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January 10, 2011

Rovos Rail

Travel to South Africa and take a trip on the most luxurious train in the world. Your romantic vacation through the heart of Southern Africa will begin or end at the headquarters of this private railway company, Capital Park Station and Locomotive Yard situated outside Pretoria. Rovos Rail offers two beautifully rebuilt Classic trains, each carrying a maximum of 72 passengers who are accommodated in the most spacious and luxurious train suites in the world. The use of traditional furnishings and period décor ensure an atmosphere of elegance and grandeur in the Dining, Lounge and Observation cars.

A Journey Begins

As so often happens, it was a combination of influences and events that led to the purchase of the first coach, the start of what would become Rovos Rail. A Wilbur Smith heroine with her own private railway coach, a man called Phil Acutt with a passion for trains and the presence of the Witbank Steam Railway in the coal-mining town where Rohan Vos ran his successful auto spares business, all played a part.

“Rohan has always been obsessed with things mechanical,” remembers Anthea Vos, who has been at his side throughout and has raised a family in and around developing the railway business. “In fact, he started his first business with the capital derived from the sale of a 1940 Packard and a 1928 Austin that he had rebuilt. Rohan was involved in so many ventures, but I didn’t see this one coming.”

In 1985, Rohan and Anthea took up a last-minute invitation on a Magaliesberg train trip for business suppliers. “I became a train widow on that day,” says Anthea. “I sat all dressed up by myself; Rohan spent most of the time in the engine with the driver. The irony was that we should have seen then how difficult it would be – the train broke down and we were bussed back to town.”

The same year, influenced by his friend Phil Acutt’s love of trains and the work done by the Railway Preservation Society in Witbank, Rohan attended an auction to buy a coach or two – the intention was to restore four carriages and hitch them to a South African Railways train as a family caravan. Steam-train enthusiast, Geoff Pethick, was present at the auction and assisted him. “It was the 26th of September – a cold day with rain in the air – and I’d hoped Rohan wasn’t another penniless lunatic with grand ideas,” he recalls. “As we chatted, I quickly realised that here was a man of vision.”

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The Train – Life on Board

General make-up of the train Locomotive, generator car, staff car, guest sleepers, a non-smoking lounge car (26 guests), two non-smoking 42-seat dining cars (if required, plenty of space for the maximum of 72 guests carried), kitchen car, guest sleepers, smoking lounge and Observation Car (32 guests) at the tail.

Cuisine Meals are served in one sitting only in the charming Victorian atmosphere of the dining cars and are complemented by a selection of fine South African wines. An enthusiastic team of chefs is responsible for overseeing the very important task of ensuring guests’ every need is catered for. There’s an accent on fresh local ingredients and traditional dishes such as game are a specialty. Breakfast is between 07h00 and 10h00, lunch at 13h00 and a formal dinner at 19h30. A gong heralds lunch and dinner.

Dress For days on the train dress is smart casual. Evening attire is more formal – for the gentlemen a jacket and tie is a minimum requirement while for ladies we suggest cocktail/evening dresses or suits. Please include warm clothing for cold mornings and evenings.

Mobile Devices and Internet In maintaining the spirit of travel of a bygone era, there are no radios or television sets on board and the use of mobile phones and laptops are confined to the privacy of your suites only.

Smoking is only allowed in the privacy of your suite and in the Club Lounge.

The Team

From a staff of one and then four, the team at Rovos Rail has grown to 210. Asked to describe what it’s like to be part of this hotel-on-wheels operation, several staff members have likened it to a family, with all the usual stresses and tensions but with a common identity, loyalty and above all, a desire to provide really world-class service. Keeping the guests happy and making their trips memorable is the ultimate goal and, judging from the letters received from around the world, the staff are succeeding in this. For many travellers, the friendly interaction with the people who make up the Pride of Africa staff is as much a highlight as the magnificent scenery and the train itself. We sincerely wish to thank all the staff who have been involved in building the company into what it is today.

Rovos Rail Station

For Rovos Rail passengers, a highlight of their journey is a visit to the private station in Capital Park, Pretoria. The once bustling hub of steam locomotion in the old Transvaal is now the headquarters for Rovos Rail. The gracious colonial-style railway station serves as the new departure or arrival point for all train journeys.

The property boasts a small railway museum in addition to its other comprehensive facilities and will, with the addition of semaphore signals and a footbridge, recreate the atmosphere of a fully fledged railway system. It is intended that, with time, this facility should become the foremost working train museum in the world.

The eyes of rail enthusiasts will be drawn to the vast carriage and locomotive sheds where teams of dedicated personnel keep the rolling stock in perfect order. This roofed workshop of 10 000 sq metres straddles 15 railway lines with concrete inspection pits below and is the ultimate repair and maintenance facility for any train operation. The low, red-bricked buildings alongside the new 300-metre platform house laundries, gleaming stainless-steel kitchens and well-stocked storerooms. This is the busy hub of a provisioning operation, which rivals that of a world-class hotel in terms of efficiency and attention to detail.


For many visitors to South Africa, there is no finer way to see the country than on the popular 48-hour weekly journeys between Pretoria and Cape Town. This 1 600-kilometre meander is a perfect illustration of South Africa as a world in one country. Travel the grasslands of the gold-rich Highveld to the haunting barrenness of the Great Karoo; trundle through the spectacular mountain ranges and scenic winelands of the Cape. Journey’s end is Cape Town, the Mother City of South Africa, cradled by the imposing bulk of Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head. Highlights of the north- and southbound routes include a visit to the historic village of Matjiesfontein; this authentic perfectly preserved Victorian Village, which was founded by Mr Logan as a refreshment stop in 1890, also boasts an impressive museum on the platform. Another stop is made in Kimberley providing an opportunity to enjoy a city tour and a visit to the Diamond Mine Museum and the world’s largest man-made excavation, the Big Hole.

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St James Manor & St James Seaforth Guesthouses

St James, historically known as ‘millionaire’s mile’, is making its comeback as one of the trendiest places to stay in Cape Town. Just over a kilometre in length, this prestigious little stretch along the coastline of False Bay is where Rovos Rail has established its two five-star guesthouses – St James Manor and St James Seaforth.

The main road through to Kalk Bay Harbour is Mediterranean in style and a trove of novel antique shops, delicatessens, sidewalk cafés, boutiques and art galleries. A mere five-minute walk away, fresh fish can be bought from the local fishermen and the harbour itself has charming restaurants offering home-style cuisine and fine-dining experiences.

The area still boasts the colourful Victorian bathing boxes and grand old houses reflecting the splendour of the early gold- and diamond-mining era. In front of the guesthouses, across the road, you will find the famous tidal pools and swimming beaches. A favourite pastime is the early morning swim in the temperate waters of St James. The area also offers interesting walks along the historic promenade and up the imposing mountains, which provide an impressive backdrop to both houses. Perhaps the biggest attraction is the land-based whale watching. In season they appear literally metres from the shoreline and can be seen clearly from both properties.

St James Manor, built one hundred years ago, overlooks the trendy and vibrant fishing village of Kalk Bay. It has an aura of grandeur and old-world charm with a magnificent wood-panelled staircase and six large suites, each of which bears the name of historic, local characters of St James and are individually decorated to reflect the opulent times of a bygone era. The Manor has several attractive reception rooms for meetings and social gatherings, a library, a bar and a breakfast room as well as an elegant dining room where, on request, dinners can be hosted. Carved into the mountain is a private and wind-protected swimming pool and tanning deck with majestic views across False Bay and the Indian Ocean.

St James Seaforth is also set above the coastal road with spectacular ocean views. The original house, built in 1877 and destroyed by a fire in 1939, was rebuilt in 1940 and looks onto a beautiful stretch of beach well-known to the surfing community. The property has been refurbished to create a modern guesthouse with a casual but elegant atmosphere in keeping with its seaside village location. The three upstairs en-suite bedrooms are engaging and stylish as are the spacious downstairs facilities, which include a breakfast and dining room, a well-equipped kitchen and a large lounge and study that flow onto the verandah, pool and gym. St James Seaforth is perfect to hire as a unit for a family or group of friends.

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