Catriona Rowntree – Australia's favourite jet setter and presenter on Channel Nine's Getaway – is no stranger to European shores. Regular viewers would know that she also has an intimate knowledge of the Australian-owned luxury travel brand, Scenic, who has left an indelible mark on the evolution of river cruising since entering the Continent's fabled waterways in 2004.
Back in 2008, Catriona became the godmother of Scenic Sapphire and earlier this year introduced the brand's latest evolution Super-Ship, Scenic Jasper, to Australian audiences. Read on, as the Scenic ambassador shares with us her most memorable shore-side experience, favourite onboard luxuries, and her pick of Scenic's Europe river cruise itineraries.
We're curious about what Europe means to you. When was the first time you went and what is it about the destination that keeps you going back?
Europe represents a very expensive addiction to me! The first time I went was when I joined Getaway nearly 20 years ago and the butterflies I experienced then have never ceased. The history, the architecture, the food, the culture, the shopping. What’s not to love?
I return there for both work and pleasure every year now and can’t wait to share the continent with my children one day. For now though, I’m just happy to share the authentic joy I experience with our viewers.
The word 'luxury' gets bandied about when it comes to river cruising – but Scenic definitely walks the talk. What are the best examples of luxury you've experienced firsthand?
Often the finest form of luxury is what you don’t see. The care that takes place ‘backstage’ so to speak. Be it in the choice of food produce, the selection of the wine, the choice of bedding and sheets used.
Service is make or break in this industry and that’s where Scenic go above and beyond. The best staff in the business, the most exclusive experiences, they seem to set the benchmark for so many others to emulate.
A Scenic river cruise takes guests deep into Europe's heartland to explore historic cities and atmospheric villages. Where is the most memorable place Scenic has taken you?
Well, the first place that comes to mind wasn’t in Europe, but on a safari in Botswana. The Guide took me in our private, open-air Jeep, literally into the Chobe River (ok, the shoreline of) as a herd of elephants had a mud fight over the top of us. It was extraordinary. I had tears in my eyes when I thanked the Guide for allowing me to have that once in a lifetime experience.
In Europe, my Mum and I will never forget the private concert thrown for us in a châteaux near Auvers-sur-Oise (Normandy). The Duke was ‘in residence’, sitting his soup next door (he waved at us) whilst his servant stood behind him. It was all a bit surreal, but that’s what Scenic excels at.
Have you had the chance to take a Scenic e-Bike for a spin, and does the electronic assistance really make light work of those cobbled streets?
Oh yeah, all the time. Got the bruises to prove it. Kidding! But you do need a bit of co-ordination to take this on. That said, it truly makes a molehill out of a mountain.
Earlier this year you experienced Scenic Jasper. We're told it's the first of Scenic's Super-Ships to feature specially commissioned artwork. Can you tell us about that?
It’s lovely and synonymous with the personal touch that Karen Moroney, Glen’s wife, goes to when designing the interiors of the ships. That woman is so talented, but never stands still long enough to accept a compliment. Total dynamo. The artworks are fitted perfectly to the space, colour specific, totally unique. I felt like I could dive into the colours they were so evocative. Bravo, Karen.
When it comes to design and innovation, what is the most interesting feature you've encountered in the suites on board a Scenic Space-Ship?
My favourite thing to do on board is to watch the view go by from my big fluffy bed. To press a button and have the whole glass window drop down. When it’s a misty morning outside and your cosy in bed. Or, when Mum and I were on board in rooms next to each other, we’d stand on our balconies and cheers our Champers. Cheers to Europe – and enjoying the moment.
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Can you give an example of how a private butler made your Scenic river cruise experience even more carefree and enjoyable?
This is a simple treat to me, but I love the breakfast in bed. When I’m filming, I make the moment of every moment I’m not on camera to research, to prepare, to be quiet. So knowing my clothes were perfectly laundered was great, but allowing me the luxury of time? Even better. It’s the simple things.
Having bumped shoulders with plenty of fellow guests on board, what can you tell us about the sort of people you'll meet on a Scenic river cruise?
It’s a range and I suppose that’s the appeal. Children with their parents (like my Mum and I), retirees spending the kids inheritance (my in-laws!) and couples celebrating. I think – because you can tailor a trip to your liking – there’s no set audience.
From medieval gala dinners to classical soirees in beautiful palaces, we're interested in the exclusive Scenic Enrich program. What's the best onshore experience you've had?
Oh this is easily my highlight, my favourite part, the serendipitous joy of travelling with Scenic. Where do begin? It's like choosing a favourite child. I just sum it up that, often when travelling, you rarely have the opportunity to go behind closed doors and learn about the real lives of the locals – even though it’s those locals who set that journey, the location, the experience apart.
From dining at the home the sausage making Kings of Croatia (how equally random and adorable!) to learning about the life of a French artist in their centuries' old penthouse over a sumptuous dinner. Words cannot describe the learning and the depth of joy of this element of Scenic – which never fails to… Enrich!
Scenic is the only 100% Australian owned and operated river cruise operator along Europe's waterways. Is there something about Scenic you feel resonates with Australians? An understated luxury perhaps?
Well who doesn’t love a local success story? An empire that started from relatively humble beginnings yet remains within the creative hands of the family and, of course, the personal touch.
Make no bones about it: this is a family affair. Glen’s parents constantly travel and advise. Karen is a creative genius and Glen is across the tiniest of details. They listen, they learn, they constantly seek to improve. They’re unassuming Aussie’s who deserve every accolade.
Is there a particular itinerary from Scenic's Europe River Cruising program that appeals to you more than others? If you could choose any of them, which would it be?
Let me tell you this, you are going to Portugal! You must. But beyond that, I can’t wait for Burma and my Mum is begging for Russia. That’s just for starters. I haven’t even begun on the Australian treats.
If a friend asked you to name your favourite European city, and favourite hotel within that city, with which to bookend a Scenic Europe river cruise holiday, what would they be?
No! Cruel question. All I can say is that Mum and I loved staying on in Paris for her birthday at Hotel Scribe. I think my Bank Manager is still recovering from our shopping bill, but hey, you only live once.
Can you sum up the Scenic Europe river cruise experience in one word?