With a blow of a whistle and a steam engine slowly pulling us down a track I couldn’t help but feel like I was being transported back in time. Back to a place where travel was so much more than getting from A to B. A time where travel was adventurous and new. The popping cork of a bottle of sparkling wine snaps me back to modern day. As I gaze out of the window watching the skyscrapers of Johannesburg disappear and sip on the amazing South African sparkling wine from a crystal glass, my third of the day, I realize that this is no daydream. This is Rovos rail, where old travel is new again.
The Golden Rails
What originally started as one man’s dream to vacation with his family in style, Rovos Rail’s return to the golden age of travel was a tricky one, to say the least. Rohan Vos, a lover of all things mechanical, began scouring the continent for vintage coach cars and locomotives in the mid-80’s. After failing to get permission to use the railway lines in South Africa for private transportation the idea of opening Rovos Rail to the public was born. Understandably, times were tough for Rohan and his family, who were all part of the business in one way or another. Rovos Rail survived financial challenges; large ones I can only imagine with an operation like this, and has grown into the magnificent company it is today.
Thankfully Rohan Voss’s vision of a better way to travel survived and today Rovos Rail operates several journeys including a trip to Victoria Falls, a golf Safari, and a 15-day trip from Dar es Salaam to Cape Town. My journey, the Durban safari, was just getting started… and I was late for lunch.
5* Meals on Wheels
Meals on Rovos Rail are nothing short of a miracle. Five-star quality dishes paired with South Africa’s best wines, all served in a beautifully decorated Victorian dining car…on a train. This high standard in travel was new to me, and I liked it. Gone are the cold chicken or fish options served with utensils that struggle to put a dent in soft butter. No, not on Rovos Rail. Instead, you will find fine China and Crystal with the signature “RR” embroidered on it all. Then there is the staff, actually smiling and eager to please. Yes, this was a wonderful way to travel, not banging your knee on the beverage cart and all.
Carriage for a King
The high-quality craftsmanship, service and attention to detail aren’t just reserved for the dining car. Upon boarding Rovos Rail our personal assistant and the 24-hour concierge gave us a rundown on our suite – and what a suite indeed. Gorgeous wood paneling and décor reminiscent of days gone by with all the modern conveniences of today. This includes an ensuite bathroom with hot water and hairdryer, a double bed, a lounge area, and a bar fridge filled with whatever is desired. Again, all of this on a train. And by the by, you haven’t lived unless you have had a hot shower on a moving train after indulging in your own bottomless minibar.
Rovos Rail Excursions
Although I was more than content to spend the entire journey in my cozy cabin (or bar car) Rovos Rail does an excellent job enticing you out. This Durban Safari journey includes a game drive at Nambiti private game reserve, a stop in Ladysmith for a fascinating history lesson, and a visit to the inspiring Ardmore ceramics gallery. Of course, these excursions are done in true Rovos Rail style. Upon disembarking the train you’re sent off with a waving goodbye from the entire crew. This touching gesture makes it a tad sad to leave each time but don’t sweat it, those same smiling faces are there to greet you on your return, this time with cold towels, and more champagne.
I love this train.
When not eating amazing meals or seeing the sights my time on Rovos Rail was spent enjoying the scenery for my comfortable cabin as well as from the observation car, which is conveniently attached to the bar car. Sipping South African cognac while watching the sun go down is a beautiful thing. Sipping South African cognac while watching the sun go down from an open-air observation car takes it to the next level.
Ride the Rovos Rails
As we rounded the corners of the Valley of a Thousand Hills I realized Rovos Rail is about enjoying the finer things in life, doing so from a vintage rail car nonetheless. I’m more than thankful for Rohan Voss’s vision of returning to this golden age of travel. Rovos Rail believes in this vision so strongly it even enforces a no cell phone policy that is, in my opinion, very welcomed and long overdue. It makes you really take the time to enjoy the company and scenery around you, just like those early travelers did in a time not too long ago.
Hats off to Rovos Rail for reaching this lost time.
Although I was provided a complimentary journey with Rovos Rail,
the experience, opinions, and trip through the golden age of travel are my own.