In January 2008, the Society of International Railway Travelers released its list of the world’s Top 25 train rides, and it’s not too surprising that Rovos Rail’s South Africa journeys were near the top. The rugged sweep of the landscape, the wildlife, the diversity of culture and the powerful saga of its history all combine to make South Africa precisely the kind of land that train lovers crave.
Though the train runs routinely through the wild, onboard it offers an elegant experience that requires a jacket and tie at the dinner table. Rovos Rail operates several journeys that connect such points as Pretoria, Cape Town, Victoria Falls, the Garden Route and Durban, making plenty of stops for everything from wine tasting to game driving along the way. The company also runs itineraries to Namibia and Tanzania annually.
Rovos clients tend to be 55 and older, and they either purchase the experience as part of a bigger package, through such wholesalers as Swain (800-227-9246, www.swaintours.com), Cox & Kings (800-999-1758, www.coxandkingsusa.com) or Lion World (800-387-2706, www.lionworldtravel.com), or they combine it themselves with other South African segments. Cape Town, lodges in Krueger National Park and a garden tour are popular add-ons.
Launched in 1989, Rovos Rail recalls the privileged journeys of Victorian and Edwardian British travelers of yesteryear. The company’s fleet of 75 historic coaches and carriages were rebuilt, using wood paneling, traditional furnishings and period decor. The rebuilt sleeper-coach suites accommodate two with either twin or double beds. The 36-suite trains carry a maximum of 72 passengers. All suites are equipped with a writing surface and, for valuables, a safe. There is also a minibar filled with beverages of the passengers’ choice and 24-hour room service. En-suite bathrooms feature hot showers.
The Royal Suites, each of which take up half a carriage, measure 172 square feet, and have their own lounge area and a full bathroom with a Victorian bath and separate shower. The Deluxe Suites (118 square feet) also accommodate two passengers in either twin or double beds, and have a lounge area and bathroom with shower. A third level of accommodation, the Pullman Suite (76 square feet), includes the identical bathroom to that of the deluxe suites, but the bedroom is smaller, with a bunk bed for twin requirements or a double bed for couples. During the day this can be converted into a couch.
Rovos Rail also operates two classic, 20-coach, 72-berth trains as well as a third 13-coach, 42-berth Edwardian train that is available year-round for charter. Each train has a 32-seat observation car at the rear, with enlarged windows and open-air balconies. At the center of the train is, when numbers dictate, a nonsmoking Lounge Car that houses the gift shop and seats 26. There are no radios or televisions onboard.
The trains’ chefs employ fresh local ingredients; such traditional dishes as game are a specialty. Every morning there’s a full breakfast with dishes cooked to order, as well as a buffet of cold meats, croissants, pastries, fresh fruit, yogurts, cereals and preserves. For lunch and dinner, there is a starter and a choice of fish, meat or vegetarian dishes, followed by dessert. All meals are served in one sitting only, in the Victorian-era dining cars, and are complemented by a selection of South African wines. During the day, dress is more casual, with comfortable clothes recommended for the excursions, especially in the game reserves, where it can be very hot.
Rovos Rail offers eight basic itineraries in various lengths and at a fairly wide spread of price points. The itineraries cover a broad range of the experiences that both South Africa and its Southern African neighbors offer. Prices are all-inclusive, covering lodging, excursions, and the food and wine.
Options include the three-day “Durban Safari,” which includes game drives; a two-night Victoria Falls trip; the nine-day “Golf Safari”; and the nine-day “African Collage.” Every July, Rovos offers the 14-day “Dar Es Salaam,” which travels through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania; every May it offers a seven-day Namibia itinerary.
For pricing information, or to learn more about the company and its offerings, call 631-858-1270 or visit www.rovos.co.za.--James Ruggia