A Regal Trip on the Royal Blue Train
This train journey is not one to be characterised by fulfilling the need to get from point A to point B, despite being remarkably magnificent points in themselves. The Blue Train hosts a luxurious journey that takes you from Pretoria to Cape Town in South Africa, however, where you are going almost pales into insignificance on the Blue Train.
An almost painful cliché rings true in that it’s not the destination but the journey that is important.
The Blue Train is noted for being a favourite of global royalty and is a service that comes equipped with features that would cater to this clientèle. This ‘moving five-star hotel’ boasts a butler service, two lounge cars and an observation carriage. However, the most important carriages are arguably the personal carriages, these carpeted rooms are soundproofed and have en-suite facilities, many of which come with a full-size bath-tub and all of which are adorned with a regal gold-tint on the window.
The origins of the Blue Train date back to the roaring 20s, however at that time had a service that was a little less ‘Great Gatsby’ and a little more functional, acting as a shuttle for passengers from Johannesburg to Cape Town. This service also bore a more functional name, the ‘Union Limited’. However, from 1933 until 1939, ‘Limited’ became ‘Express’ and updated its service with luxury features such as a dining saloon and air-conditioned carriages.
It was not until after its suspension in World War 2 that the Blue Train rose like a Phoenix from its proverbial ashes, and, with the new blue-painted steel exterior and updated service, adopted the name it uses today- the Blue Train. However the train of 1937 wasn’t quite what we know it as today – a refurbishment and re-launch took place in 1997, attributing it with the calibre of operations that has evidently met royal ascent on numerous occasions.
The suites of the ‘Royal’ Blue Train are both a comfortable sactuary by night and base upon which to observe the passing scenery of the day.
Comfort is as paramount as luxury when under-floor heating and plush bedding meet details such as a personal wooden writing desk, air conditioning and electronic features such as extensive television and radio channels, a GPS map and a driver’s-eye-view camera displaying a view from the front of the train.
What’s more is the atmosphere of pure opulence, with the private bathrooms all fitted with a marble floor and wall tiles, marble sinks and bath tubs accented with gilded detail in a similar manner to the bedroom.
A further luxury that must be mentioned is the fact that each of the suites comes with the service of your very own butler. Both attentive and hospitable, the Blue Train’s staff epitomise an already deeply set feeling of extravagance. Easing you onto the train, handling your luggage, catering to your every request and ensuring that you find your way to wherever you’re going once the journey has finished are responsibilities expressed extensively yet submissively.
Simply, the level of service on the Blue Train makes each customer feel apeer beside each member of royalty regularly frequenting its carriages.
Lounge Car, Club Car and Observatory Car
Entertainment can be found in the train’s lounge and club cars – both designed to provide a cosy place to sit for an after-dinner drink and conversation while offering activities such as cards, chess and backgammon.
What I consider the best way to spend your time on the Blue Train is to sit in the observatory car, where panoramic views are found in three of the wall’s expansive windows thus affording you with the best sights possible of the passing South African landscape.
The Dining Car
Although dinner can indeed be had within your suite, much like the continental or full English breakfast, it would be a waste to forgo a meal in the dining car, an ornately decorated car that seats 42 guests both for lunch and dinner.
Upon entry the sight of crystal glassware, crisp linen tablecloths and silver Sheffield cutlery is a reminder of the regal demographic that the Blue Train finds itself with.
The food on offer here is a blend of haute cuisine and local South African cuisine with dishes such as Karoo lamb and ostrich fillet prepared with the exacting standards and culinary mastery of the world’s Michelin restaurants. In addition to the Blue Train’s food menu is a wine list compromised of the universally esteemed South African grape sourced from the local Cape winelands.
To complement the silver service dining is elegant background music that punctuates your meal with recordings varying from smooth jazz, lyrical operas and the Soweto String Quartet.
The 27-hour journey traverses 1,600 kilometres, each saturated with breathtaking yet diverse African landscapes and wildlife. For this reason, the journey itself is justifiable even as simply an efficient way to engage with South African scenery alone.
Whether you’re in a public car, or in your own on-board private room, the Blue Train’s large windows are greeted with enormous mountain ranges and the wealth of creatures that populate the region’s diverse savannah. If you’re lucky enough, you could even encounter South Africa’s national bird – the blue crane, and the equally elegant national flower – the protea flower.
The decision as to whether you take the Blue Train from its Pretoria terminal or the Cape Town terminal may affect your trip, as the journey stops at a varying destination depending on whether you’re heading due North or South.
The Northbound journey, departing from Cape Town, stops in Matjiesfontein – a fashionable village established by a young immigrant Scotsman by the name of James Logan in 1884.
The village of Matjiesfontein soon became renowned for the healing properties of its climate and settlement moonlighted deemed a healthy oasis within which the privileged classes would seek to heal their ails, especially chest complaints.
Abundant in stunning architecture, it is not surprising that Matjiesfontein has attracted the attention of figures such as Rudyard Kipling and Lord Randolph Churchill.
For those heading southbound, the Blue Train stops in Kimberly – capital of the Northern Cape province of South Africa. Guests arrive at the train station before being treated to a tour of the local railway museum among other prime attractions in the area.
Kimberly is well-known as a former diamond mine, and although may have been subject to a prickly history, is still bountiful in natural beauty and cultural interest. After experiencing the railway museum, guests take a tour down to the Open Mine Museum and then the mine itself, alongside an opportunity to win a diamond as a part of the tour.
What makes Kimberly mines so spectacular is the colloquially known ‘big hole’, a rocky crater filled with clear waters that are viewable from an enclosed ramp that sits atop the hole.
Each stop within your journey on the Blue Train acts as an invigorating intermission before the train continues its passage and you continue your regal experiences with it.
Whether for the taste of dignified opulence, or the inspiring views of the surrounding country, the ‘moving five-star hotel’ is conceivably the best mode of transport in the world today.
A trip on the Blue Train is a holiday in itself but will make any visit to South Africa one to be remembered for the rest of your life.