Rovos Rail South Africa (Cape Town to Pretoria): a most remarkable & special experience (review)

Rovos Rail Lounge Cape Town Train Station

Rovos Rail Lounge Cape Town Train Station

The bed in our suite on Rovos Rail Train

The bed in our suite on Rovos Rail Train

We travelled on the Rovos Train for 2 nights from Cape Town to Pretoria. It was an amazing experience. I loved it.

Rovos Rail is an independently owned rail service that was created by a visionary called Rohan Vos. He and his team has hunted down old railway coaches from the 1920s and onwards and restored them into a glorious old world glamour. He also has done the same with old steam engines, that pull the train on some of the journey.

Most of the railway carriages were in very poor condition when he found them and has a team of craftsmen restoring and building rich wooden panel interiors.The carriages are luxurious and really old world. There are 3 classes. There are the Royal Suites, which take up half a carriage. The Deluxe suites which are 3 to a carriage, and then the. Pullman suites which are seats in the day and beds at night (more similar to first class carriages today but with individual bathrooms).

We were in a deluxe suite. It is quite a “wow” on entering. Not only because you feel a sense of entering the past, but the size and layout. There is a double bed that is huge and stretches right across the suite. As it is quite high it is fabulous to lie on and watch scenery out the window. Then there is a small table, with mini bar underneath) and 2 chairs. There is a fair sized cupboard and then a great little bathroom with shower cubicle, wash basin and toilet. (The Royal Suites also have a bath!).

I thought the styling and decor was great as felt really appropriate for the feeling of a grander age the whole train creates.As the fare is all inclusive, they had a small bottle of sparkling wine and then you filled out what other drink and mixers you want.

In terms of public areas there are a few great spaces and places which are:- 2 lounges with drinks and nibbles all day. One was in the centre of the train with large sofas and comfy chairs. The other at the rear of the train where the last third was turned into an open air observation area.- small smoking lounge- 2 dining cars. These were very different and from different eras. One from the 1920s and the other from the 1940s. You could use either to get different experiences.- small gift shop in one of the lounges.

The food was very good, especially considering the small facilities on the train. The breakfast was huge and then for lunch and dinner were set menus with choice of 3 to 4 mains. There was a gigantic wine list of South African wines, and as was all inclusive you could try as many types as you wanted.

You have to dress for dinner in at least a jacket and tie.

The service is outstanding at all levels and at all stages. The staff are well trained and very friendly and efficient. This was a major plus. They have many service features which even include shoe shine and pressing shirts for dinner. They even stopped the train to look at and fix our air conditioning!

On the journey we had a stop each day to get off the train and stretch our legs. We stopped for an hour at Maijesfontein (an old refueling and stocking town from about 1880s which had an interesting travel museum. On the 2nd day we stopped in Kimberley to see the famous “Big Hole” where all the diamonds came from. But being on the train was fascinating and watching the changing terrain was peaceful and enjoyable in itself.

Rovos trips are not that cheap, and so we found that of the 48 (24 couples) on board only 2 were South African, the rest were mostly from the UK or USA.The service competes with the more famous and longer established “Blue Train” run by South African Railways. That train takes much less time and goes faster. Rovos is a slower and more leisurely trip in a more old fashioned experience.

The train was long with 18 coaches in all and some 400 metres in length. For most of the trip it is pulled by electric engines, but for the last leg on the last day a glorious restored steam engine from the late 1950s met us and pulled us the rest of the way. We were able to get off the train when it met us and get in the driver’s area and take photos.

Rohan Vos who runs Rovos actually was the person who did the welcome speech to everyone at this lovely reception in a special lounge at Cape Town station, and then he was there to meet the train when we arrived in Pretoria, personally wishing everyone a good trip and asking for thoughts and ideas on our return.

I loved the train, love the experience and want to do it again. Soon!

One of the lounges on Rovos Rail Station

One of the lounges on Rovos Rail Station



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Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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