Rovos Rail: Onboard the World’s Most Luxurious Train

October 28, 2016 by Dawn Jorgensen

‘When you truly love your journey, the destination is just a bonus.’ – Katrina Mayer

There’s a hushed elation as we check-in to the private lounge at Cape Town’s railway station, glass of bubbly in hand, a duo offering the perfect accompaniment of softly played classical music. Guests take to the couches, chatting casually with fellow travellers, while the crew talks us through procedures. For most of us this is our first Rovos Rail experience and the anticipation is tinged with nervous anticipation. We know it’s going to be wonderful, but how ready are we for time onboard the world’s most luxurious train?

Dawn Jorgensen riding the Rovos Rail (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

Dawn Jorgensen riding the Rovos Rail (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

The luxury begins…

The flagship trip we embark on follows the 994-mile journey between Cape Town and Pretoria, taking us through the beautiful yet barren Karoo landscapes, past lonely windmills and fields dotted with oblivious sheep. On this journey there are stops at the Victorian village in Matjiesfontein and an afternoon spent in Kimberley, South Africa’s diamond city, for a tour and look at a bygone era.

RS Dawn Jorgensen, Rovos Rail, Stopover in the historic village of Mtjiesfontein

Matjiesfontein station (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

Once boarded, I notice the cabins are aptly named after South African fauna, flora and historic greats such as Shaka Zulu and Nelson Mandela. My luggage waits in mine, an opulent Deluxe Suite with a huge double bed and bathroom. There are three types of accommodation available on Rovos: Pullman, Deluxe and Royal. All are air-conditioned, have mini-bars, beautiful mahogany-panelled walls, windows and shutters that open to the endless passing views, ensuites and, surprisingly, loads of storage space.

There’s even an in-house laundry and ironing service on offer, as well as 24-hour room service. By distinction, the Pullman Suites have a sofa during the day, which converts to a bed in the evening; the Deluxe suites are larger with a permanent bed, small lounge area and ensuite shower, while the Royal Suites are larger and have a bath.

Kimberley sign (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

Kimberley sign (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

Introducing Rovos Rail

The history of Rovos Rail starts over 27 years ago when visionary Rohan Vos bought a coach or two with the intention of restoring them and hitching them to South African Railway trains for family holidays. From here it was locomotives and engines that would be lovingly restored and named after his children and today, under the watchful eye of a family whose heart and passion have gone into creating an impeccable service appropriately named, The Pride of Africa.

Unlike other trains that travel at 100km or more, Rovos has a policy of travelling at 60km per hour. This leisurely pace brings the beauty of the passing landscape to life; that and the occasional stops and driver changes. The highlight is the observation car and its open-air balcony at the back of the train, undoubtedly the most popular spot to be, as the train moves forward.

Rovos Rail staff (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

Rovos Rail staff (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

With just 40 people on-board (the max is 72) during my trip, the two dining carts, lounges and bar areas were always partly free. The staff young, vibrant, professional and charming take great pride in maintaining a very high standard, were always near to offer assistance, yet allowed the privacy required to relax and chat.

An all-inclusive experience

On check-in, the chef came to my cabin to talk about allergies and meal preferences, accompanied by restaurant staff to ensure that our preferred drinks were available. My option is vegetarian with halloumi and aubergine dishes, soups, beautiful fresh salads and fruit gracing my plate. The rest of the patrons feasted on traditional dishes that celebrated locally sourced ingredients, with game a speciality on the train. Meals are superb, all perfectly paired to South Africa wine. A dinner gong heralds lunch and dinner.

Halloumi salad (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

Halloumi salad (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

There’s a rule on-board, no cell phones, iPads or Laptops in public areas, only in your cabin. You’re invited to dress for dinner, a jacket and tie for the gentleman and cocktail dress for the ladies, which add a dimension of splendor to an already extraordinary experience. Once onboard absolutely everything is included; meals, drinks and off-train excursions.

Back on the observation deck on Rovos as my luxury trip came to an end, I began to understand that travel is essentially about the journey and there is no finer way to appreciate it than on one of the world’s most luxurious trains. As the journey drew to an end and we approached Rovos Rail station in Pretoria, a steam train joined for the last stretch to take us home. How soon my body had adjusted to the rhythmic rocking of the train on the tracks – a soothing sound that I longed for, once reluctantly disembarked.

The Rovos Rail dining room (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

The Rovos Rail dining room (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

The best way to travel

A luxury train journey must be one of the most relaxing and evocative ways of crossing the vast landscape of Southern Africa. Other routes on offer with Rovos are extended journeys to Victoria Falls, their increasingly popular Durban Safari route that includes game drives, battlefield tours and lessons in the history of the Zulu people. There’s even a passage to Dar es Salaam, which has to be the pen ultimate African train journey.

Rovos certainly offers the luxury and romance of a bygone era, when great trains forged forward into new frontiers, harnessing steam to link Africa’s south to north, past mountain ranges, through desert landscapes and untamed plains that teemed with wildlife. All this under the watchful eye of a family whose heart and passion have gone into creating an impeccable service appropriately referenced as the most Luxurious Train in Africa.

The Karoo landscape (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

The Karoo landscape (image: Dawn Jorgensen)

After only 48 hours on-board I’d retreated into a world of relaxed wonder, revitalised and invigorated. Take note of the specials that they run on their Cape Town and Durban Safaris every June, July and August.


Ready to ride the Rovos Rail or just want to explore Cape Town? Make an appointment with one of our Travel Experts today and they’ll help you find the perfect South Africa holiday.


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About Dawn Jorgensen

Dawn Jorgensen is a conscious traveller with a deep love for Africa, its people and the environment. From gorilla trekking in Uganda, tree planting in Zambia and turtle rescue in Kenya, she always returns to Cape Town which is home. As a freelance travel writer and on her blog The Incidental Tourist, she shares stories and photographs from her international and local travels, always with a focus on eco-tourism and the environment. Her passion remains for travel that matters and she is known to highlight ways that we can explore this beautiful world sustainably and without compromise. She’s also rather partial to luxury. http://theincidentaltourist.com