There’s something quite extraordinary about sitting on a train, listening to the gentle clickety-clack of the train on the tracks and seeing mesmerizing landscapes sweep past you. We get quite a few requests about train travel, and while there are numerous luxury train routes across the world, we want to showcase what makes Africa such a magical destination and why its rail journeys rate amongst the world’s finest and most unique routes.
In an age where every aspect of our modern lives has been taken over by electronic devices and social media, what better way than to sit back, relax, and rediscover a bygone era of elegant travel aboard a vintage luxury train.
Rovos Rail has become synonymous with luxury train travel in the Southern Hemisphere and expertly blends the less harried era of rail travel with all the modern amenities one would expect to create a truly unforgettable experience.Imagine the thrill of waking up aboard a train and watching the sun rise as the African bush unfolds?
Rovos Rail offers travellers the choice of short two-day jaunts or an epic journey through some of Africa’s most iconic landscapes and destinations such as Cape Town, Victoria Falls, Dar es Salaam and Namibia’s Swakopmund. Passengers can enjoy various off-train activities along the way (dependant on the route) such as game drives, a round of golf, or an excursion to world-renowned attractions such as the mighty Victoria Falls, Kimberley’s Big Hole or the quaint Victorian town of Matjiesfontein.
Rovos operates two renovated classic trains, each with twenty restored original wood-paneled coaches, some of which date back to before the 1920’s. All the luxury suites (ranging from the standard Pullman Suites to the Deluxe Suites and ultra-luxurious Royal Suites) are spacious and air-conditioned with elegant Edwardian features. Perfect for honeymooners or couples seeking an escape from everyday life, the rail provider prides itself on having no televisions onboard, and the use of laptops is restricted to private suites only. The dining car is particularly opulent (guests are expected to dress up for dinners to add to the elegant ambience) with international cuisine as well as local favourites such as bobotie and koeksisters on the menu, complemented by an extensive list of South African premier wines. There is also an open-air observation car at the back of the train which allows visitors to breathe in the fresh air whilst enjoying the captivating landscapes sweeping by. Whilst children are allowed on board, we would not recommend taking your little ones with you as there are no child-minding facilities.
If you want to experience train travel (without the hefty price tag) then you may want to consider Rovos Rail’s more affordable sister train, the Shongololo Express, which runs from Cape Town to Pretoria.
The Blue Train
The Blue Train has been in operation since the 1920’s when it started taking passengers arriving by Union Castle steamers in Cape Town to the goldfields of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Renowned the world over for its luxurious interiors and visited by kings, presidents and celebrities alike, this five-star ‘hotel on wheels’ takes travellers through some of South Africa’s most spectacular and diverse scenery.
Originally known as the Union Express (for northbound journeys) and Union Limited (for southbound), the original wooden coaches were later replaced by steel coaches in 1937 and painted an elegant blue which became known as ‘The Blue Train’. The route (starting in Pretoria and ending in Cape Town which can also be taken in reverse) takes visitors on a 27-hour long journey gliding through 1600 km (994 miles) of awe-inspiring scenery. On the southbound journey from Pretoria, guests will travel past sunflower fields, waterfalls and flocks of ostrich and watch the moon rise over the arid landscape of the Karoo. The next day will see you journeying past awe-inspiring mountain ranges and some of the world’s finest vineyards before arriving beneath spectacular Table Mountain and one of the most iconic cities in the world.
En-route travellers will be able to experience a step back in time to the diamond rush with a stopover in Kimberley and an excursion to its famous landmark the Big Hole. On the northbound journey, there will be a stopover at the Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein, a place steeped in Victorian history complete with lampposts and buildings dating back to colonial times. An additional route has also recently been added to another one of South Africa’s iconic sites, the Kruger National Park in the Hoedspruit area, famous for its incredible variety of wildlife. Guests can travel on The Blue Train from Pretoria and be taken to the Hoedspruit Station from where they will be transferred to a lodge of their choice in and around the Kruger National Park.
No expense has been spared on the Blue Train with stately suites steeped in luxury, gold-plumbed and marble-tiled bathrooms, a personal butler, gourmet dining with an extensive list of South Africa’s finest wines and cigar-stocked lounges (they even stock Montecristo Havana cigars!) the order of the day.
For a magical dining experience and a chance to experience the romance of a long forgotten era, the Bushtracks Express is the ultimate luxury steam train experience. This beautifully restored steam train takes visitors from the Zimbabwe side to the iconic Victoria Falls Bridge which was built in 1905 by Cecil Rhodes. Watch the sun setting over the thundering Falls with the majestic Zambezi River flowing below as you tuck into beautifully prepared canapés and sunset drinks, followed by a gourmet meal.
If taking it slow and soaking up Africa’s incredible landscapes from the comfort and safety of a ‘travelling hotel’ appeals to you, then book your suite aboard a luxury train on one of the above routes for a truly unique trip-of-a-lifetime experience that you are bound to cherish forever.