And so, final stop on this cruise on the marvellous RSSC Voyager, a return to Havana and its top luxury hotel, Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana (it was not quite open on the gal’s last visit to town but now it is filled to capacity, with absolutely the best visitors to Cuba). Many of those staying at this 246-room beauty seem to congregate on the sixth-floor rooftop, for its outdoor pool – see above – and, in all directions, strategic views of the city. Also up there is the Albear by Resense spa, named for engineer Francisco de Albear, 1816-1887, whose main lasting claim to fame was installing a system to bring in water from the Vento springs via what is still known as the Albear aqueduct.
Arrive at the hotel, and you are met by cheerful Ladies in Red, the Kempinski signifier. As in many other world cities, running a hotel in Cuba is not always easy, but this gives scope for creativity. The hotel has its own much-needed herb garden, for instance. What undoubtedly helps lift the entire operation is the stunning building, dating back to 1894 with today’s interiors, by South Africa-based Arno Joubert, cleverly masking extraordinarily high ceilings with a palette of soft greys enlivened by bursts of purple (the exception is one bar, a riot of bright apple green walls and Rousseau-type paintings).
I also loved another high-ceilinged space, Evocación Tobacco Lounge, with eight French windows leading to oriel mini-terraces overlooking the square outside. I was also impressed by the main floor lobby, always a buzz of people coming and going. But it is the rooftop that is particularly spectacular. Guests seem to be eating, inside or outside, up there, at any hour. We lunched outside, and coincidentally met up with Henry Taic, the Israeli developer who already owns Tel Aviv’s David InterContinental, and part of its Hilton (and his Kempinski Tel Aviv opens shortly). Our lunch was superb: hotel GM Xavier Destribats, who runs The Americas for Kempinski, had ordered several local specialties, of which my favourite was definitely chunks of slow-cooked baby suckling pig, cooked for at least four hours.
Staying at this luxury hotel makes a trip to Havana not only agreeable but also really stylish – it has its own ATM and integral shopping mall. Its bedrooms are graciously understated, with differentiators in the form of clear glass walls between the bathtub and the main rooms that can, for privacy sake, be transformed immediately to opaque simply by the touch of a button. Stylishly, ceiling-hung light bulbs are sheltered in silver frames. There is, by the way, arguably the best WiFi in Havana. Xavier Destribats is a real on-the-job leader who came with serious customer service knowledge when he moved to Kempinski from Hyatt, with a stop at Morgan Grenfell to perfect asset management. To start the day with what many say is the best buffet breakfast in the whole of the Caribbean, go sightseeing and return, to the welcome-home feeling of your room here, THAT is the way to ‘do’ Havana. NOW SEE GORGEOUS PRESIDENTIAL SUITE, #411