This Iconic Tour Operator Now Offers Private Jet Trips With Exclusive Tours — Here’s What It’s Like

“Yahoo!” yelled Jason, our safari guide from Manchester.

The sound echoed back to us. We had climbed onto a precipice overlooking a deep gorge in the mountains. We weren’t on safari in Africa, though — we were in Crete, the largest island in Greece.

Jason and two other guides had picked up our group of 11 (including our resident tour director, Kapi) at Daios Cove, the luxe resort on a secluded bay where we were staying, and after just a few minutes, we were driving on rocky unpaved roads up into the mountains. Now and then, we would stop on the side of the road, and Jason would grab some wild sage or thyme and give it to us to smell.

Laura Itzkowitz/Travel + Leisure

It’s especially fitting that we were doing a safari on Crete because that’s how Abercrombie & Kent originated: Geoffrey Kent was born on safari, raised on a farm in Kenya, and founded Abercrombie & Kent with his parents in 1962.

Over the years, A&K grew from a pioneering safari operator into one of the world’s leading travel companies that brings people worldwide. I was lucky enough to embark on a whirlwind tour of India with A&K a few years ago and was impressed by how seamless the trip was as well as the quality of the knowledgeable guides, so when I got the chance to join them for a tour of Rome and Crete via private jet, I didn’t hesitate to accept.

But back to Crete. As we rode up into the mountains, passing through little villages, we peppered Jason with questions, and he overloaded us with information about the island, its history, landscape, wildlife, and inhabitants, who identify as Cretan first and Greek second. He told us how Hitler sent his stormtroopers to capture the island in 1943 but was met with fierce resistance from pitchfork-wielding farmers who refused to back down. He showed us the bomb bells on the churches that Cretans made after the war using the tops of undetonated bombs since the Nazis had melted down many of the island’s church bells to make bullets. Fascinating didn’t even begin to describe it.

We had arrived in Crete the day prior and went straight from the airport to Lyrarakis Winery, where we learned how the owners revived nearly extinct varietals and tasted four of their wines with lunch. We then visited the ancient Knossos Palace — home of King Minos and the Minotaur — with a wonderful guide named Marinella, who explained how the ancient Greeks had plumbing and flush toilets at the palace. We gawked at the reconstructed frescoes depicting men, women, and animals.

The trip had started in Rome, where an incredibly knowledgeable guide named Eva — who also had a wonderfully dry sense of humor — brought us to the off-limits Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda. Inside the nave, we watched as she and the church’s guardian unbolted and opened a heavy wooden door, revealing breathtaking views of the Roman Forum just below. In the basement, we saw centuries-old pharmacists’ tools and canisters that once held natural remedies. Eva then brought us down into the Forum, led us along a less-trod path to the Curia Iulia (the ancient senate house), and brought us right to the base of Trajan’s Column, regaling us with tales along the way.

Laura Itzkowitz/Travel + Leisure

The following day, Eva met us bright and early for a tour of Castel Sant’Angelo, known as the pope’s fortress. Originally built as the emperor Hadrian’s tomb, it became a fortress in the 6th century and was the hiding place for Pope Clement VII when Rome was sacked in 1527. Nowadays, you can see models of what it looked like in its previous iterations and climb up to the rooftop terrace for panoramic views of Rome.

After that, we were off to Trastevere — one of Rome’s most charming neighborhoods — for a food tour with Toni and Walter, our guides from Eating Europe. We stopped at la Norcineria di Iacozzilli, where they explained the difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and pecorino romano and gave us a taste of porchetta, the slow-roasted pork that’s a specialty of the hill towns outside of Rome. From there, they led us across the Tiber to Campo de’ Fiori, Rome’s most famous open-air market, where we watched a vendor clean artichokes and got a taste of mozzarella di bufala with fresh tomatoes. Finally, we walked around the corner to a restaurant for a pasta-making class. After eating our homemade ravioli filled with lemon-scented ricotta and tagliatelle all’amatriciana, we walked a few more blocks to the Gelateria Alberto Pica for a sweet end to the tour.

Our next activity brought us to one of Rome’s most incredible hidden gems. A&K had arranged for us to have private access to the Villa Farnesina, a Renaissance villa with frescoes by Raphael. As we stood outside the villa, Eva explained that it should have been called Villa Chigi because the man who commissioned it was the wealthy banker Agostino Chigi, who made a fortune lending money to the popes. On the occasion of his wedding, he commissioned Raphael to paint frescoes depicting the marriage of Cupid and Psyche. I had been there before, but every time I visit, I can’t help but stare up in awe at the figures, knowing that Raphael was in his late twenties when he created this masterpiece.

Laura Itzkowitz/Travel + Leisure

Dinner that evening was at another one of Rome’s most beautiful places: Le Jardin de Russie restaurant at the Hotel de Russie, which T+L readers consistently rank among the best hotels in the world in our annual World’s Best Awards survey. Our group had a private table in the secret garden, originally designed by Giuseppe Valadier and recently refreshed. It was the perfect setting to enjoy fresh burrata with tomatoes, risotto with pesto trapanese, and sea bream with artichokes served by the hotel’s charming staff. Walking back to the Hotel de la Ville, de Russie’s sister hotel also run by Rocco Forte, we made a little detour to Via Margutta to see where famed filmmaker Federico Fellini lived and the building where some scenes of “Roman Holiday” were filmed.

The next morning, we were whisked off to the executive terminal at Ciampino Airport to board the private jet to Crete. After a brief wait, we put our things through the X-ray scanner, walked through a metal detector, and were bused onto the tarmac to board the jet, which welcomed us onboard with Champagne and snacks. The whole experience couldn’t have been smoother.

Justin Weiler/Courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent

Travelers interested in traveling around Europe by private jet can book one of A&K’s Wings Over the World trips, which offer the chance to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations and enjoy exclusive experiences like these in Europe’s most alluring cities. The European itineraries are limited to a maximum of 13 guests and start at $37,995 per person for a 13-day journey, which includes private jet charters and transfers between destinations, accommodations at luxury hotels, a resident tour director, and local guides, most meals, luggage handling, and entrance fees for scheduled visits to museums and archeological sites. A&K also offers Wings Over the World journeys in Africa, Australia, India, and South America.

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