Picture: Bianca Coleman
BOARDING the Rovos Rail train and embarking on a journey across Africa cocooned in the opulence of beautifully restored train coaches - where you dress for dinner - is without a doubt something that should be on every traveller’s bucket list.

Just imagine the Royal Suite has a Victorian-style bathtub. On a train.

But if time and budget delay this trip of a lifetime, you can still experience a measure of the luxury synonymous with Rovos Rail by staying in one of its gorgeous guest houses in St James.

The three houses are all more or less on the same block of the main road overlooking the ocean - the Homestead and Seaforth are actually right next door to each other.

I was given a private tour of the three, each with its own character, but my night was to be spent at St James Manor and I was definitely not sorry.

The beauty of this splendid grande dame - built more than a century ago - cannot be overstated, with its polished wood panelling, statuesque floral arrangements, Persian carpets, rich fabrics, and English and early South African antique furnishings.

It’s all perfectly complemented by the level of service and attention you receive as a guest; your every whim, wish or desire is happily accommodated, if not intuited.

Besides the number of attractive reception rooms for meetings and social gatherings, a library, the aforementioned bar, a breakfast room and elegant dining room, St James Manor has six spacious suites - and by spacious, I mean bigger than my own apartment.

I stayed in the Vancouver; each name has a story behind it which the staff are happy to share with you.

The suite was a delight, with its massive bed, chaise longue, writing desk (complete with personalised stationery so you can write directly to Rohan Vos, the founder of Rovos Rail which, incidentally, is still family-owned, should you have something on your mind), lounge area, and semi-private balcony shared with another suite.

The vast marble bathroom has a massive tub which, we hope, is more for show than anything else, a long vanity counter with a very welcome magnifying mirror, and filled with a variety of toiletries and shower accessories, including a mini loofah.

The details matter.

In the bedroom, the underfloor heating and electric blanket kept me snug all night, until I woke the next morning to a gloriously grey and wet Cape Town day.

Breakfast, which I had ordered from the menu the previous afternoon, was served in the dining room - soft scrambled eggs with Chalmar Beef meatballs, grilled mushrooms, and tomatoes - with steaming mugs of coffee.

Each table has a small silver bell for diners to attract the attention of the waitrons, but I just couldn’t bring myself to actually ring it.

Should you be visiting in the summer months, hewn into the mountainside behind the house is a back garden and pool area with a private lounging deck.

The beaches are literally across the road: the smaller, less populated Danger Beach (do not be alarmed by the name) and St James itself, famous for its tidal, and rock pools and colourful bathing huts.

This stretch of the False Bay coastline, from Muizenberg all the way around to Simon’s Town, has a sense of nostalgia and history all of its own, and it is one that is unfettered by the frenetic tourism of the Atlantic seaboard.

The short distance from St James to Muizenberg is known as Millionaire’s Mile as a testament to its wealthy colonial past.

And it’s perhaps appropriate that these three gracious homesteads are located alongside the railway line, from where the soft, soothing pulse of passing trains is a comfort to the mind and the soul.


Telephone: 021 788 4543

Email: [email protected]

Website: www.stjamesguesthouses.com