Sapphire blue with gold-tinted windows, the Blue Train is almost incongruous against the rolling African landscapes it travels, taking passengers from Cape Town to Pretoria and also to the Kruger National Park. Now a five-star throwback to the golden age of travel, the train plays on its illustrious history (built for the upper classes in 1923) with opulent interiors and all-suite accommodation.
Guests can enjoy the use of fully air-conditioned restaurant cars, bars and a chic cigar lounge, while looking out onto mountain passes and African planes. There are in fact two Blue Trains, known as Set 1 and Set 2, running alternate routes and accommodating 54 and 82 guests, respectively. Kings and presidents have travelled in its plush carpeted carriages, and it’s time for you to do so, too.
Prices from: R20,615
Passengers: 82 and 54.
Carriages: 19 and 14
Departing from: Cape Town, Pretoria
Journey length: 3 days
The Blue Train journey
The Blue Train offers two routes through South Africa, between Cape Town and Pretoria and Pretoria and the Kruger National Park. Taking place over three days, Cape Town to Pretoria (or vice versa) is the most popular option, railing through 1,600 kilometres of vast and diverse African scenery, via Kimberly, famous for its 19th-century diamond mines. Guests looking to focus on wildlife and safari should opt for the Pretoria and Kruger National Park route, also a three-day adventure with a whole day spent exploring the park, home to the Big Five.
The Blue Train
Stepping onto the Blue Train is to step back in time, into a world of period features, polished wood panelling, plush carpets and warm-hued lamp lighting. Both Blue Trains in operation are near identical, with Set 2 only having the addition of Conference Car. Public spaces on board include a dining car, where meals are served in sittings, and a non-smoking lounge car, where guests can take daily afternoon tea or unwind over a coffee while gazing out of the vast rear window. There’s also a sultry Club Car, emulating the feeling of a Gentleman’s Club with dark furnishings, Cuban cigars and cognac nightcaps.
When it comes to accommodation on the Blue Train there are two options, grand and grander. On offer is a DeLuxe or Luxury Suite, a plush lounge by day and softly lit boudoir by night, complete with butler service, marble and gold-dipped en-suite bathrooms and goose down duvets and pillows.
At eight sq m, DeLuxe suites are suitably spacious and perfect for couples, with a private bathroom with ¾-sized bathtub and handheld shower and entertainment system with CDs and DVDs. Bath salts, monogrammed towels and a choice of twin beds or a double are available in both suite categories, with Luxury Suite guests given an extra two metres of space. Train Set 2, the larger train, also has a paraplegic suite.
Food and drink
All food and drink, with the exception of champagne, is included, and railing include breakfast, multi-course lunches, afternoon tea and sumptuous dinners. Menus are locally focused and every-changing, featuring dishes like Karoo lamb, ostrich and venison and Knysna oysters, all served on crystal and fine china. Vegetarian, kosher, Halal, vegan and gluten-free alternatives are all available. The wine list consistently receives the Annual Diner’s Club Award of Approval, and after dinner guests can enjoy included drinks, cognacs and Cuban cigars in the Club Car.
Each three-day journey comes with a myriad of excursions to choose from, centred around either the Big Five or South Africa’s fascinating mining history. From Cape Town to Pretoria, a stop in Kimberly means a visit to the edge of the famous Big Hole and Open Mine Museum. Travelling to the Kruger National Park route offers a sunrise and sunset game drive, bird- watching, bush walking safaris and a visit to the Blyde River Canyon. All excursions are included in the rail fare.
The Blue Train is steeped in tradition and dressing for dinner is a compulsory custom. Gentleman are required to wear a jacket and tie for dinner, as a minimum, and ladies should wear an elegant evening attire. Dress code is smart casual during the day.
Much like its main competitor, the Pride of Africa, guests are usually wealthy couples or retirement age or bucketlist travellers, due to the train’s price-point and level of luxury. Don’t expect a young, backpacking-type crowd.
What’s included on the Blue Train
Accommodation, excursions and all food and beverages (during meals and in the bar car) are included in the train fare, with the exception of champagne.
Pros and cons
The Blue Train is often pitted against Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa, both five-star trains journeying across Southern Africa. Unlike Pride of Africa, modern tech is available on the Blue Train, with wifi and in-cabin entertainment systems included. However, you’re unable to open the windows on the Blue Train, perhaps hindering the experience.