This trip, planned to celebrate our 35th anniversary, was far more incredible than I'd ever imagined it could have been. I am a perfectionist, notoriously hard to please, and with extremely high standards but it was truly perfect in every way and well beyond my expectations. I would rate this trip, and this travel agency at 12 out of 10 if I could. I could never have imagined a travel agency this good even existed, and feel incredibly lucky to have found it! There is no doubt that I drove Andrea crazy in the planning process, as I am very stubborn and particular about every detail, and we wanted an itinerary that was jam-packed with activity every day with little to no downtime. This required a large number of iterations and much creativity to make the most of our limited time. Throughout the planning process, Andrea always rose to the challenge to be very creative and accommodating in meeting our needs within the limited time constraints, and making needed changes when requested. Her attention to detail is superlative, and she was always highly responsive and showed great initiative as well as patience. It became clear early that she is a perfectionist also, and with a total customer service orientation that is extremely rare. She gave us her cell phone # if anything went wrong, though nothing did. Every driver, guide, and hotel assistant was given one another's cell #, and we were handed over to the next person on the schedule seamlessly by every team member. There was never a time when we had to wait for anyone or take charge of anything ourselves--eg. the driver would call the hotel assistant when we were 10 minutes away to be ready to pick us up with our luggage (we always stayed in pedestrian only centres), and would reconfirm that our guide would be meeting us in the hotel lobby at 6 pm. Each individual was well-informed in advance on every detail of our itinerary for the day and had a take charge/ can-do attitude. We were greeted in our first hotel room with a welcome letter from the agency, and a letter in our last hotel room hoping we enjoyed everything. Our travel agent Andrea even surprised us in the lobby of our hotel the last night with a box of local chocolates to thank us for our business. So many special, personal and thoughtful touches! The personnel we dealt with in each destination were all very motivated and professional, and we really enjoyed getting to know a great many of them, who also typically went above and beyond to make our experience first rate.
Most notable in going above and beyond for us were full day drivers Jake (two days), Julia, Stepan, and Gaspar, as well as Mr. Tudor (forget his first name!) and guides Uros, Ivana in Zagreb, and Ivana in Dubrovnik. We really enjoyed getting to know all of them, and you could tell they loved their jobs and wanted to do whatever they could to make our time in their country the best possible. They truly played a huge part in making this the trip of a lifetime, and gave us great insight into their countries' history, culture and current way of life that was invaluable.
Our hotels were all perfectly situated and very central, many with stunning views. I would not have wanted to have stayed anywhere else! All were a very short walk from the action, which we found essential after a long day and evening exploring. Our favourites were the suites and villa in Dubrovnik, which both stood out not only for the character of the stone walls in the old city but for their warm and helpful staffs. Hotel in Zagreb which is truly incredible in every way and an experience in itself. Our room in Hvar town was also very special--our room had two balconies which we made great use of for enjoying the view of the harbour and listening to the late night music. The suite was incredibly spacious though furnishings in need of update. Hotel in Zadar was also unique and beautiful and the service also terrific.
I would highly recommend Andrea to all our friends, and anyone planning a trip to the Balkans, and would definitely use this agency for our next trip to neighbouring countries in Europe.
Every part of our trip was incredibly enjoyable, memorable and romantic, including the many unplanned parts our team members spontaneously added to our itinerary. I would have to say the 5 top highlights were (1) the 11 course degustation menu of food and wine pairings in Sibenik. We've eaten in many great/famous top-rated restaurants in various cities in North America , but this was easily the best meal as well as best service we've ever had. (2) the oyster farm experience near Ston with Denis where he takes you to his private island to make you an oyster and mussels lunch (I've never liked mussels and I loved these!) He and his lovely wife also serve you their homemade grappa and wine. We loved them and the food! Nothing like it!! (3) the full day boat tour from Hvar with stops on 2 other stunning beaches/islands including the famous beach. Our captain Tony was awesome too, and with the fastest boat in the area, we didn't waste unnecessary time traveling. These caves are an absolute must see. (4) Taking the cable car up to the top of ski resort for an incredible view of Lake Bohinj and the Julian Alps with our amazing guide Uros. Lake Bohinj is even more beautiful (and much less touristy) than Lake Bled (5) traditional Croatian seafood peka dinner with Berti Tudor and his family in the abandoned village of Malo Grablje on Hvar. They were a delightful family, and the experience in this rustic ancient locale up in the hills was so unique.
However, there were so many other incredible experiences that were also big highlights we would not have wanted to miss, especially : the road from Cetinje to Njegusi with the incredible view of the bay of Kotor, capped with a tasting of the famous Njegusi prosciutto; charming Budva and its stunning beach; the cable car and dinner at a table by the sea in Dubrovnik, as well as conversations at the cozy beach bar near our hotel; the very different character of traditional Bosnian meal of meats and cheeses (great cheeses!!) at Sadrvan restaurant where they wear authentic dress; exploring the quaint island town of Korcula and their artisan shops, including dinner al fresco by the sea (and swimming at the beach in front of it!) and relaxing over drinks at the gorgeous patio; exploring the off roads around Hvar island, including the view from peak, the very different more authentic/quieter feeling of the villages on the other side of the island, driving through the quirky tunnel, a delicious private seafood lunch--a magical place on a giant stone table under a lemon tree in Jelsa where they also make and serve their own wines; and the olive grove "picnic" dinner in the hills --with the most incredible olive oils and pastry dessert! He and his wife are also really charming and there was only one other couple there that night from Britain making it very personal; Zadar at sunset with the sea organ and sun salutation; incredible wine tastings in Skradin (we bought 4 bottles!); hiking through Plitvice Lakes; walking the streets of lively Ljubljana, especially the market square and the view from the bar atop; exploring the quaint upper town in Zagreb.
We were very limited in time because of work constraints which we really couldn't change but in a perfect world I would want to add at least another 4-5 more days to the trip. We would have liked to have spent another couple of days in Dubrovnik. We would also have loved to go to Slovenia, as well as to Sarajevo, and visit the Museum. Next trip!! However, I would not have changed the itinerary at all with the 10 days we had.
The other things I would change were quite minor. (Bear in mind, I'd rate the majority of our experiences 12 out of 10, so anything less than 9 stands out in that context). I might not stay at Hotel Korcula again. The view from our room was incredible, as was the breakfast, and location was great. However, the staff was not as warm and helpful compared to all the others we stayed at, and they did not help us with our bags back to the ferry. I'd probably be inclined to try the Lesic Dimitri Palace though it was more expensive, or another alternative. I'd also recommend a different city guide for Korcula than ours, who was also employed at the Hotel Korcula desk and not up to the same high standards as our other guides, or other guides we encountered in passing on the island. She was adequate but merely went through the motions and seemed to be doing it for the money rather than because she loved doing it. The fact that she'd worked all night at the hotel desk before meeting us at 10 am definitely didn't help. I'd also request a different driver from Zadar to Ljubljana. He was very quiet, and his English wasn't the best. Unlike all our other drivers, t felt more like merely a taxi service--he didn't add to the magical experience as all the others did, though he was prompt and efficient in his duties.
I am very glad we went in mid-September. I believe this is the perfect time to travel to the area because we missed all the crowds but the weather is still perfect. I definitely would not want to be there in July/August, based on everything all the locals told us. June would also be very nice.
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