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3 weeks ago

Discover the Real Croatia on this Bespoke Private Tour

Kensington Tours opens up its little black book to create an in-the-know trip that can't be Googled.

By Samantha Coles

Most top-notch tour operators are able to imagine a dream itinerary for clients and profess to be fully available should there be any hiccups. I had firsthand experience of Kensington Tours’ ability to problem solve after a rocky start to my private weeklong tour in Croatia — my plus one, my 60-plus-year old mother (who would never let me reveal her true age), missed her flight thanks to the UK’s unreliable train service.

Cool, calm and collected, Kensington barely flinched when I sent a number of panicked emails from the airport where I was supposed to be meeting my mother. A quick Plan B was concocted; my mother was on the next available flight and touching down in Split the following morning.

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Day 1-2

Following a stressful few hours, I arrived at the sleek Hotel Ambasador for a good night’s sleep. The hotel is on the West Coast promenade in the heart of Split in a superb location — it’s right on the waterfront yet close to the city center.

The next morning I meet my private guide, Milenka, in the lobby, and we head out on a walking tour through a number of bustling markets selling fresh produce, traditional pastries and clothes, and then on to Diocletian’s Palace. The huge palace was built for the Roman emperor Diocletian at the end of the third century AD; today, it forms about half of the old town of Split. Milenka expertly navigated us through the palace, while simultaneously reeling off tidbits about its fascinating history.

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Local wines
Local wine with a view / ©Elite Traveler

After a quick detour to the airport to collect my mother, we drove to Kozjak Mountain for a private lunch, arranged by appointment only. Steadily ascending the mountain, passing vineyards and white stone churches, we pull up to a Maroma, a small house in the Biblical Garden. At a smartly dressed table set up on the patio, surrounded by the vineyards (which belong to our sommelier Ivan’s grandfather) and the gentle hum of birdsong, we sampled the hyper-local wine and delectable cuisine.

Day 3

The next destination is Dubrovnik, with a few choice pit stops along the way. While the routes were mapped out (I received our glossy itinerary, as well as an Assouline travel book, well in advance of the trip), our personal driver pointed out extra places to stop — a gorgeous coffee-cum-wine bar right on the edge of a mountain and a few places with sublime scenery to snap a few pics.

At Ston, we hop out of the car and board a boat to sail across Mali Ston Bay, where freshwater and the Adriatic Sea meet. It’s a protected special marine reserve, and superb oysters have been bred here for centuries.

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Oysters from the sea
Oysters have been bred in this part of the world for centuries / ©Elite Traveler

Our hosts are Dubravko and Dea, a father-and-daughter team (it’s a family-run operation) who take us to their oyster farms; Dubravko tells us all about the intricacies of oyster farming — they check on the oysters every few months as the bivalves grow for around two-and-a-half to three years (after that they are too old). As he tells his story, he pulls and shucks the oysters right from the lines. We feast on the fresher-than-fresh oysters, washed down with white wine, and enjoy mussels cooked with tomatoes and onions from Dubravko’s garden.

Next, we drive on to Villa Korta Katarina & Winery, a Relais & Châteaux member and a ridiculously pretty spot. After a tour of the winery and barrel cave, we are shown to our table on the patio overlooking the pristine vineyards and the sparkling Adriatic Sea below. A lazy, languid wine tasting ensues — the grapes are grown on the steep slopes next to the ocean; the heat from the sun and the reflection from the sea makes the grape sweeter, leading to better quality (and higher alcohol content — hic!) wine.

We’re back in the car for a well-deserved siesta, and before long we’ve arrived at Villa Antoan — a striking five-bedroom, 6,780-sq-ft villa lording over the Adriatic with direct access into the glittering depths. Our private chef arrives and prepares a divine dinner of fresh seafood pasta (accompanied by olives he grew himself and tomatoes and capers from his mother’s garden) cooked in front of us.

Villa Antoan is a striking five-bedroom, 6,780-sq-ft villa lording over the Adriatic / ©Level52

Day 4

Following a refreshing morning swim in the sea, we meet our private tour guide, Jelena and explore Dubrovnik’s magical streets, including the Old Town and its medieval walls. Jelena takes us to Clara Stones Jewellery for a private visit to the artisanal jeweler’s workshop.

Red coral only grows under rocks and caves, and only in eight countries. It’s very limited and very protected — only four divers in Croatia are able to get the coral; it grows at around 200 ft below sea level at a minimum, but can be found up to 430 ft deep. (Only two divers are willing to go to those depths.) We are shown how the coral is prepared in the workshop, and we marvel at the jewelry created with the vibrant pieces.

We head back to the villa for a sleep-inducing private massage followed by a gentle yoga session next to the infinity pool, both made all the more soothing by the soundtrack of the sea.

private yacht
Our private yacht collected us from the villa’s jetty / ©Level52

Day 5

While the itinerary so far has been flawless, this is my favorite day. A yacht pulls up to our stretch of rocky beach and the diving board from which I’ve been perfecting my dives into the ocean all week. We sail around the island, pulling into caves and marveling at the Old Town from the sea. We make a stop at Elaphiti Islands where a few other yachts have dropped anchor and make the most of the onboard toys.

We sail onwards to Lopud, a small car-free island off the coast of Dalmatia famed for its white sand beaches (which are a rarity in Croatia; most beaches are rocky) and visit Restoran Dubrovnik for fresh seafood and cocktails. We stroll around the island, calling in at Djordjic-Mayneri Park (botanical gardens) and perusing the small shops. The yacht pulls up to collect us, and we sail to a secluded spot on the Neretva River, where we explore hidden coves by paddleboard.

Day 6

The villa’s sauna / ©Level52

With nothing on the itinerary for today, we take the opportunity to laze in the glorious sunshine and take many dips in the bracing sea followed by a visit to the villa’s sauna. As we depart in the evening to the airport, watching the sunset over the spellbinding landscape, I am already plotting another visit.

Yet on my return to the UK, when doing my due diligence and fact-checking activities on the itinerary, I find that Google doesn’t quite know what I am asking. Kensington Tours’ little black book of in-the-know locals and non-googleable activities make for an all the more genuine experience — one that is hard to replicate without expert guidance.

Price on request. Contact, +1 888 903 2001,

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