Tag Archives: South Africa

Rovos Rail Big Reputation

Big Reputation

by Brenda Vos-Fitchet

It’s taken us 30 years to earn our big reputation and earned it we have. Every step of the way.

Operating the most luxurious train in the world is a challenge. Not because we can’t live up to the hype but because the national railway networks on which we are reliant are letting us down. Not on every trip mind you, but on enough that has seen our reputation take a few knocks.

We’re operating a first-world product on third-world infrastructure, a system which in South Africa took a hit under our previous governmental administration. Jacob Zuma’s presidency left this country even poorer and the consequences of his reckless actions can be felt in most industries.

The first challenge we have is not new but one that has certainly become more of a concern over the past few years. What many don’t realise is that we are not permitted to haul our trains with our own locomotives and drivers. I’m not sure that any luxury passenger train in the world is. We are reliant on Transnet (national railway authority) for our traction and service, something we used to be very happy about because getting into the logistical and maintenance business of locomotives is not an avenue we ever wanted to pursue – they are expensive and also present complex challenges so we were more than happy to sign on the dotted line three decades ago.

Fast forward to the present and we find ourselves in a relationship with the most reluctant landlord only now the infrastructure has deteriorated.  This is what prompted us to purchase nine electric and 14 diesel locomotives, and to recruit trained drivers, so that we can be as self-reliant as possible. We’ve persevered in our quest for permission to haul our own trains and so far have had success with two of our trips.

On our three-night Victoria Falls journey, we are now allowed to pull the train from Musina to Victoria Falls and back. This has greatly improved the operational aspects of the trip and we are very happy with the results – we have our own depot at the border which houses a few of our diesel locomotives and we have set up accommodation for our drivers and mechanics. We’ve also done the same for the 15-day Dar es Salaam sojourn – we use our own splendid locomotives from Mafikeng to Dar es Salaam and the trip has run operationally well for five years. So our big gamble is paying off.

Our second biggest challenge, and one over which we truly have no control, is cable theft. Again, this is not a new phenomenon plaguing Transnet and law enforcement but one that has certainly grown in efficiency and pace. When before it was a sporadic problem it is now something over which we all worry. Local authorities and Transnet must be tearing their hair out because the crime syndicates arranging the theft of this valuable copper cable are well-oiled, slick operations with no-one able to predict where the theft will next take place. It’s impossible to police every section of railway line across South Africa so we’re all left feeling frustrated as none of us are equipped or permitted to relay the cable ourselves.

The ripple effect of this has been upsetting to all trains utilizing the tracks, not just ours. Delays are experienced by commuter, freight and passenger trains.

Over the course of 30 years, many at Rovos Rail have worked tirelessly to create memorable experiences and we have also been a cog in the wheel of turning the tide on global opinion of South Africa. And it does sometimes feel that reckless politics and an understaffed parastatal is unravelling the reliable and big reputation we have built for ourselves.

So what can we do? Well, we control what we can and that is everything on board. Our quest for comfort and service on the trains as well as providing a variety of interesting excursions is first prize. Lead by an unrelenting Rohan, we are constantly striving to maximize everything on board. In fact, Rohan has recently redesigned all suites to allow for more space and storage. We have further improved on sound-proofing the trains by installing new windows in the rooms and adding insulation to the bulkheads. Rohan goes out on recce trips in countries such as Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Angola to inspect new railway lines, potential excursion sites and off-train accommodation options to either improve on existing itineraries or to launch new journeys. We also have our Rovos Academy with new training programmes and rooms for all of our train staff so that they can serve with confidence and ease on board.

In other words, we are not giving up.

Like many in our industry, we have had to deal with unforeseen obstacles for three decades and in the face of this adversity we will persevere in our quest to remain the most luxurious train in the world and to keep building on the excellent reputation which we have earned and fought hard to keep for 30 years.

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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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Join the Club! Rovos Rail Club

Join the Club!

Over our nearly 30 years we’ve grown the Rovos Club to over 2000 members which is something we find flattering. When guests join the club it means they’re signing on for more than a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ and that brings with it a lovely satisfying feeling.

Throughout our nearly three decades of operation we have always aspired to maintain a high standard of discreet and personal service whilst meeting the individual needs of our wonderful passengers. The Rovos Club is an extension of this policy as it creates an opportunity to thank all of our repeat customers for their continued support and loyalty through a personalised incentive-based programme.

To register with the Rovos Club, one must have travelled with Rovos Rail twice. Club status may be awarded on the booking confirmation of the second journey.

If you are eligible for Club status, please use the Club Registration Form or call Dohné Boshoff on +27 (0) 12 315 8242 or e-mail her on dohne@rovos.co.za.

Rohan affectionately refers to our Club members as ‘Repeat Offenders’, all who are eligible for a variety of incremental discounts. We’ve been fortunate to host some Club members for their 60th, 35th, 20th, 10th and eighth journeys so they really do feel like part of the family and could probably recite the traditional departures speech verbatim!

Should you be interested in joining our club and want to see how it has been structured please click here.

We hope you join our club and look forward to welcoming you on board again soon!

Join the Club!

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Rovos Rail Life with Lardiere

Life with Lardiere

One of the perks of working in the hospitality industry, especially in food and beverage, is getting to experience tastings. We recently visited one of our bespoke suppliers, Lardiere Fine Foods, not only to catch up but also to sample a few of their new creations. Our discovery of this company a few years ago can be likened to finding a diamond in the rough and life with Lardiere has been simple, interesting, creative and delicious.

Our food and beverage team consisting of our owner Anthea, Michelle and our consultant, Markye, have spent many an hour discussing, debating and resourcing nutritious, wholesome and organic products to include in our menus and in all suites on the board the trains. The women have trawled South Africa finding local companies with strong values and a moral compass that aligns itself with ours at Rovos Rail. We also want to work with businesses who have ethical farming and practices so that the food is cruelty-free and is made from the best possible ingredients.

Enter Chef Junelle, the creator of Lardiere. Culinary life for Junelle began with studies at the Cordon Bleu School with career highlights including working with Ben Filmalter, the founder of Mugg & Bean and his wife, Judy, who introduced Junelle to the world of baking. It wasn’t long after that the inspiration and courage came for Junelle to open her own business and Lardier, which in French loosely means “a pantry where food is kept”, opened its doors. We hear the word pantry and are transported back to the kitchens of our childhoods with smells of biscuits and spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. Taking a peek into Junelle’s pantry, you will always find the best local olive oil, butter, sea salt, and fresh herbs as she believes that no recipe should have more than a handful of ingredients.

And responsible trade is clearly of importance to Junelle. Not only does she want to lay the foundations for new standards in the local hospitality industry but she ensures that her ingredients are locally sourced and that all recipes are preservative-free. There is a strong focus by all chefs working at Lardiere on developing healthy and tasty gluten and wheat-free alternatives as well as vegan options as their production is 70% plant-based. In addtion, Lardiere is accredited to the South African National Halaal Authority and adhere’s to its strict guidelines.

Rovos Rail Life with Lardiere

One of our favourite aspects of life with Lardiere is that it’s made up of only female staff as the company is proactive in the support and upliftment of women. The latest product offering, Bosesi, meaning “sisters” in seTswana, has been created to give the women of the company ownership in a business while taking local South African flavours to the world.

We’ve have a variety of Lardiere’s really fine foods on board. In each suite we have a bespoke box containing Coconut Ice, Rosemary Shortbread and Almond and Cranberry Florentines. We’ve also introduced delights such as Roasted Banana Curd, Luxury Melba and Dried Pineapple Slices. We’ve been lucky enough to taste-test most of what Lardiere has to offer and be part of conversations about new recipes being developed which tickles our taste buds!

It’s a pleasure working with Junelle and her team as the company is wholesome not only in the products they create but also with their overall ethos. We can also guarantee the hygiene of their on-site kitchen as it is the cleanest space we have ever seen and inspired the big renovation we’re currently doing to ours!

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Spring on board the Shongololo!

It’s almost that time of year when we in the southern hemisphere can pack away our coats and feel the delicious beginnings of another beautiful summer. And we have a special offer that we think will put some spring back in your step! If you’re a resident of South Africa or its neighbouring countries then join us on board Shongololo Express, for a fully inclusive two-night trip from Cape Town to Pretoria at a 50% reduced rate!

Guests will board the train at Cape Town Station on Saturday 17 November at 11:00 travelling via Matjiesfontein and Kimberley to Pretoria, arriving Monday 19 November at about 13:30. Shongololo Express will travel the same two-night Cape Town itinerary that has been enjoyed by thousands of Rovos Rail guests over a span of nearly 30 years.

The special offer includes:

Emerald Cabin: R10 885 per person sharing (normal rate is R21 770 per person)
Gold Cabin: R8 240 per person sharing (normal rate is R16 480 per person)
Single Supplement: +50%

Rates include all meals on board, all alcoholic and other beverages on board, the off-train excursions, room service and a limited laundry service.

Not included: Pre- and post-tour accommodation, flights and transfers; staff gratuities; international/French Champagne and souvenirs.

T&Cs apply. Offer applicable to residents of South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland only.

Should you wish to join us please contact us directly:
reservations@rovos.co.za
+27 (0) 12 315 8242 (Pretoria)
+27 (0) 21 421 4020 (Cape Town)

All we need from you is a copy of your ID, passport or residency and we’ll take the rest from there.

We hope to welcome you on board the Shongololo Express very soon!

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the spinach king rovos rail

The Spinach King

By Brenda Vos-Fitchet 

As I sit here writing this blog post I am eating one of the Spinach King’s vegan and gluten-free spinach muffins. It is a tasty, chewy treat. And when I say chewy I mean it has a delicious consistency that doesn’t feel like you’re eating sand and nor does fall apart in your hands. As someone who has to be gluten-free I have tasted products from all over South Africa and had yet to find a something that tastes good and has a more-ish texture. Enter the Spinach King and his delicious baked goods!

Lufefe’s Nomjana’s story is one of those remarkable narratives that is made up of an idea and the courage, self-confidence and determination to pursue it no matter the naysayers or the challenges. In this video, which to me resembles an episode of Chef’s Table, we see Lufefe talking about his life growing up in Khayelitsha, a township located 30km outside of Cape Town’s city centre. He saw how his community was running out of food on a daily basis and it occurred to him that the answer to the food shortages lay in the land on which they walked every day and thus began his idea of community growing, baking and selling spinach-based goods.

Lufefe’s journey begins in 2011 when he had only R40 in his pocket and his big idea. He used a friend’s oven to bake 24 loaves of bread a day and then went pedaling door-to-door. Not only was he busy baking and selling but he was also studying Entrepreneurship Development at the Raymond Ackerman Academy and graduated in 2012. In 2013 he moved to the Khayelitsha Spar where he turned 24 loaves into 120 and earned enough money to purchase his own equipment, buy bicycles and employ five people.

2014 was a catalyst for exciting developments at Spinach King as Lufefe won the SAB Innovation Award and used the prize money to open his first bakery. It was also the year he met the Managing Director of Virgin Active and together with the health club brand, Spinach King Health Food Cafe and Bakery opened its doors in 2016! It should also be mentioned that there was quick visit to Italy the year before to attend the We Feed the Planet Expo where Spinach King not only negotiated a supply deal with Hotel Verde but also took home the Western Cape Premier’s Entrepreneurship Recognition Award for Best Emerging Agro-Processing Business! 

Fast forward to July 2018 and Rovos Rail is in business with Lufefe. We wrote about our food and beverage consultant, Markye Reuvers, in a previous post and how she has been scouting local businesses with ethical and sustainability practices who can meet our produce demands. We’re thrilled to have Lufefe and his spinach on board with us!

Walking through our brand new kitchens earlier I just happened upon a chest freezer that contained bags of these delicious muffins. I’m now on my second and pretending that it doesn’t matter that I’m guzzling them down because it’s all in the name of “research” to ensure that our guests are satisfied. Which they will be.

All hail Lufefe, the Spinach King and his environmentally conscious business! It’s a story that inspires and one of which all Capetonians and South Africans can be proud.

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Rovos Rail Food and Beverage

Welcome Tiffany and Maryke!

The purpose of this blog post is two-fold. To let you know that we welcomed Tiffany Vos-Thane in an official capacity to Rovos Rail and that soon after her arrival she recruited the expert services of Maryke Reuvers, a professional chef and consultant. Tiffany is Rohan Vos’s youngest daughter and the last of the family to join the business. We’re thrilled to have her and the 12 years of hospitality expertise she brings with her. Welcome on board!

It did not take Tiffany long to realise that our Food & Beverage department required a fair amount of TLC. Rovos Rail has grown substantially in the past few years with the opening of three guest houses in Cape Town, the acquisition of our new train, the Shongololo Express as well as launching a new 15-day journey, the Trail of Two Oceans, from Tanzania to Angola. In addition, our workshop teams have been hard at work building new coaches so that we can now have five Rovos trains out at once. An impressive feat for a small, privately-owned company. But back to Tiffany and Markye.

Having mostly sales experience in the UK hospitality industry, but with a passion for all things food and wine, Tiffany got to work finding someone who could share in her vision and overhaul our entire Food & Beverage department. It was time to refresh menus, upgrade the bar and wine lists, renovate all the train kitchens and rebuild a brand new on-site kitchen. Chef and kitchen-staff training was also overdue as was food and beverage service. Enter Markye and wow, did she not know what she was getting herself into! It’s been months of spring-cleaning, throwing out, list-making, rearranging, implementing new training and systems, stream-lining and updating current protocols as well as embarking on site visits to newly discovered meat and dairy farms for authentic organic and fresh produce. Markye has also spent time on the trains travelling most of the journeys and working with our chefs in the on-board kitchens. It’s been a ride! And she’s not even halfway done yet.

Markye has spent over 17 years in the food industry and has been regaling us with fascinating stories of expeditions to the Russian Arctic, the Greek Islands and of course the South of France. Her work has taken her to many global destinations but now she is based in Cape Town making weekly commutes to our home-base in Pretoria where she can often be found on her all fours cleaning, scrubbing, inspecting or counting stock. We’ve never worked with a chef with such a strong A-type personality so it’s been an incredible experience for us and we have learned a great deal.

Both Maryke and Tiffany have been a breath of fresh air we didn’t know we needed, which we think is the best kind. Often, when heads are down and teams are working furiously, the small things begin to slip through the cracks and left unchanged become larger issues. It was time to rehabilitate everything to do with food and beverage and we are thrilled to have these two talented and hard-working women at its helm.

We look forward to sharing in our new bar, wine and food menus with you and welcome your feedback.

Cheers, saluti and santé to Tiffany and Maryke, a big welcome and thank you!

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Durban Safari with Stacie Flinner

Rovos Rail Durban Safari Stacie FlinnerTravel adventures are just some of the beautiful experiences Stacie Flinner shares on her exceptional blog. Stacie and her husband joined us on our gorgeous little Durban Safari, travelling from Durban to Pretoria, and her words and images are so lovely that we feel we need to spread the joy!

It’s often tricky hosting media on board because like the box of chocolates you just never know what you’re going to get or whether she or he will actually enjoy their Rovos Rail experience. We’ve had a few misses but thankfully most have been hits.

KwaZulu Natal, with Durban at its helm, is in our opinion one of the most under-rated and under-valued provinces in South Africa. It is incredible to us that just one short flight away one lands in a lush, tropical and humid paradise full of cultural diversity and history, a sea in which one can actually swim (your limbs just about fall off in Cape Town as the water is freezing), some of the best game viewing and lodges the country has to offer and a near-perfect year-round climate! Winter in some parts of Natal is a treat as you can still walk around in shorts and flip flops unlike most other parts of the country.

And let’s not forget the Midlands. The Midlands Meander is a region in beautiful KwaZulu Natal that stretches from just beyond Mooi River in the north, Hilton in the south, Karkloof in the east and the foothills of the Drakensberg in the west. Suffice to say that the scenery is breathtaking and with the train meandering its way slowly through the heart of it, also travelling across The Valley of a Thousand Hills, the Durban Safari has to be one of the most beautiful journeys we offer.

We digress. Back to Stacie and her lovely review on her trip with us. Click on the link to read all about her sojourn with us and to see her gorgeous images.

(Top image by Stacie Flinner)

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All aboard for Golfing the Garden Route!

Golfing the Garden Route has never been so spectacular!

There are many attributes to South Africa. It’s a country full to the brim with energy, beauty, culture, differences, chaos and opportunity. For visitors, it offers a kaleidoscope of colour and experiences that have left many with poignant and special memories. One of the most pristine areas of Southern Africa is the Garden Route and one of the most fun activities to do in this part of the Southern Cape is play golf. Or not. We offer separate itineraries for those playing and for those not. Golfing the Garden Route has become a favourite pastime for travellers coming to South Africa to play this temperamental game and the Shongololo Express offers an adventure for those mad enough to play this game called golf and for leisure guests wanting to take it easy.

The 15-day Good Hope Golf journey on board the newly acquired and renovated Shongololo Express is the ultimate holiday as it incorporates some of the best scenery, cultural and historical activities, safari experiences and golf that South Africa has to offer. In addition to this, guests are in the safe and experienced hands of Rovos Rail, a company who has 29 years in the hospitality industry and one who has crafted each itinerary to near perfection. There is after all always room for improvement!

The itinerary:

Day 1    Tour of Soweto and Pretoria train departure

Day 2    Panorama route / play Leopard Creek, Nelspruit or White River

Day 3    Kruger Park game drive / play at Leopard Creek, Nelspruit or White River

Day 4    Swaziland tour / play at Nkonyeni Golf Estate

Day 5    Hluhluwe game drives

Day 6    St Lucia Wetland Park visit

Day 7    Durban tour / play at Durban golf course

Day 8    Battlefields tour / play at Champagne Sports Resort

Day 9    Bloemfontein tour

Day 10  Kimberley tour / play at Kimberley Golf Club

Day 11  Graaf Reinet walking tour

Day 12  Cango Caves and ostrich farm visit / play at Fancourt Golf Estate

Day 13  Knysna visit and Fancourt dinner / play at Ernie Els Oubaai

Day 14  Drive to Hermanus over scenic mountain passes

Day 15  Train arrival and Cape Town tour

As you can see, there is something for everyone and more than enough golf at beautiful courses to frustrate and excite those opting to play! This 15-day sojourn rivals that of any train adventure across the world and we hope you join us for a trip of a lifetime.

If you would like to receive any further information then please do get in touch by e-mailing querida@rovos.co.za or call her on +27 (0) 12 315 8039. Watch the Shongololo Express video by clicking here

We hope to welcome you on board soon!

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A Dad and his Daughter go on a Train Date

Rovos Rail Dad and daughter date

We recently received a lovely letter from a Dad who decided to treat his 11-year old daughter to a train trip. What fun and what a special Dad and and daughter date!

Mr Pflaum travelled our two-night Cape Town journey with his daughter, Léonie, and other than a glowing report they also sent us images and a video from their time on the train and in South Africa!

Dear Brenda,

I don’t have words to describe our journey a few days ago. It was just a blast! It was a dream of mine for several years to do that – but I had to wait, until my oldest daughter was old enough to realize all of it and enjoy it. Léonie (my daughter) is 11 years old and she never felt bored on the whole journey – she would like to extend for another 1 or 2 nights! I pick out one of my girls for some of my travels and this time Léonie was the one who could enjoy South Africa with me. I attached a few photos of us ;-D

We’ve expected a lot – but all our expectations were surpassed! From the Pretoria station, the train, the stops, the great crew on board (with Heinrich – our favorite in the restaurant ;-D) and the great welcome speech of your father. The most impressive part – beside of all the overwhelming rest – was, that your father even made it to Cape Town to say Good Bye with a handshake and some nice words. I was stunned and the journey was worth every Rand we spent – even much more! I can’t describe it with words…!

Thanks to the whole team – in the front and in the back to make something like that possible! Not only to invest with an “all-in” strategy in something new, to have a vision of something great and to realize the vision in an even better way – but to keep it up so many years and still be in the front, searching the contacts with the costumers directly and share the vision as a “once in a lifetime experience”!

I really hope that I can come back very very soon to show this to the rest of my family – my other two daughters and my wife. Thank you all so much and keep everything as it is! My English is limited, so I don’t have other superlatives for everything. But please hug your father from our side – as well from my daughter! Next time, if we see him, we will do it personally! THANK YOU!!!

Here you find a little trip report video from us, which I just created with my iPhone (together with a little soundtrack, which I created together with a good friend back in Kingston, Jamaica). If you have some time, feel free to watch it: https://youtu.be/krB0iYX6YE8

Ah yes: Did I say THANK YOU already? If not: THANK YOU for everything! I had and I will spread this great experience with many others!

And Dad of the month goes to you Mr Pflaum! Thank you for your kind words, they certainly brightened up our Monday and made us feel very content with the work we do here at Rovos Rail.

To all Dad’s out there – bring your daughters on a date with us! As you can see it’s a spoil that does wonders for what is a very special relationship.

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