Experience the Golden Age of Travel – Rovos Rail Review

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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.

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Rohan Vos sending off a group on Rovos Rail.

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.

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ROVOS RAIL

ROVOS RAIL

ROVOS RAIL

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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.

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ROVOS RAIL
ROVOS RAIL

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.

Making friends on my Rovos Rail safari

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Wonderful Downtime

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.

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The Rovos Rail bar car.

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.

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Cheers to Rovos Rail and its Golden Age of Travel


Rovos Rail on Facebook
Rovos Rail on Twitter

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Although I was provided a complimentary journey with Rovos Rail,
the experience, opinions, and trip through the golden age of travel are my own.


So how does this service rank?

10 Comfort
10 Character
10 Execution
1 Value
7.8
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  • Quentin Reed

    Wow. Sounds like the early days of air travel. Great read.

  • Joanne Bryan

    This would be a dream come true! So wonderful and lovely photographs!

    • Thanks Joanne! If you are interested it you should start planning today!

  • Felicia Whitmore

    Wonderful!

  • Sally Lee

    I have never heard of this company! Looks amazing!

  • Shark Girl

    Wow, this brings back such awesome memories. Thank you! We celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary on the Rovos Rail in 2009. We flew up to Pretoria and traveled back to Cape Town on the majestic Rovos Rail. I love the rose petals on the bed…the attention to detail is awesome. And Joe, the train manager, was magic!!!

    • Awesome! Glad I could bring you back! I hope to do that route someday!

      Thanks for the comment and photo share!

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  • Trevor Britt

    What an unreal journey you have taken! I would never expect a train like this in Africa, especially all the way to Dar es Salam. Wonderful.

    • Thanks Trevor! It was unreal. I hope to take the Dar es Salam trip someday! Can’t think of a better way to see Africa!

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  • Deb Thompson

    Shaun, an absolutely marvellous post with fab photography to go along with it! Love your writing style and now I want to experience this rail journey so badly for myself! Well done. I hope you’ll come by to take a peek at my luxury travel posts – would love to hear from you if you have time to leave me a comment at some time. A great adventure with what sounds like an absolutely amazing luxury brand.

    • Thanks for the kind words Deb! Share your link with me and I will have a look!

      • Deb Thompson

        Great, Shaun – Come on over to http://www.newjetsetters.com and hook up with me on my social media channels (links are on the website). We’re also publishing our next edition of New Jetsetters Gloss digital magazine in a few weeks – love you to come subscribe at http://www.issuu.com/newjetsetters. (free) Thanks for connecting! (PS I’ve come to follow you on Instagram already!)

  • Haily Woodward

    SO AMAZING! Some day!

    • I hope so! It is a really incredible journey and hope to do it again!