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Around Africa on Rovos Rail – The Most Luxurious Train in the World

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If it is world-class, luxury rail travel that you are after then you have to look no further than family run Rovos Rail, who operate classically restored vintage trains on fifteen different routes across Southern Africa, including South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, DRC and Tanzania.

The routes take in world-famous locations, such as Victoria Falls and Kruger National Park, and other bucket list activities, including the best safaris and playing golf on internationally renowned courses. And best of all, this can be achieved on an affordable budget – in terms of value for money, it cannot be beaten.

Rovos travel can be used as a bolt- on to a golf escape in South Africa or as a trip in its own right. On this occasion, I was combining a 4 day trip on Rovos from Pretoria to Victoria Falls alongside a signature safari experience to Little Makalolo Lodge, a stunning private concession in Hwange National Park in the northwest of Zimbabwe bordering Botswana. It was a trip of a lifetime.

My wife, Debbie and I were joined by friends and train enthusiasts Neal and Cheryl. We flew from London to Jo’burg and then got an airport-registered taxi for ZAR 1200 to our digs for the night. The Rasmus is a 4* to 5* small, family-run hotel, based around 10km from the Rovos terminal in Pretoria. The accommodation was excellent for ZAR 1700 a large room, comfortable bed, super big walk-in shower and bathroom.

Cooked breakfast was also superb. A restaurant is available in the hotel, but we opted to go into the city for the first fillet steak of our trip; superb cuisine and as cheap as chips. Imagine our surprise when we ordered the best bottle of wine in the house for just £9 for 2 bottles as it was happy hour!

Arriving at Rovos Train HQ

After a little sightseeing the following morning we made our way to the Rovos terminal, and company HQ, in Pretoria. What a place, simply beautiful. The front was a red- bricked early 20th century design, with a red carpet rolled down to welcome all guests. Despite being 3 hours early (!) we were warmly greeted by staff, luggage taken with canapes and drinks.

We settled ourselves in a stunning drawing room and the waiting time flew by. In between refreshments, there was time to go to the Rovos museum and satisfy the inner schoolboy by having a ride on an immaculately restored coal-fired steam train.

Joined by our 38 fellow travellers – mostly Europeans and Americans – we were greeted by the company owner, Mr Rohan Vos, who has met and dispatched every single passenger on every train throughout its 30- year history.

Mr Vos, an engaging speaker, took us on a fascinating hour-long tour of the station and the workshops explaining in small detail how the operation works. 480 staff do everything from source and renovate old trains to serving the fine wines and magnificent food onboard.

Our 4 days on board were simply brilliant. After an evening meal, more great wine and a nose around the train, it was time for bed.

Rovos Train Accommodation Type

Rovos has 3 classes of accommodation, varying from the very good to royal. We stayed in the ‘standard’ (very good) accommodation, a Pullman suite. This comprised a comfortable double bed and a separate shower room with toilet. Each morning our lovely chambermaid folded up the bed into a sofa and every evening she prepared the room for bedtime whilst we were eating our dinner.

Rovos Train Itinerary

Day 2

Day 2 was spent on-board meeting and chatting to other passengers, enjoying a sumptuous breakfast, a 3 course lunch and a 4 course dinner. Throughout the day, drinks and the best wines from the region were readily available from Gareth or Goodnews, who ran the back bar, next to the outside observation deck, where we took in the stunning scenery, and animals, all the way up from Pretoria and through the Zimbabwe national parks to Victoria Falls.

The dining was different level – highlights of the 4 days included lamb chops, snook and fillet steak on the last night. The tiny kitchen worked miracles to produce food of such fantastic quality.

Day 3

Day 3 included a stop in Bulawayo (all excursions are included in the price and naturally you are fed and watered during the trip), where we were bussed 40 minutes to the Matobo National Park to the burial grounds of Cecil Rhodes. The guides were experts and the trip was really interesting. Rather disappointingly, there were no sightings of animals.

Day 4

Day 4 was a beautiful snake through parts of Hwange spotting a huge variety of animals, including hippo. In the afternoon there was an excellent safari – hippo, elephant, lion and, at the end, a drink and a little much-needed snack next to a campfire. Our visit was in July, the middle of winter in southern Africa; the temperature moved between 5C at night to 25C in the middle of the day.

By daybreak the following morning we were zoning in on Victoria Falls and we reached it by 11. The station is bang in the middle of the town, a mix of basic shops, bars and restaurants. As ever, on departure, the service was impeccable, with our luggage ready to be collected at the exit for our onward journey.

The trip on Rovos is without-doubt, bucket list, and we have enjoyed just 1 of the 15 routes available. For the 4 day trip the cost was around £2000 per person, a small fraction of what you will pay on equivalent better- known European railways, and it included everything other than tips for the staff. We will certainly be back.

As a footnote, the Victoria Falls are incredible, breathtaking beauty and power, stretching as far as the eye can see. They are a stone’s throw from the Rovos terminal and, from memory, cost a rather lumpy US$50 each, but you just have to do it.

We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the magnificent Falls, our every move watched by peckish monkeys but with a staff member responsible for ensuring we ate our meal undisturbed.

There is great accommodation in Victoria Falls at the Lokuthula Lodge for around £100 per room per night; this is as authentic as it gets – warthogs being our neighbours for most of the day, but all sorts of animals roam the grounds.

The Vic Falls airport is 15 minutes by taxi out of town; it is quaint and well-connected throughout southern Africa.

Looking to explore more about golf escapes to South Africa. Get in touch with one of our travel specialists and make your next golf escape a once-in-a-lifetime African experience.

About the Author

Richard Black

Spent 25 years helping to build a leading medical device business before an exit last year. Enthusiastic social golfer and curious traveller, the opportunity to join the team at Golf Escapes was too good to refuse. Short-haul - anywhere in southwest Europe ticks the boxes. South Africa is the ultimate favourite destination.

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