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Rovos Rail’s Luxury Journey through Africa

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Discover the Pinnacle of Luxury Travel with Rovos Rail

Experience a Warm Welcome

The minute we arrived at the Victoria Falls Hotel, we knew we were in for a treat. Our bags were labelled and whisked away to the wood-panelled deluxe suite that would be ours on the journey to Pretoria. We were ushered into a private lounge area at the hotel, and sparkling wine and canapés were offered. Once all our fellow passengers were assembled, comfortably seated around the room, we were welcomed by Rohan Vos, the man who started the family-owned Rovos Rail in 1989, developing it into what it is today – one of the world’s best and most luxurious trains; The Pride of Africa.

Introductions done, we’re ushered across the road to the waiting locomotive, where local musicians sing and dance as we prepare to board. Stepping off the grey concrete platform and onto a red carpet, we knew this would be a memorable trip. With more than 30 staff on board, from chefs to bartenders, wait staff, security guards, housekeepers, train drivers, technicians, and a jovial train manager, Hennie, to oversee them all, this is a railway trip in a league of its own.

This was not our first time on Rovos Rail, nor the first time we’d met Mr Vos or Hennie – we felt pretty at home. Our last journey had been in South Africa, from Cape Town to Pretoria. This time, we were set to travel, for four days and three nights, all the way through Zimbabwe from Victoria Falls to South Africa’s administrative capital, Pretoria, stopping at a couple of special spots along the way. As the train chugs out of the station, our journey begins.

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Revel in Rovos Rail’s Distinctive Style and History

Since its establishment in 1989, Rovos Rail has earned an international reputation as a truly world-class travel experience. The trains, which can be hauled by diesel or electric locomotives at various stages of the journey, carry a maximum of 72 passengers in 36 superbly appointed suites. The beautifully restored carriages combine luxury travel with the chance to experience living history. Restaurant cars, observation carriages, and sleeping compartments are all restored originals from a bygone era of rail travel, with vintage wood-panelled coaches, soft velvet upholstery and period fittings designed for pioneering travellers from a simpler, more elegant age of African exploration. Maintaining the spirit of a bygone era, there’s no Wi-Fi, radios, newspapers or television sets on board – reviving the art of conversation.

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The Start of Reviving the Art of Conversation

Once we’d all settled in our stunning suites, unpacked our bags, drunk yet another glass of champagne and freshened up, we made our way to the bar to acquaint ourselves with our fellow travellers. The sunset glistens through the huge glass windows that look out to the observation car. Ice tinkles in glasses, and there’s a hum of conversation as everyone gets to know one another. Dinner time is fast approaching.

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Indulge in Elegant Dining

Guests are summoned to dine by a mini-xylophone, and dressing for dinner is expected – men are required to dress in a jacket and tie and ladies in cocktail or evening dresses. This ceremonial ‘dressing for dinner’ makes the whole experience feel special, and the food is certainly worth the effort. A four-course meal is served in the cherry-panelled, teakwood-pillared restaurant car, with cut-crystal wine glasses, fine china, starched linen napkins, silver cutlery and seamless service.

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Given the limited space of a train kitchen car, achieving a standard that rivals that of fine restaurants is a challenge when catering for a full complement of guests. There is an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. Traditional dishes such as game meat are a speciality, and there’s a selection of fine wines from some of South Africa’s most renowned estates to complement the menu. Considerable thought and meticulous planning go into devising the menus, and an enthusiastic team of chefs ensures that all the guests enjoy the indulgence. A full stomach, wine, liqueur and the soporific rhythm of the train definitely all help lull you to sleep when you retire to your compartment after dinner.

The Beauty of Enjoying a Journey

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When it comes to travel, speed and convenience are usually priorities. When we travel, especially by plane, we often forget to enjoy the journey. Every once in a while, it’s important to slow down a little and travel at a more leisurely pace and in a more luxurious fashion. A trip on Rovos Rail gives you precisely that – fine food, fine wine, fantastic accommodation, and fabulous excursions from the train.

Wildlife Encounters in Hwange National Park

We headed south, and the next day, our first stop was Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest national park, covering an impressive 14,650km². The park was named after a local chief. It was once the royal hunting ground for the king of the Ndebele tribe before being designated a National Park in 1929. Teeming with wildlife, Hwange is home to the world’s largest population of elephants (40,000) as well as a vast variety of other wildlife. The train stops here and waits for some hours, allowing the passengers a morning spent exploring the park on guided game drives, seeing elephants – of course – but also giraffes, buffalo, sable, lions and more. Back in time for lunch onboard, we pushed on.

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Explore UNESCO Heritage at Matobo National Park

Travelling on the following morning, the train stops again for passengers to alight. This time, we visit Matobo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the oldest parks in Zimbabwe and home to both black and white rhinos, and a fantastic collection of ancient rock art dating back at least 13,000 years. The Matopos Hills also boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in Zimbabwe, with giant balancing rock formations on a colossal granite plateau. It is here, on the peak of the Malindidzimu (‘Hill of Spirits’), that we visit the gravestone of Cecil John Rhodes, British mining magnate, politician, founder of diamond company de Beers, and the original driving force behind the building of the Victoria Falls bridge we’d been able to see from the Victoria Falls hotel a few days earlier.

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The South African Journey Blends Convenience with Opulence

Powering on, we chart a course through Zimbabwe before finally crossing the border at Beitbridge into South Africa. The bridge crosses the Limpopo River, which forms the border between the two countries and is named after Alfred Beit, co-founder of De Beers diamond mining and associate of the aforementioned Cecil Rhodes.

On we go to Pretoria, the executive capital of South Africa and known for its stunning, purple-flowering jacaranda trees. With a hiss and a screech, the locomotive, complete with suites, lounges and dining cars, ground to a halt. We’ve reached the end of the line, and our journey is done.

The Unbridled Elegance of Rovos Rail

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Rovos Rail has a style all of its own. The spacious suites, some of the biggest train suites in the world, each accommodate two people and offer passengers the opportunity to travel in privacy, comfort and luxury. The rebuilt sleeper coaches, all with ensuite bathrooms, combine original Edwardian features and fittings with all the modern amenities you would expect from a 5-star stay. You have a dedicated host/ess at your call, available at all times and around-the-clock room service. Not to mention the decadent experience of lying in bed and watching the scenery slide past your window without exerting any effort whatsoever!

The Forgotten Luxury of Train Travel Revealed

Rail is one of the most indulgent and comfortable ways to travel – with a spacious suite all to yourself, you can pass the days relaxing or mingling with fellow passengers while the beauty of Southern Africa’s scenic landscapes passes by the window. This extravagant railway has been travelling throughout Africa for over thirty years. It offers one of the world’s most luxurious train travel experiences, combining the golden age of rail travel with modern conveniences and allowing you to explore Africa in all the luxury of a bygone era. If you fancy stepping back in time but in the utmost style, travelling across Africa’s vast plains with Rovos Rail is the journey for you.

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When it comes to travel, convenience and efficiency are usually priorities. Every once in a while, you crave something leisurely and luxurious, an old-world mode of exploration that allows you to take in the sights more indulgently, and a trip on South Africa’s Rovos Rail gives you exactly that.

Stories From Sarah Kingdom