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There is something special about long-distance train travel. The gentle clackety-clack of the passing train track, the soft rocking that lulls you to sleep, and the ability to read, nap and lounge about in perfect comfort while glorious scenery passes you by all make for a very relaxing journey. Trips on Rovos Rail may be as short as 2-day jaunt from Cape Town to Pretoria in South Africa or an epic sojourn from Cape Town to Kruger National Park but they all have one thing in common: the feeling that you’ve returned to a less harried age, to a time of good manners and graciousness.
To create this atmosphere, Rovos Rail has a set of guidelines in place for passengers. Please use our expert infographic before you board the train or to decide if a Rovos Rail trip is right for you.
In an age where even cars have multiple TV screens and DVD players, and every aspect of modern life is transmitted via social media, Rovos Rail prides itself on providing a ‘digital detox’. There are no televisions or radios on board, there is no Internet connectivity, and mobile phone reception is extremely limited. Using your laptop is restricted to your private suite – they are not permitted in the public lounges.
All grown up
Although children are permitted on board, there are no facilities for babies, toddlers or older children. Excursions are geared for adults, mealtimes are set and there is no outdoor area for boisterous youngsters to blow off steam. Kids who love nothing better than disappearing into a book for hours at a time will, however, be in their element.
Dinner gongs and dinner jackets
Like a yacht, kitchen space on a train is extremely limited so mealtimes are set to ensure a smooth service. You can arrive for breakfast between 7am and 10am. Lunch is at 1pm and dinner at 7:30pm – both are announced by an old-fashioned gong that reverberates through the carriages! Afternoon tea is at 4:30pm – expect dainty sweet and savoury nibbles.
The food is international cuisine peppered with South African highlights like milk tart, koeksisters (a sweet confection), ostrich, bobotie and mild curries, served with premium South African wines. Dietary requirements can be accommodated if you let your Africa Safari Expert know in advance.
What to wear
Think of the train as a moving upscale resort or a luxurious land-based cruise liner. The dress code is smart-casual for men and women – this is not a ‘let it all hang out’ venue. For excursions, have comfortable walking shoes, a sun hat and sunscreen. Flat shoes are easiest for moving around on the train when it is in motion.
Dinner has a ‘cocktail’ dress code. Men are expected to wear a jacket and tie while women should wear a dressy cocktail number. It really adds to the sophisticated ambience for everyone to ‘dress up’ and make an effort.
Don’t worry about how much to pack: each suite can easily accommodate several suitcases and obviously, there’s no weight limit. If you are going on safari or Rovos Air, both of which have strict luggage limits, ask your Africa Safari Expert to arrange storage for your extra bags.
How your days will pass
Depending on your itinerary, the train will stop at various points so passengers can enjoy a round of golf, a game drive, or a tour of a local attraction like the Victorian town of Matjiesfontein or the Big Hole at Kimberley. All off-train excursions are guided and you will be able to buy mementoes along the way. If you are venturing out of South Africa, your excursions could include game drives and a visit to Victoria Falls.
Once back on board, savour a drink in the open-air observation car, which is the last carriage on the train and a firm favourite with all passengers. The non-smoking lounge has a small library, and classic board and card games – or head to your suite for a much-welcome afternoon nap.
Tipping across Africa is at your discretion for good service. If you feel that you’ve been treated well by the staff and your host or hostess, pop US$10-20 for every person in your group per night into the specially marked envelope and hand it to the train manager when you leave (so if two of you are on a 2-night journey, that adds up to US$20-40 in gratuities. Of course, more is always appreciated).
The serious stuff
A journey on Rovos Rail is no different to any other journey to Africa when it comes to ensuring your paperwork is in order.
Depending on the countries you are passing through, contact the relevant consulates to see if you need a visa.
The same applies to yellow-fever vaccinations.
Consult your travel clinic about anti-malaria medication. Be sure to inform the doctor if you are going scuba diving afterwards as this may affect the type of medication they prescribe for you.
Rovos Rail is perfect for travellers who want to really relax. Everything, from the understated décor to the sublime service, is designed to give you respite from modern life, even if only for a night or two…
The Shongololo Express
If you love train travel but don’t want to do it in such grand style, you might also want to consider a journey on Rovos Rail’s younger, hipper sister train – the Shongololo Express.
The Shongololo (which means ‘millipede’ and is derived from the Xhosa and Zulu word for ‘to roll up’) runs on the classic Cape Town-Pretoria route in South Africa and is a favourite with local travellers. Your compartment has an en suite bathroom and there is a dining car for meals.