Cuba has been in vogue — and in Vogue — over the past few years. In 2016, the fashion elite descended when Karl Lagerfeld took Chanel’s 2017 Resort show to Havana. One of Fidel Castro’s many grandchildren — Tony Castro — joined the model crew in a sartorial cavalcade that included Tilda Swinton, Stella Tennant and Gisele Bündchen. Havana’s hot moment in the fashion sun — along with the filming of Fast & Furious 8, the first American blockbuster to be shot in Cuba since the country’s revolution in the late 1950s — marked a sea-change in the way the outside world viewed Cuba and vice versa.
Yet in travel terms, the real change has been the arrival in June of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana in Havana. The first true five-star luxury hotel to have opened in Cuba since 1959, this 246 room-and-suite grande dame marks a glistening return to world-class standards on an island that has only been edging in that direction in the past five to 10 years. The six restaurants and foxy, high-ceilinged guest rooms aside, the most obvious place to enjoy this new high-spec Havana is at the rooftop pool with its incredible streetscape views.
The 10,764sq ft European-style spa has floor-to-ceiling views so you can gaze over the ruined beauty of Old Havana’s sun-, rain- and time-ravaged streetscape from a lavish cabana. And the hotel’s European vibe — to be expected from the Swiss hotel impresarios at Kempinski — is historically apposite; the hotel is situated in the renovated Manzana de Gómez building, built between 1894 and 1917 as Cuba’s first European-style shopping arcade. Back then, it offered a day out for the aspirational pre-revolutionary elite. The hotel’s new shopping arcade now represents an aspirational day out for the post-revolutionary elite and includes brands I’m sure haven’t been seen before in Cuba — from Mango and Michael Kors to Versace, L’Occitane and Montblanc.