Since 2015, when former President Barack Obama asked Congress to lift the nearly 60-year-long trade and financial embargo with Cuba, the tropical Caribbean island has been on the top of everyone’s list of must-see travel destinations. For those with wanderlust, the newly opened borders mark the end of an unadulterated era when the island has been frozen in time, and travelers and hospitality companies alike have been rushing to Cuba before it loses its purity. Winning the accommodation race is Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group Kempinski. American companies still aren’t allowed to build in Cuba, and the 120-year-old Swiss company (which currently operates 75 five-star hotels and residences in 30 countries) just announced its newest endeavor. Opening later this year, the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana will be Cuba’s first true five-star hotel, and one of the country’s first significant steps into the modern Western world.
Befittingly, the forward progression is still rooted in the island’s rich culture. The hotel will be housed within the historic Manzana de Gómez building. Dating to 1890, the grandiose five-story structure was Cuba’s first European-style shopping center with over 500 departments that included stores, business offices, law firms, and notaries. Adding to its historical importance, Manzana de Gómez is located at the heart of Habana Vieja (Old Havana)—a portion of Cuba’s capital city that was founded in 1519 by Spain and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Flanked by Bacardi rum’s art deco bell tower and the National Museum of Fine Arts, Manzana de Gómez is part of the city’s lifeblood. It also overlooks the Capitol, the Great Theater of Havana, and El Floridita—the infamous fish restaurant and cocktail bar that Ernest Hemingway frequented. Hotel guests can easily walk to Old Havana’s main interconnecting artery Calle Obispo (which is packed with art galleries, shops, and music bars), and the famous Castillo del Morro lighthouse (which has guarded the entrance to Havana Bay since 1589) is only a 10-minute drive.
Inside the restored neoclassical building, Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski Manzana La Habana will offer 246 rooms and suites. Ranging in size from about 430 to 1,615 square feet, each offers a crisp contemporary white color palette with vaulted ceilings, large French windows, and fun pops of bright colors that feel inherently Cuban. Amenities include an approximately 10,765-square-foot Swiss Resense spa, three restaurants, a lobby bar, a rooftop terrace with a swimming pool, and free internet in every room—which is huge considering Cuba is one of the least digitally connected countries in the world. Naturally, there is also an in-house cigar lounge. Those returning to the United States should keep in mind the $100 maximum limit for cigars and rum, and Robb Report still recommends flying privately through a company like Victor. A full guide to Cuba, can also be found here. (kempinski.com)