Ultratravel U.S.

Fall 2015

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W ill Monsieur Poirot be joining us?" I resist asking sommelier Hannes van de Merve as he hands me another glass of bubbly. It's my second—before midday—on a Monday. My fellow passengers and I are settling into the Edwardian surroundings of the observation car to begin the nearly 1,000-mile journey across South Africa, aboard what has been dubbed the "world's most luxurious train." Since its first journey in 1989, Rovos Rail's Pride of Africa has allowed guests to experience an untouched African countryside through the golden age of rail travel. Itineraries range from 72 hours to 15 days and explore the continent's greatest landscapes—the Namib desert, Victoria Falls and Tanzania's Dar es Salaam can all be enjoyed from the opulence of its restored 1920s carriages. For a party with panache, the train is available for private hire. As rail rookies, we are taking the Cape Town to Pretoria trip—a three-day meander that showcases South Africa "as a world in one country." Along the route we'll discover the lure of yesteryear at Matjiesfontein, a Victorian settlement in the heart of the barren Karoo, and the magnitude of "Big Hole," the world-famous Kimberley diamond mine. Saluting farewell to Table Mountain, the train rounds into Paarl, where the full color and history of the Western Cape unfolds. Pulling me from my sepia-toned, Agatha Christie daydream are patchwork vineyards dotted with the thatched roofs of Cape Dutch-style homes against a backdrop of snow-capped granite peaks and blue skies. At 1 p.m. a gong beckons us along the mahogany, brass-paneled cars to the impossibly elegant Victorian dining car. Lunch and dinner are both a four-course affair, with an emphasis on the country's prolific game offerings. At each course, van de Merve is on hand with suitable wine pairings. Peeping through the curtained window, it is a novelty to sip the local harvest, and Waterford Estate's Pecan Stream chenin blanc, which hails from the country's renowned Stellenbosch region, proves an excellent partner to our bobotie starter—a traditional dish of delicious-spiced minced beef and savory egg, which was served with a warm chutney and kiwi salad. A post-lunch lull provides the perfect opportunity to view the marvelous Hex River Valley from the privacy of our deluxe sleeper suite, where our seemingly telepathic hostess Busi has taken the liberty of stocking the fridge with gin and tonic. "When in Africa," we concur, lounging in our armchairs for the sweeping 3,146-foot climb up the escarpment to Touws River. Watching the sunset over the Great Karoo with complete sensory satisfaction, I announce that I'm now a train groupie, which was met with the knowing nods of other converts. But is this the most luxurious train in the world? Mr. Keoma, a Rovos regular and fellow passenger, assures me at least 33 times that I will not find African authenticity and sophistication so subtly unified as onboard Rovos. In the spirit of the era, dinner is a glamorous occasion requiring gentlemen to don a jacket and tie and ladies a cocktail or evening dress. Better yet is the uncompromising 'no cell phone' policy. There is no Wi-Fi on Rovos "and there never will be," says founder Rohan Vos. In honor of this spirit, guests are encouraged to stop at the Club Car—a cigar lounge adorned with antiquated bookshelves and objets d'art—for a prized port from Allesverloren wine estate before retiring to one of the greatest night's sleep possible. The rhythmic rocking of the train and sumptuous bedding should be savored, and there is nowhere more comfortable to watch the sunrise over Africa than on a spectacular flamboyance of pink lesser flamingos or in bed with a cappuccino. While there is a general structure to daily routine, Rovos is a relaxed adventure steeped in history that can be enjoyed at your own slow chug. It was with heavy hearts and expanded waistlines that we bid farewell to our time-traveling locomotive. At Capital Park Station in Pretoria, Rovos' colonial home, we emerged from the smoke-and-whistle fanfare a part of the privileged few who can say they've experienced raw, romantic Africa as one should—through the quiet decadence of a bygone era. 54 ultratravel ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF ROVOS RAIL

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