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Island Style - Havana, Cuba

A land of colourful contradictions, visiting Havana is like stepping back in time.

havana A land of colourful contradictions, visiting Havana is like stepping back in time.

La Habana Vieja is a World Heritage site and full of gems that are best appreciated up close and personal. DO a guided city tour, cigar factory tour or walk the city at random. Efforts both main street and off-the-beaten- path will be rewarded when you see salsa dancers gliding across cobblestones, catch kids playing a soccer match in the street, or stumble across bespoke perfumery, La Habana 1791.

tropicana_2When it’s time to PLAY, cruise down the Malecón by foot or in an old classic car while watching locals fish and flirt. Dotted along the eight kilometres esplanade is the iconic Hotel Nacional, which used to host mobsters and movie stars, and Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the Spanish fort that still sounds off canons nightly. Looking for something more lively? Hit up Cabaret Tropicana for tacky fun (www.cabaret-tropicana.com). At the other end of the spectrum, La Zorra y el Cuervo is a quintessential jazz bar complete with smokey atmosphere and music greats tripping up the stage for spur-of-the-moment performances.

Finca VigiaIf time permits, VISIT Hemingway’s house, Finca Vigía, and catch a performance of the Cuban National Ballet. www.balletcuba.cult.cu

If ART is what you’re after, link up with Sussette Martinez who has her finger on the pulse of Cuba’s creative characters (+53 5 258 5678), or head to 3/31 Art Space (FB: 331-ART-SPACE). If locally made items are the order of the day, visit: www.clandestinacuba.com and www.piscolabishabana.com.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image24422179With the relaxation of government restrictions in-home restaurants, paladares, are popping up everywhere. Responsible for some of the country’s most innovative cuisine, visitors should EAT at oldie but goodie, La Guarida. New to the scene, Mama Inés offers excellent Cuban cuisine (owner, Erasmo, cooked for Fidel) , while upscale, modern fare can be found at Otramanera.

La Bodeguita del Medio might have been where Ernest Hemingway DRANK his mojitos, but La Fábrica de Arte Cubano is where it’s at now. An old oil factory in Vedado, this art space attracts an eclectic crowd of in-the-know artists and hipsters. www.fabricadeartecubano.comla_Guarida

If luxury is what you’re after, STAY at to www.hotel-saratoga.com. While Casa Particulares (bed & breakfast guest houses) offer a more authentic experience, both www.cvitrales.com and www.suitehavana.com  are decidedly modern.

Vinales 2FUN FACT: Bacardi, the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world was founded in Cuba in 1862.

Time to spare? Head OFF THE BEATEN PATH to Viñales and do a tobacco tour. Three hours west of Havana, this charming town rewards you with verdant vistas and welcoming locals.

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