“This is the new Gran Hotel La Manzana, it’s going to be the most luxurious hotel in Cuba.” That’s what my walking tour guide said as we passed through the accidental plaza created by two imposing structures, the aforementioned hotel and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes Cubano.
In a country where many hotels haven’t been updated since the 1970s, it’s unclear how luxurious the “most luxurious hotel in Cuba” will be. But if the exterior, a crisp clean cream structure that takes up the entire block and looks like it was built yesterday, told me anything, it’s that this would likely be a major step up from the Cuban accommodations I’d seen so far.
The building is flanked with columns and many of the windows feature balconies. Palm trees line the entrance, which, blended with the columns and color, give off a Southern France impression. Walk inside the oversized wooden doors, which add a hint of rusticity in an otherwise modern and bright building. The spacious lobby features quirky and colorful furniture, promising that just because this hotel is high end doesn’t mean it doesn’t know how to have fun. The elevators are straight ahead, and next to them is a semi-circle of turquoise wingback Alice in Wonderland-esque chairs, in front of which sit tufted silver and white round ottomans.
Follow the cream colored marble floor to your left, where a stretch of white desks hosts reception. Look up for a reminder of just of high-end this place is; a rectangular chandelier that spans the length of the desks hangs daintily above.
The wide-open space theme is highlighted in the elevator—I know that sounds contradictory. Instead of claustrophobia, a fear of heights might set in, thanks to the glass elevator that looks out onto a courtyard the hotel surrounds. It’s not that high up though, so don’t nix this place because you’re worried about the elevator ride.
Likely, Kempinski’s signature Lady in Red, sort of their version of a bellboy (of course, they have bellboys too), will show you to your room. The grand halls with high ceilings, oversized artwork, chandeliers and lack of noise sort of say, “Dorothy, you’re not in Havana anymore.” However once you get to your room, the city will further be cemented in your mind thanks to the vast views from your private abode (unless you’re in a patio room, but even then, you get a view of Cuban life).
My favorite feature was the ceiling—I’ve never seen a hotel room with such a high ceiling, molding and all. Over your king size bed or twin beds, a modern metal encased chandelier lights the space, although it doesn’t really need that much help on that front, thanks to white walls and huge windows or balconies.
While white and gray are the main colors, the bed runner and matching wingback chair serve as pops of deep purple or red, adding some vibrancy without sacrificing regality. While the rooms have antique features like ornate wooden furniture, the molding and the chandelier, those are balanced out with crazy modern embellishments, like creative filtered photos of Cuba, wacky multicolored rugs, a geometric wooden headboard and a glass wall between the bedroom and bathroom that can be fogged up for privacy with the touch of a button.
The hotel itself pops—a beautiful white regal structure amid the crumbling buildings of this city. Not to say it’s the only one, but the sheer size of it makes it stick out like a sore thumb. Then, the fact that there’s so much space inside, unlike the cramped quarters that some Cubans live in and the narrow streets they walk. But the cherry on top (literally, sort of) is the rooftop infinity pool that sits on a deck (which also hosts one of their many restaurants and the spa) with 360-degree views of the city. It’s a weird and totally inauthentic perspective of the city, but I cannot deny its beauty.
The Cubans I spoke to were proud of this new property, and all the new hotels in the city. My hope is that, while it’s not the place to stay if you’re looking for a slice of Cuban life, it brings the Cuban people everything they think it will.
You cannot get any more central than this. The fine arts museum is directly across the street. The always-crowded pedestrian walkway, Obispo, is a few steps away. The Ernest Hemingway-made-famous Floridita is catty-corner. And there are plenty of undiscovered streets we highly recommend you meander surrounding the property.