It only takes a few good people, those with vision and a pioneering spirit, whose efforts, dedication and passion can truly bring change.
I was reflecting this as a sipped on an excellent glass of Babic after the main course of deer rumpsteak, Roman gnochhi roll with cranberry cooked in Port wine, Jerusalem artichoke cream, butter glazed Brussel sprouts, and demiglace.
Opposite me was a lady I had wanted to meet for a very long time, the truly pioneering founder of luxury Croatian tourism from the USA, and Conde Nast’s preferred Croatian partner every year since 2006, Wanda Radetti, whose Visit Croatia Tasteful Croatian Journeys project has arguably done more than anything to raise the profile of Croatian tourism in this crucial market.
The location? The restaurant in the newly-opened 5-star Hotel Ambasador on Split’s West Coast, a hotel which has (at least in my opinion) already changed the perception of Split as a luxury tourism destination since opening a few months ago. Wanda was here on her first inspection trip with a view to adding Ambasador to her already impressive portfolio of hotels for her excellent tours from Istria to Dubrovnik.
It is a far cry from the humble beginnings of Wanda’s luxury tourism journey in Croatia, which started with her first-ever tour 27 years ago back in 1995. Yes, you heard that right – the same year that the Homeland War ended, Wanda was already bringing tourists from North America on high-quality (at least given the resources available in a nation suffering from a four-year war), as she brought over a group of diaspora women from the Histra Association of Women. It was a trip which was unecognisable from the 5-star luxury tours today which have justified the trust of Conde Nast for the last 16 years.
Just finding a hotel open was a challenge, never mind things to see and tourism providers to offer tours. The only hotel available was in Opatija, and so daily day trips to Istria were the norm. As for the wine from the famed wine-producing region of Istira, which today gets awards on the international stage, back then it was pretty undrinkable. Tending to vineyards in a time of war is low priority.
What was immediately evident from our first exchange is what an excellent communicator Wanda is, always with a word for everyone. Over the years, those waiters and bellboys of 1995 became general managers of top hotels and some of the most important players in Croatian tourism. Wanda knows them all and has watched – and encouraged – their careers grow. As such, she has built up an unparalleled network of places, experiences and – most of all – goodwill, which she can pass on to her clients in the form of outstanding tours with the very best service and attention to detail.
When Wanda suggested we have dinner at Hotel Ambasador, I smiled and agreed immediately. Apart from being absolutely my favourite place to stay on the coast – you will not find a better view from Dubrovnik to Rovinj – I was curious to see how a luxury travel expert such as Wanda would take to the new hotel star on the Split waterfront.
As I had already stayed at Ambasador a couple of times, I gave Wanda one piece of advice, which I am pleased she took – to sleep with the curtains open, so that she could fully appreciate the magnificent view of Split, as its colours changed through the day and night. I truly have not seen a better hotel view in this country.
It is one of the few places in the world that I don’t mind if I wake up in the night, or very early – spectacular.
Split by night, as seen from the Ambasador.
Wanda was clearly impressed too, commenting on the quality of the materials and finish. She was a joy to watch in action, with a kind word for all, a probing question to learn more for her clients, and a watchful eye on everything that was going on in the hotel. If she was going to promote a hotel to her clients, she was going to do it from the viewpoint of total knowledge. This was a site inspection performed by an experienced eye who knew exactly what levels of quality her clients would expect. And she wasn’t shy of pointing out a few small areas of improvement, suggestions that were gratefully received and immediately implemented.
The Hotel Ambasador lobby is very striking as you enter, mainly due to the outstanding photogaphy which adorns the walls with huge pictures of life in Split in the 1950s and 1960s. A wonderful connection of hotel and city, and one whose photos take guests back to a different era. Wanda captured them too
This is my favourite photo in the lobby, as well as my favourite story from the Ambasador so far. In an age before gadgets, where kids played on the streets for hours, this game was very popular. Soon after the hotel opened, some older locals came in to have a look around, and one pensioner was shocked when he saw the photo, for there he was in the photo, some 60 years ago. I suggested that perhaps they could have a media campaign to see if they could identify the rest of the kids and then organise a reunion dinner.
Wanda’s mission was to also meet the staff, so that she could advise her clients, and there are few more important than the head chef, and Ivica Katic spent some time with Wanda exploring the menu options for future guests.
And so to the food at dinner. Although I am not an expert, I find that dining in 5-star hotel restaurants can be a little hit and miss, and it is not unknown for me to dine in such institutions and come away hungry. Not so at Ambasador, and what a delightful and creative meal it was too.
-Butternut squash, butter glazed croutons, beetroot powder, pumpkin oil cream
BEETROOT RISOTTO WITH GAMBERO ROSSO
-Gambero rosso prawn, Bisque, beetroot puree, goat cheese
-Deer rumpsteak, Roman gnochhi roll with cranberry cooked in Port wine, Jerusalem artichoke cream,
butter glazed Brussel sprouts, demiglace
Walnuts, orange chocolate, orange Chantilly
A wonderful evening of fine company, food and wine with Wanda and her colleague, Tia Lovisa Moreira, an evening made even better as charismatic Ambasador General Manager Stipe Medic joined us during the meal – Stipe is a great addition to the hotel, and his local knowledge and humour is just one more asset to this truly great addition to this new star of Split tourism.
Rovinj and Dubrovnik have long been the stars of luxury tourism in Croatia, and Split has always struggled to shine in this sector, at least in my opinion. The positive noises from Wanda and Tia echoed my own thoughts, as I retired to my room for one more night with the curtains open to enjoy THAT view. Rarely can a hotel have such a perfect view matched by an equally perfect location. Within walking distance of Diocletian’s Palace and the Split marina, and yet far enough away from the crowds, Hotel Ambasador is the perfect entry point to enjoy the magic of the Dalmatian capital and its incredible history and heritage.
Learn more about Hotel Ambasador on the official website.
And if you want to know why Wanda Radetti and Tasteful Croatian Journeys are Conde Nast’s preferred choice, check out their website.