Travel on Africa’s Best Luxury Train

The only train in this blue planet, ever, to have been awarded the title of World Leading Luxury Train no less than eight times.

Quite an achievement.

I will soon write about my journeys on The Lady, as The Blue Train is affectionately referred to by the South African railways’ fraternities. It is a moniker applied with reverence as The Blue Train is an iconic national institution.  It is part of who we are, synonymous with our national identity.

Before you meet The Lady, first meet Katie.

If you would visit, today, the northeast side of Cape Town’s railway Station off Old Marine Drive, you will note Monument Station, obscured by an indifferent design. Once you have stepped up the ramp, you will be met by a series of heritage trains, old SAR Class 15F and a 25NC locomotive and other rolling stock. yet you will get to see my old sweetheart, Katie. She was born in 1929 and doesn’t burn coal but oil. Built by Henschel & Son of West Germany, Katie sports a Pacific 4-6-2 setup, if any steam lover would ask.

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Katie in typical blue Union Limited livery

I stand corrected on this but was told that Katie still holds the record for the fastest haul of The Blue Train to Pretoria, from Cape Town, in 1937.  There is a technical glitch here, as The Blue Train really came into its own only by 1947.  Let me explain: the service northbound was known as the Union Express and southbound bore the moniker of Union Limited. Painted in a glossy sapphire blue, these trains were referred to in the local vernacular as “those blue trains.”

During Hitler’s War, they were conscripted to military service and emerged only by 1947.

The Blue Train was born!

In the 1940’s, the trains became air-conditioned and traction was provided by the SAR Class 15F locomotives, the 16DA’s moved to Bloemfontein to serve the Orange Express as well as suburban and local passenger trains.

The Blue Train aka The Lady has a loyal following of rail enthusiasts, current and retired staff and lovers of olde worlde charm. Built from only the most prime materials to the most exacting standards by master craftsmen and engineers, she is a svelte symbol of opulent indulgence and classic application. I find my command of the Beautiful Language in deficit when singing the praises of this classy, modest yet esteemed lady.

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Sydney welcoming the Honourable Chris Hunsingner, MP, Shadow Minister of Transport, on October 24, 2019, as our Awethentiq corporate guest.

Arriving at The Blue Train Lounge, we were met and welcomed by our own butler and then some. Our hand luggage was whisked away, carefully attended to in safe storage only to magically reappear in our guest suite onboard, sometime later.  Famous Butler Sydney ensured that we were well taken care of, after having had us register at the Concierge Desk. Seated in plush furniture and surrounded by polished wood and eclectic works of art, we were supplied with snacks ranging from fresh fruit bits to charcuterie.

We were soon also welcomed by the Food & Beverage Manager who ensure that any special dietary needs were met, something The Blue Train pays much attention to. Guests who require meals the Banting way, or Kosher or Halal, diabetic, LCHF, etc., only have to arrange in advance via the Guest Information Form at the time of making the reservations. As your booking agent, my staff and I will handle that on your behalf.

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The Train Manager welcoming his guests – that is us!

Silently, The Lady was whisked alongside at Platform 24, wafting in like a friendly morning mist. One moment there’s no train, the next we see the appearance as if by magic of the sleek blue miracle.  It is time to board and we are called upon to join our own butler, Angela, who accompanies us to Suite 1.  There are two days sofas that will emerge as comfortable beds after dinner in the 42-seater Dining Coach.

De Luxe Suite - Night view
De Luxe Single Beds, plush and comfy.

One can also opt for a double bed or even a more spacious Luxury Suite complete with a full bath. All ablutions facilities are en suite with full flushing toilet, hand basin, and shower, all with gilded faucets and plumbing. There’s a telephone, a flat panel TV set connected to the Driver Eye, a CCTV camera on the front locomotive, to observe progress. Of course, several entertainment channels, full-length movies – I rather watched the landscapes drift by like terranean clouds.

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The Blue Train is renowned as “A Window To The Soul Of Africa” and also as “Perfecting The Art Of Slow.”

Before you completely get lost on this air-suspended five-star hotel wafting along the Cape Guage railway, let’s introduce her to you.

At the front, you may very well find a duo of Classe 20E electric locomotives, the front one fitted with the Driver Eye camera. Behind them follows a series of logistics carriages, housing the mains power generators, IT server and wireless network infrastructure, staff quarters and laundry.  The power generators power anything from air conditioning to ever utility need on board. The power supply is standard South African 220V AC at 50Hz.

Having done with the logistics, we now enter the Club Car, a luxurious lounge car with plush sofas and wooden luxury chairs, coffee tables, a big screen flat panel TV set, small library and a full bar where you can sit back and relax, with something to drink, a snack, the latest newspaper, a great book or your camera. Be sure to bring along a good camera with at least a medium-range zoom lens as you will most likely get to see some wildlife en route. We once saw a picturesque sable antelope as we exited the 13.6km Hexton 4th tunnel north of De Doorns. I regret not having had the Canon EOS70D handy at the time. We often would see Verreaux’s eagles soar alongside the train, or Russian Steppe Buzzards, little Steenbok, Springbok, Kudu, Giraffe, Eland, Gnu, Hartebeest, Zebra…..  No, this never is mentioned in travel brochures, therefore not all are ready to capture a great shot.

Smoking Club Car
Club Car, where even you After Dinner Cuban Cigar is free. Yes, this is the haven for tobacco addicts on board The Blue Train.

Guests love to congregate in the Club Car after a superlative dinner, to enjoy a cigar, cognaq, brandy or a wee dram.

From the Club Car, one can make your way towards the back of The Blue Train, as you can see here on the schematic layout.

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Lay-Out Depicting The Larger 82-Guest Train Set with Observation Car

There is a Special Needs Suite with a special bathroom and other fittings and custom-built wheelchairs. You will find this in Suite 20 and we have friends who had made use of that on different occasions in the past. Both had expressed their complete satisfaction.

 

Dining

Rail travel in South Africa is synonymous with good food onboard even the most basic tourist class train, but The Blue Train is something special. Kings and Queens, Presidents and First Ladies, other Royalty, Sultans, Emirs, Celebrities and people of fame had lived and dined aboard this superlative holiday resort.  The Blue Train isn’t a commute but a truly hospitable African experience of the highest standard. The Lady doesn’t carry passengers but accommodates guests.

From well before breakfast to late at night, your butler may serve you delicious snacks even in the comfort of your own suite, or in any of the Lounges or in the Observation Car.

If the hand-cut crystal glasses and unique silverware doesn’t impress you, the food surely will. I have my own preferred dishes and I really believe that a journey on The Lady already is worth the dining experience alone. That is why my Loved One and I had spent our 30th anniversary there, and we suggest you spend your special events onboard The Blue Train.

With an internationally accoladed Wine List, you will not be left wanting.  Some of the very best South African wines are abundantly available, champion wines at that. We as a couple are virtually teetotallers yet I enjoy a good Chardonnay with my meal; I have long ago forsaken any form of pairing as my sense of smell, therefore taste, had taken a knock in life. Having said that, a glass of port is known to follow me along the five hundred metres of luxurious plush carpets and walls of burnished wood and double-glazed windows.

Dinner is a jacket and ties even for the gentlemen and time for the ladies to display their acumen for fashionable modesty and flair. Elegance is the middle name.

Lounge Car

Exit the Dining Car to enter the Lounge Car, not precisely similar to the Club Car, yet also equipped with an imposing full bar and furniture, works of art, items of comfort to suit the finer tastes. This Lounge Car could perhaps be described as “less masculine” than the Club Car yet not effeminate, rather with an emphasis on elegance and stylish presentation. This is where we had a delectable, posh High Tea that slotted in between the quite sufficient lunch and dinner with more courses than I have fingers on one hand. Let me assure you that complaining about anything really would be nitpicking.

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Two of our Esteemed Guests Enjoying The Journey

One of my own personal interests is coffee and I can assure the aficionado that a most perfect Arabica roast gets prepared by baristas that are also excellent bartenders, one of which could speak fourteen languages fluently!

 

Observation Car

Leaving the beautiful Lounge Car behind, one now passes through the gleaming hallway that also flanks the Luxury Suites with their larger accommodation and full bathrooms.

Luxury Suite Bathtub
Full Size Bath
Luxury Suite - Night time
Luxury Double Bed

Some guests are known to relax while butlers wait on them hand and foot. They may never appear during the entire journey, with food and drink finding its way to their suites as if by magic. It is wonderful to see what your butler can do!

Right at the back of The Blue Train, the svelte luxury culminates in…..

The Observation Car

On some other luxury train, guests refer to “the booze car” but that immodest word would be found in deficit in the sophisticated surrounds found in The Blue Train. She is, as we have learned, The Lady, after all. Yes, you don’t pay one single cent for anything that you may consume onboard, with the exception of French champagne although our own local method cap Classique is virtually freely on tap!  If you finally disembark feeling hungry or thirsty, it would not be only your own fault as the abundant offerings always surround the guest. The large windows, double-glazed as they are, afford the guest wonderful vistas of passing landscapes.  Table Mountain diminishing in the distance, the lions and other game at Sandringham, Paarl rock, the various British blockhouses, vineyards and orchards, wheat fields, mountains and valleys, plains and rivers.

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Observation Car in Jovial Mood
Full Conference Car
The Ideal Venue For Closing That Gold Deal or Oil Contract

Watching the sunset in the west over the African horizon is something special while sampling the choicest wines, biltong, and other delicacies. In the same vein, we have seen sunrises on the Karoo plains at little railway stations in the middle of nowhere, at places such as Kraankuil and Poupan.  After good rains in March 2016, there was water all over the usually arid Karoo desert, herds of Springbok prancing among the docile Dorper and Merino sheep. A Secretary Bird patrolling for a negligent snake, perhaps and frustrated traffic a mile away on the N12 highway, regulated with STOP/GO for roadworks. We had no such worries, as we were guests of Africa’s most genteel lady, Her Majesty The Blue Train.

Guests get to spend two nights onboard and travel at no faster than thirty miles per hour, which is safe, pleasant and thirty thousand feet below unimaginative travel. Security onboard is excellent and The Blue Train is locked down during travel with its own contingent of South African uniformed police officers to your avail. My own understanding is that they can hardly perspire “working so hard” as there is nothing for them to do, really, except for affording guests an added sense of security.

You owe yourself, book today, inquire about:

  • Value-added or discounted packages for domestic guests from the Africa region
  • Corporate events
  • Film shoots, photoshoots, movie production
  • Special charter trains to your preferred destination, where practical
  • Wedding celebrations, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.
  • Reunions, engagement parties, etc.

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