Robert and Adam Cronin are not your average Rovos Rail passengers, but they are the nattiest.
Rovos Rail, billed both by the company and many fans as the most luxurious train on Earth, generally attracts couples with romantic intentions – and enough extra money and time to swap a 90-minute, $150 flight for a 21/2-day train ride that starts at $1,500.
But the Cronins are a father and son from Margate, a seaside town in England. And on each of the two evenings of our trip to Pretoria from Cape Town, across the dusty Karoo, they dressed in black-tie fashion worthy of the Earl of Grantham. Smiling, chests puffed just a little as their posture stretched to suit their suits, they entered most fully into the spirit that Rovos intended.
IF YOU GO
The Cape Town-Pretoria route is the shortest and most regular offered by Rovos Rail. Longer, seasonal additions include trips to Victoria Falls, and northeast into Tanzania and northwest into Namibia. Every two years, the railway company offers a 28-day transcontinental tour to Cairo from Cape Town. Prices range from $1,500 to more than $50,000. rovos.com
WHAT TO EXPECT
My 100-square-foot cabin housed two beds, one of which allowed me to prop my head up on three or four pillows and watch the countryside go by while I read or sipped a cocktail. A desk also offered a view – and a place to follow along on a map of our route. The bathroom, with black-and-white tile floors, was surprisingly uncramped, with a shower the size of the one I use at home. The cabin was made up three times a day, clearing up both morning and predinner shower shambles, plus whatever mess was caused by my midday lounging, when the gravitational pull of my own little enclave drew me away from the rampant port-and-sherrying of my fellow 23 passengers.
RIDE THE WORLD'S RAILS IN STYLE
If you’re looking for luxury, these are your best bets.
The Venice Simplon- Orient-Express
This is older world than the Rovos. It hasn’t even made the sort of genteel accommodations to the modern world that the South Africa company has: There are no showers, and toilets are shared. Heating is with coal and air is conditioned by opening the windows. But the 1920s Art Deco cars will make up for it, especially if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie. vsoe.com
Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express
Of the few ways to get across Siberia, some are quite authentically Soviet – this one is more oligarchical. All the cabins come with their own bathrooms, and, although the lower-end cabins are quite small, you can get 120-square-foot Imperial Suites. The route is the longest in the world, at 9,000 kilometres. goldeneagleluxurytrains.com
The Royal Scotsman
This is intimate – just 36 passengers – and sixties era cars have been overhauled to give off an Edwardian appeal. Suites are between 66 and 85 square feet, and there’s no single supplement for those who want to stalk the highlands solo. royalscotsman.com
Royal Canadian Pacific
The cabins on this Calgary-based line are duplicates of the Royal Scotsman, but this train is even smaller, accommodating only 30 passengers. As of this year, it’s operating on a charter basis only, so you have to check dates. There are two routes: one takes you through the Rockies, and another through fly-fishing highlights on a circular itinerary starting in Calgary and going through Golden, Fernie and Fort MacLeod. royalcanadianpacific.com
Check the Society of International Railway Traveller website – irtsociety.com – for more information on luxury trains.