What started as a dream for visionary and Witbank businessman Rohan Vos, has grown into four trains that ply southern and eastern Africa. Rovos Rail is the only private mainline train service.
Opulent is an apt word to describe the lovingly restored vintage coaches. But words do not do justice to the incredible masterpiece on rails. Each carriage is adorned with captivating art and history, reminiscent of the grand old days of rail travel.
This is rail travel from yesteryear, except with the convenience of your own bathroom, lounge area and a wall-to-wall bed with soft down duvets and plush pillows.
Hot-water bottles and electric blankets can be provided to ward of the chill. In the crisp Karoo air, there is nothing quite like being ensconced in the best linen, with a good cup of coffee and a passing panorama of South Africa’s ever-changing landscape.
The termination of the 48-hour journey is the dramatic arrival in Cape Town with its famous mountain visible kilometres away.
Guests gathered on the outdoor patio to savour the clean air and breathtaking vista. The journey from Pretoria is a compulsory relaxation time - no internet, no phones, and that’s company policy.
The service, the food and the train are all proudly South African and run by Vos and his family. And it shows. This is more than a business; it’s a passion for a family who love their product as much as they love sharing it with other travellers. If you can appreciate the notion of sleeping, eating and switching off for three days, the experience will not disappoint you. Despite its obvious luxury, there is a warm, welcoming feeling. Nothing is too much trouble.
As the serpentine green carriages continued their journey south towards the Mother City, through the undulating Karoo, a gentle sway and clacking of the rails brings on a drowse and an unscheduled siesta.
The Karoo is special - nothing but open spaces, azure skies and the odd ostrich, sheep or springbok popping up to gaze at the passing carriages.
The food deserves more than a special mention. Amazingly, it’s all prepared in a minute galley and plated with eye-watering appeal.
After a deep sleep, cocooned in what is more of a hotel room than a train compartment, we pass thousands of pink flamingos, a sign that we will be disembarking in Kimberley for a tour.
Back at the train, a hot towel and champagne on the platform sees the train head off into the Karoo. Due to its dry and rugged vista, this is one of the most beautiful parts of the journey.
Sit on the outside balcony, sip a gin and tonic and breathe in the clean air with views of what seems to stretch to infinity.
We later stop in Matjiesfontein for a stretch and walk.
It’s a town caught in a 1900 time warp.
Soon we’re heading away from this hamlet and the train reaches the Hex River and tunnels. As we burst out of these man-made wonders, kilometres-long, the darkness erupts into a riot of colour, towering mountains and endless orchards and vineyards.
The lounge car with its deep, inviting couches and leather armchairs is always welcoming and never crowded.
Afternoon tea, sandwiches, cheesecake and scones are taken and we bid our final farewells as the train enters Paarl.
Stepping onto the platform is like a time warp as cellphones come back to life and the rush of nearby Adderley Street takes guests to their next point of call.
The Rovos Rail is an exceptional experience - not so much a train journey as a bucket-list adventure.