10/29/13 - The Independent - A visit to Cuba: Viva la revolución!
There has been much talk of recent change in Cuba. However, the sunshine
socialist state has been changing for a while - the Marxist-Leninist model
has been regularly tweaked since the 1990s to keep the island's economy
afloat. Three years ago, President Raúl Castro kickstarted a wider
private-enterprise boom, giving more Cubans the chance to run their own
Now, new private restaurants, bars, rental penthouses, sports activities
and tours are giving visitors a greater experience of this complex and
alluring Caribbean nation. It was also announced last week that the
dual-currency system will be gradually phased out in favour of a single
Cuban peso, which will make life far simpler for visitors.
And there are parties in the pipeline, too. The conquering Spaniards
founded seven beautiful cities in Cuba: sleepy Bayamo celebrates its 500th
anniversary on 5 November; with stunning Trinidad and little-visited Sancti
Spíritus, celebrating theirs in 2014.
What's more, a new film starring Cuban Royal Ballet dancer Carlos Acosta,
Day of the Flowers (dayoftheflowers.com), will bring the island into
focus when it's released in UK cinemas next month.
A new breed of alternative journeys has joined the traditional guided,
biking or self-drive tours around Cuba. For example, you can learn to
photograph sharks between the pristine coral islands of the Jardines de la
Reina with underwater cameraman Nigel Wade on a seven-day holiday for
£3,199pp with flights (020 7644 8252; thescubadivingplace.co.uk).
Meanwhile, Cuba Solidarity (020 8800 0155; cuba-solidarity.org.uk/tours)
offers a new LGBT programme on the island; a week starts at £1,330pp,
Henrietta Loyd, of Cazenove+Loyd (020 7384 2332; cazloyd.com), leads a
well-researched glimpse into the avant-garde world of Cuban artists (one
week from 13 March £2,390pp, excluding flights), while independent
travellers can meander off the beaten track with Cuba's first private
operators: both Trinidad Travels (00 53 5 282 3726; trinidadtravels.com)
and Bayamo Travel Agent (00 53 5 292 2209; bayamotravelagent.com) are
run by dedicated young Cubans.
Until recently, Cuba was a desert of dreadful dining. Since 2011, paladares
(private restaurants) have been cooking up a storm - especially in Havana -
as chefs, despite food shortages, ride Cuba's culinary new wave. Top spots
include the elegant Le Chansonnier (00 53 7 832 1576;
lechansonnierhabana.com), sushi shack Santy's (00 53 5 286 7039) and Old
Town top pick Doña Eutimia (00 53 7 861 1332).
Beyond Havana, culinary highlights include the innovative cuisine at El
Olivo (00 53 48 696 654) in Viñales; La Botija tavern in Trinidad is a
former slave-memorabilia museum (00 53 5 283 0147); San José (00 53 24
424877; restaurantesanjose.com) for barbecued seafood in Holguín; El
Madrileño (00 53 22 644138) in Santiago; and El Poeta (00 53 24 424877) in
Baracoa, where coconut infuses dishes.
British chef Sarah Saunders has launched Taste Adventures in western Cuba
(01892 862 300; tasteadventures.com) offering tobacco ranch pig roasts,
gastronomic beach barbecues, forest and waterfall walks with picnics for
the gourmet traveller.
Clubs, cocktails and cafés
Emerging from the crumbling columns and vast villas of Havana is a party
scene populated by Cuba's farándula (artists, musicians, actors), moneyed
locals and in-the-know tourists. Boho Madrigal (00 53 7 831 2433) led the
way as the first private bar in Havana. Speakeasy-style Melen remains
número uno (00 53 7 203 0433) for nocturnal barflies, while the
reincarnated Sloppy Joe's (a magnet for American tourists from the 1920s to
the 1950s) occupies a busy corner of downtown (00 53 7 866 7157).
For reviving coffee and literary enlightenment, head to Havana's only
English-language bookshop and café, Cuba Libro (00 53 7 830 5205).
Havana's Hotel Capri, built by a mobster and originally run by racketeers,
(00 53 7 833 3747; www.gran-caribe.cu) is due to reopen this winter
after a multi-million dollar makeover. While innovation in Cuba's hotel
scene has been limited, newly opened Meliá Marina Varadero (00 53 45
667330; meliacuba.com; doubles from CUC221/£143, all inclusive), and
music hotel Blue Salsa Club (00 53 45 614555; bluebayresorts.com) are
shaking up the scene at Cuba's biggest beach resort.
Cuba's own boutique brand, Encanto, has sharpened up with the opening of
the Hotel Ordoño in Gibara (00 53 24 844448; doubles from CUC74/£48 B&B).
Previously banned on beaches, casas particulares (B&Bs) have pushed open
the shutters, most notably in Varadero and Guardalavaca
(mycasaparticular.com). While in Havana, penthouses, and villas with
pools, are the latest luxury beds in the private rental market.
Meliá Marina hotel, Varadero
Ribbon-cutting roll outs
The cranes are out as restoration of the island's museums and attractions
continues. In the private sector, Papito of Arte Corte, a hair salon and
hairdressing museum in Havana (00 53 7 861 0202) has helped revive a small
alley (Calle Aguiar) in Old Havana. There's also a museum of cash registers
in the pipeline.
Cuba's avant-garde artists are inspirational: a new nomadic museum of
outsider art in Havana has opened at the Espacio Aglutinador
(espacioaglutinador.com) in Havana's leafy Vedado district. Afro-rock
musician X Alfonso is converting a warehouse into a multimedia arts
building next to El Cocinero, a paladar housed in a fomer peanut factory
(00 53 7 832 2355).
In Trinidad, a monumental effort is underway to haul the dust sheets off
the palaces and museums in time for the city's 500th birthday next year.
The idea of pampered relaxation is quite new in Cuba, but both the
state-run Habana 1791 perfume shop and private businesses have started to
light the candles.Habana 1791 (00 53 7 861 3525) offers aromatherapy
massages while private sanctums O2 (00 53 7 883 1663; o2habana.com) and
Spasio (00 53 5 353 9101) cater to most whims in the capital. Hostal Villa
Liba (00 53 24 423823) in Holguín offers yoga, reiki and massage.
Habana 1791 perfumery
"Since the opening of new private-business laws in Cuba, we've had the
opportunity to go freelance. Lots of tourists like to choose our tours
because they can create 100 per cent of their itinerary to suit their
ideas. Thanks to the new opportunities, tourists now have the chance to
enjoy real Cuban life and our traditions."
- Reinier Toscano Orbea, owner of Trinidad Travels
"Sturdy caravels of Columbus, rocking along the blue sub-tropic latitudes,
brought the first tourists to Cuba. As the yellow patched sails fluttered
down their spars and the harsh clank of anchor chain broke the peace of
that sunny October day in 1492, Cuba made her first conquest of white men's
hearts. Since then, this siren of the Caribbean has lured millions...
across the seas within the spell of her langorous beauty."
- Blue Guide to Cuba 1948
Visible links 1. http://dayoftheflowers.com/ 2.
http://thescubadivingplace.co.uk/ 3. http://cuba-solidarity.org.uk/tours 4.
http://cazloyd.com/ 5. http://trinidadtravels.com/ 6.
http://bayamotravelagent.com/ 7. http://lechansonnierhabana.com/ 8.
http://restaurantesanjose.com/ 9. http://tasteadventures.com/ 10.
http://www.gran-caribe.cu/ 11. http://meliacuba.com/ 12.
http://bluebayresorts.com/ 13. http://mycasaparticular.com/ 14.
http://espacioaglutinador.com/ 15. http://o2habana.com/ 16.
Original Source / Fuente Original:
CUBA-L FAIR USE NOTICE
This server contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of Cuba's political, economic, human rights, international, cultural, educational, scientific, sports and historical issues, among others. We distribute the materials on the basis of a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107. The material is distributed without profit. The material should be used for information, research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/ uscode/17/107.shtml.