There are few things that remind me that life is a journey, not a destination, more than train travel. David and I loved our trip aboard the Venice Simplon Orient Express so much, we’ve been looking for more opportunities to travel by train ever since. So, after stopping through Durban to visit a friend, we booked a cabin on Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa, which would take us on a two night, three day journey from Durban to Pretoria.
We boarded the train in Durban Station and it was like stepping back in time, to a moment when men wore top hats while traveling and ladies would slip off their gloves as they settled in. Our cabin was double the size of those we’ve had before, boasting a queen bed, ensuite bathroom with shower (and hot water!) and lots of clever hooks and cupboards for stowing our things. The moment the train lurched out of the station we were popping bubby and climbing on the bed to stick our heads out the window to take in the endless views. Rovos really thinks of everything and stashed goggles in our closet so we could take in the views of the countryside without getting dust in our eyes. How thoughtful!
Our journey snaked from the coast through the Valley of A Thousand Hills, past massive, cascading waterfalls and the stunning Drakensburg Mountains, then on to Pretoria. Each moment there is something new to take in and some of our happiest memories of South Africa unfolded while chatting over G&T’s in the observation car as the beautiful scenery slipped past our view. From the beautifully appointed cabins, five star service and lingering over long lunches, we couldn’t help but get swept up in the romance of it all!
Every meal on board is a special event, and before we knew it they were ringing the gong and calling us to the dining car for lunch. Polished hardwoods, emerald rugs, and tables laden with glittering crystal welcomed guests into it’s clubby atmosphere, where every meal is four courses and our wine glass was constantly refreshed. It always amazes me how the chefs are able to prepare such beautiful and delicious dishes in a tiny, rocking kitchen but plate after plate I was convinced it must be magic.
I was really sold on the Durban to Pretoria route due to a stop in the Midland’s Caversham Valley to visit the famed Ardmore Ceramics Studio. I first learned of Ardmore a few years back when my mother gave me an Hermès Scarf as my birthday present, but insisted I visit their store to make sure I had the chance to pick my favorite. Among the designs presented were a fantastical set of wildlife scarves created by Ardmore, and I’ve admired their ceramics, textiles, and socially responsible ethos ever since. During our visit we scooped up some treasures and really hit it off with Ardmore’s founder, Fée, her five dogs and three amazing children Jon, Catherine and Meghan, who are all our age and help lead the family business. We are planning to visit them again before leaving Africa and can’t wait to see the finished designs they’re creating for Hermès this spring!
The next day was all about the animals. We woke early for breakfast before heading out on our first game drive through Spionkop, returning for a lunch as our train rolled north, then setting out again to see Nambiti’s Private Game Reserve. As the first safaris of our trip we were thrilled with every sighting, which included giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinos, and one inquisitive jackal. And our guide, Dave, at Nambiti was especially informative. We were greeted back at the station with champagne before returning to our cabin to change from fatigues into black tie for dinner.
The dress code aboard Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa requires a jacket and tie at dinner and is therefore a little more relaxed than the Orient Express, but many of the guests enjoyed the opportunity to wear their most fabulous finery and black tie set the tone of the evening, as the dining car was transformed with candlelight. After a day mingling with other guests on the Rovers, this second evening we were all turning around in our chairs to chat with our neighbors and compare notes from our day, before moving to the bar car to draw out the magic of the evening over cocktails and starlit skies.
The third and final day was spent on board, holding onto the last hours of our adventure as we steamed towards Pretoria. Rovos Rail is a family-run company and about a mile outside of Rovos’s private station, one of their historic steam engine locomotives named Tiffany (each is named after one of the founder’s children) greeted the train to pull it into the beautiful little station. Thank you for your incredible hospitality Rovos Rail!
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com