Slow and steady through South Africa

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Passengers on the Blue Train can take in South Africa’s diverse landscapes while ensconced in comfort and luxury.
Passengers on the Blue Train can take in South Africa’s diverse landscapes while ensconced in comfort and luxury.
In a time that seems to champion the faster and flashier, discerning luxury travelers know that train travel is still the most civilized form of transport. In South Africa, one can board an unceremonious two-hour flight between Johannesburg and Cape Town or make an overnight voyage of it on the Blue Train, one of Africa's most luxurious rail journeys.


The government-owned operation gives guests the opportunity to experience South Africa's diverse, magnificent landscapes in all-suite accommodations. The train includes all-inclusive coursed meals and beverages, butler service, stopover excursions and after-dinner premium cigars served in their ritzy Club Car.

I took the journey of 1,000 miles from Cape Town to Pretoria, South Africa's capital, about 30 miles from Johannesburg. After checking in and being served a mimosa in the Blue Train's dedicated terminal lounge, the other guests and I were ushered onto the train and to our designated rooms.

The only "blue" I spotted on the Blue Train was the exterior, as the suites, like the rest of the train's interiors, are wrapped from head to toe in art deco polished woods and golds.

Each suite functions as a spacious living room by day and becomes a bedroom in the evening, after turndown service from your personal butler. Monogrammed goose down pillows and duvets aid in a restful night's sleep.

There are two trains, with the larger 19-carriage set accommodating up to 80 guests in 37 suites. Though also available as a regular train service, the second, smaller train offers charter opportunities for large groups of up to 52 guests, a highly viable option for travel agents working with large parties.

As beautiful as the train itself might be, what lies beyond the large windows is the main attraction. Once the Northbound train passes Cape Town's immediate suburbs and shantytowns, the real magic happens: hours of picturesque, mountainous wine country of Stellenbosch, Paarl and well beyond.

In rural, sunny Swartland, stretches of wheat fields made the land appear to be sheathed in miles of textured gold.

The classic, classy train's features are far from outmoded. The Blue Train employs a suspension system that helps the train chug along as smoothly as possible, a godsend for sleeping. Suites have multiple plug outlets, an in-room TV (most fun was tuning into the conductor's view of the scenic ride from the comforts of my suite) and, though not at the fastest of speeds, free WiFi.

The dining car is the train's piece de resistance, justly commanding the requisite formal attire for the evening meal. Lunch and dinner are a proudly South African affair with an all-domestic wine list and dishes such as Karoo lamb, ostrich fillet and Knysna oysters. The train also accommodates vegetarian, halal, kosher and other dietary requests.

You might be a quickest-way-to-point-B traveler now, but once you experience the luxurious likes of the Blue Train, you might start asking yourself, "What's the rush?"

For next year, rates for a luxury double suite begin at about $1,795 in high season (Sept. 1 to Nov. 15) and $1,460 for the rest of the year. See www.bluetrain.co.za.
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