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PLANES, TRAINS AND SHIPS: The Charm of the Blue Train from Cape Town to Pretoria

After a stunning few days in Cape Town I took the Blue Train, coined “A Window to the Soul of South Africa” from Cape Town to Pretoria with the idea this would be a relaxing and slow way to enjoy the South African countryside. I was not disappointed.

The Blue Train has a long and romantic history in the country with roots that date back to the early 1900s.  In its current incarnation the train has been in service since 1997.  

The standard route is from Pretoria to Cape Town, which is a 27-hours journey on this train through some diverse scenery.  

On the northern route, which I took we stopped in Matjiesfontein where the early nineteenth century London lampposts and vibe is still alive and well with a time warped colonial feeling. 

The idea of getting a glimpse of the mountain passes, vineyards and open farmland that dots the landscape on your journey is stunning.  

Leaving Cape Town and heading north the Boland Mountains loom in the distance as you approach and finally to the small town of Matjiesfontein, which is the highlight of this train journey. At the stop visit the Lord Milner Hotel, the Post Office and the museum.

This little town was founded in 1884 by a Scotsman shipwrecked on this way to Australia. He bought a Karoo farm called Tweedside, which was on the main rail north and over time developed this area as a Victorian spa and health resort. Well above sea level, this town was coined the “Oasis in the karoo” and today people still find the little town charming for a stopover. 

The Lord Milner hotel is said to be haunted and I believe it is, but otherwise if you aren’t interesting in finding the ghost visit the fountains in the gardens of this Victorian Hotel and be sure and stop in at the Post Office remembering that during the Anglo-Boer War, correspondents used this little post office’s brass telegraph key to send urgent dispatches. 

From there you head through the Great Karoo area to Beaufort West, Victoria West and De Aai then on to Kimberly where there is no stop on the northbound journey. You will also pass through Kalahari thornveld and the Goldfields of the Free State.  

Finally, you find the scenery begin to change and you know you have entered the Johannesburg sprawling metropolis on the way north to Pretoria.  

In Pretoria there is plenty to do from the National Gallery, the Voortrekker Monument, Church Square, the Zoological Gardens, the National Botanical Gardens and the Smuts House Museum.

Remember that when on the train this is an elegant affair as it should be since this form of travel speaks to a more polished set appreciating the coat and tie at dinner code. High tea is also served in the afternoon while on your journey 

There are three meals on the train during your journey the first one being brunch. A sampling of what I was served for brunch included pan-seared scallops with parsnip puree and cranberry reduction, a cauliflower and truffle soup and baked Scottish salmon with sweet potatoes, Asian vegetables and herb coulis. Finally, the desert that first day was a chocolate cigar served with Sharon compote and finished with sorbet. The chef also offers cheese and of course, only the finest Cape wines are served on board.

For dinner it was back again in the dining car for salmon and capers salad on micro herbs, red lentil chickpeas and chili soup and the main event the pepper crusted venison coupled with pistachio lamb cutlet and barley casing. When desert roles around you can choose from the cheese or two desert options. My choice was the deconstructed lemon meringue (translated lemon curd, short bread and Italian meringue).

Breakfast the following morning is nothing short of perfect with options of omelets, egg benedicts, oats and even spicy French toast with bacon and maple syrup.

The meals are a stunning part of the experience and the cabins are perfect for lounging, reading and just looking outside as the South African landscape rolls by slowly and you sufficiently unwind from all your cares.

And then have another glass of the stunning South African wine.

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Ellis County Press

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