It has taken me quite a while to gather my thoughts on what I have come to realise was one of the greatest experiences of my life to date. I am, of course, referring to our magical 3-day-long journey on the Rovos Rail, the most luxurious train in Africa.
After finishing our complimentary champagne, my husband and I were led from the private departure lounge of Durban’s central train station onto a pedantically-restored train where, along with the other guests, we meandered towards our room whilst marvelling at the interior finishings of the carriages. Once the nostalgia began to ease off enough for us to find our cabin, we settled in and took a moment to admire what would be our room for the next 72 hours.
Our ample-sized and excessively cosy en-suite bedroom consisted of a surprisingly large double bed, a writing desk with a full outlay of stationary, storage and cupboard space, and a beautifully designed bathroom. All this, lit up by huge windows that make you feel as though you’re outside, among the passing wildlife, was overwhelming enough for the two of us. As with everything on the Rovos Rail though, the sense of comfort alone was not enough - each carriage is assigned its own caretaker, who waits on guests to no end. Every time we returned to our cabin, we slid open our hardwood door to find that the mini fridge had been restocked and re-organised, our bed had been made up in the most lavish fashion, and our small desk had been adorned with a number of quaint little surprises. We knew after our first lunch that this train ride wasn't just a trip, but a carefully-crafted, personalised journey, thanks to the amazing staff onboard.
After getting to grips with our amazing room we moved towards the end of the train and settled in the observation car, which is unsurprisingly the most highly sought-after section of the moving compound. Here, guests meet and mingle in the open air lounge section while washing down icy drinks and admiring the incomparable South African landscape. Trays full of nuts, fruit and crunchy vegetable chips are always full to the brim for those who need a snack between any one of the three meals that are offered onboard.
The meals were served across two dining cars, furnished with tufted leather chairs and period-piece design elements. Lunch and dinner both comprised of 4 courses - starter, main, cheese and dessert, with wine paired with each of the courses. The food was, as one would expect, impeccable, and the waiting staff were friendly, efficient and all very knowledgeable with regards to the train, its route and the general history of this beautiful country.
The journey itself was one of near-mythical status. Starting with the sub-tropical, rolling hills of Durban and ending with the vast urban plains of Pretoria, with a series of stops in between, each one more interesting and exhilarating than the last. The first stop was the fabled Ardmore ceramics gallery, a privately-owned and locally-run creative hub full of beautiful hand-made and carefully painted one-off pieces. After an extensive tour of the workshops, we settled in for tea under ancient overhanging trees before ambling back towards the bus at the end of the afternoon.
The next morning we ushered in the sunrise on the back of a safari Land Rover as we made our way through the crisp morning air in the Nambiti private game reserve. Our apprehension over the possibility of not seeing any wildlife was soon quelled by the arrival of a friendly and inquisitive elephant who was grazing through bushes at the roadside, helping himself to nature’s breakfast buffet. The remainder of our drive was highlighted by sightings of hippos, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, warthogs, and various buck. Safe to say, by the time we got back to the train, we felt as though we knew South Africa - and its beautiful animal residents - so much better.
That evening, between lunch and dinner, guests on the train were invited to Spionkop Lodge, where they were given a choice between a second game drive (and the chance to see any animals they may not have seen earlier in the day), or a historical journey in words, told by one of the world’s most well-respected voices on the subject, Raymond Heron. My husband and I opted for the latter and thoroughly enjoyed the retelling of that particular chapter of South Africa’s storied past from a perfect vantage point above the hills and valleys of the region.
We finished up at Spoinkop lodge itself, overlooking the thunder-stricken surrounds while sipping on a crisp white wine. The perfect end to an amazing journey.
The next day, we all rolled into Rovos Rail’s very own colonial-style train station in Pretoria, powered by a steam locomotive the likes of which is rarely seen anywhere in the world these days, let alone in South Africa. A quick and slightly emotional departure left us longing for just one more evening on Rohan Vos’s dream train. Until next time, we’ll be waiting with bated breath.
If you want extra information on the trip, please check the Rovos Rail website, or contact them via firstname.lastname@example.org. They have so many amazing trips with various lengths, something for everybody. And if I haven't made it clear yet - it is one of the most amazing journeys you will ever get to experience!