Africa by Rail

The most luxurious train in the world

South Africa
"The most luxurious train in the world," my travel agent cooed when I asked about Rovos Rail. And he's probably right. The trains—two 20-car steelwork trains and the original Pride of Africa Edwardian, with 13 wooden coaches—consist of meticulously restored carriages dating from 1919 to 1970 pulled by a locomotive. They have all the Champagne touches you would expect: air-conditioned cabins paneled in sapele mahogany and furnished with a writing table, minibar, etched-glass reading lamps, and real closets. (Nice touch: plastic goggles so you can lean out the window without getting locomotive cinders in your eyes.) Deluxe suites are 118 square feet; Royal suites, 172 square feet. Deluxe-suite bathrooms are large (by railway standards), with a real glass-and-mahogany shower; most Royal suites have tubs. I found the service on board attentive and polite to a fault.

The dining car at right dates from 1924 and is the best period piece. The food is very fresh, plentiful, and impressively prepared. (Imagine French cuisine as served in Britain, with a few South African touches.) The wine list consists solely of South African bottlings; most of them are good, if middle-range, wines.

There are a few things you should know going in. As on all luxury trains, there's little to do, which is why meals are elaborate (on Rovos Rail each is a five-course set menu with a choice of two entrees). The train travels at a leisurely pace, so the 1,000-mile journey from Pretoria to Cape Town takes two days. Finally, the scenery varies dramatically from route to route. That between Pretoria and Cape Town, one of the most popular legs, is dull, except for the two to three hours in the Cape wine country. (Deluxe suite, $1,037; Royal suite, $1,426. Prices are per person, double occupancy, and include meals, drinks, and excursions.) Better is the annual trip from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which traverses the Victoria Falls Railway Bridge. Or, go for the short scenic runs—Pretoria to Komatipoort in eastern Transvaal, or from Cape Town to Knysna. Reserve through your travel agent. For information only: 27-12-315-8371; fax 27-12-323-0843. Web site: