In recent years, high-end tour operator Blue Parallel has expanded its reach beyond Latin America into Europe. Founder Emmanuel Burgio came by Travel Agent's New York offices to talk about where the company will be bringing its guests along the Dalmatian Coast, an area that has been growing steadily in popularity.
Blue Parallel started out 12 years ago offering exclusive tours to Latin America, and then branched out to the Mediterranean last year. Building on personal relationships Burgio developed throughout the area, the trips focus on regions where Burgio and the team have already made connections, like Andalucia and other UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Attractions include the Mezquita in Cordoba, the Alhambra in Granada and the Hagia Sophia in Turkey.
Croatia, meanwhile, has become an increasingly popular destination as seasoned U.S.-based travelers look beyond Western Europe. While most of the nation's beaches are made of pebbles rather than sand, cruise and chartered yacht options offer different ways to experience the ocean. Historic cities have held onto their heritage and several luxury hotels have opened or emerged from renovations in recent years. The Lešić Dimitri Palace opened in 2009 and was one of Croatia’s first members of Relais & Chateaux; the country now has four properties in the Relais & Chateaux network. The Hotel Vestibul Palace, meanwhile, has been a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World since 2010 and was recently renovated. (A new Sheraton is slated to open in the middle of next year.) The country's food and music scene has also attracted a growing range of travelers seeking out distinct experiences: This summer's Dubrovnik International Wine & Jazz Festival included performances from international music legend José Feliciano, and showed off the country's wines to a discerning clientele.
Much like the company's other tours in the Mediterranean area, Blue Parallel's tours in Croatia and the surrounding region will focus on exclusive experiences that Burgio can arrange through his wide network of contacts and friends. Foodies, for example, can meet with local farmers or head out on a boat to sample oysters straight from the ocean (the tour operator has a dedicated boat for these trips, and for exploring the many caves along the coastline). Thrillseekers, on the other hand, can bike, climb mountains, hike, kayak or snorkel in open water. History buffs can learn about the heritage of the region, which is growing in popularity as a luxury destination following years of political conflicts.
One notable experience, Burgio said, is a visit to an abandoned mountain village where a local resident will open up a still-working restaurant for private meals. Following a tour and a lesson in the area's history, guests can sit outside on the terrace for an outdoor barbecue with an entire empty town stretching out around them.
Other destinations include:
- Diocletian’s Palace in Split
- Blue Grotto in Biševo Island
- Vis Island
- Pakleni Island Archipelago
- Pelješac Peninsula
- Lokrum Island
- Bay of Kotor
- Sveti Stefan
Exclusive, Blue Parallel-only activities include:
- Exclusive tour of the Ivan Meštrović Gallery in Split which houses some of Croatia’s top works of art with the museum curator
- Sea kayaking excursion inside the Blue Grotto in Biševo
- Private luxury motor yacht with expert captain for day excursions around Dalmatian Islands
- Private wine orientation and tasting at a private family run vineyard on the Pelješac Peninsula
- Private oyster tasting and fresh mussels cooked al fresco in a private estate by the sea accompanied by fine local Croatian white wines
- Private opening of a historical palace in Dubrovnik for special dinners or events
- Option to stay in a private estate located on the waterfront in Dubrovnik
- VIP airport assistance