meals that seem to emanate from invisible kitchens are sumptuously stretched out into the evening, paired with the finest selection of wines that the country can offer. Guests are left wondering what kind of sorcery enables the waiters to deliver such exceptional fare in such style from within the restrictions of the train environment. Questions of service logistics are quickly forgotten though, as the combination of the dessert wine and the soothing, rhythmical motion of the train draws one into a deep sleep in the surprisingly generous double bed.

Much of the same is to be expected in the days to come, and before long the cycle of eating indulgently followed by prolonged sessions of staring into the vast expanses that present themselves has become second nature. The ‘real world’ worries that seemed so pressing before departure seem to dissipate into the blue South African sky.

Guests are left feeling revived and invigorated as the train pulls slowly into the Private Rovos station in Pretoria.

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