Havana has recently witnessed the inauguration
of three brand new hotels that some commentators have been referring to as ‘5
Star-Plus’, due to their high international standards. These are: Accor Paseo
del Prado, Iberostar Grand Packard and Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski.
This is a big change. Whilst in the past few
decades various old hotels have been restored or built from scratch, what makes these latest hotels
particularly exceptional is their unequivocal focus on luxury. What does this
mean? Subjectively speaking they offer an ambience that aims at being a cut
above the rest, especially through original interior designs and layouts.
Objectively speaking, it means that all three hotels include:
- Multiple swimming pools, gym facilities, spas and hairdressers.
- Well-stocked shopping outlets, selling everything from necessities to souvenirs.
- Multiple cocktail bars and gourmet restaurants catering to every dietary requirement.
- Guaranteed top quality entertainment options every evening.
- Well-located and with stunning views.
- Premium hotel suites.
- Business facilities and high-speed internet connections.
That last point, high-speed internet, cannot be
overemphasised. Internet is still not as readily available in Cuba as in many
other countries, and therefore these three hotels are some of the best
locations in the country if you need to get connected.
All three hotels are situated in Old Havana
(Habana Vieja), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Therefore you are likely to walk
past them at some point during your visit. As with other hotels in Havana, it’s
worth remembering that even if you are not staying at that specific hotel, you
can still use some of the amenities available, such as the ground floor shops,
restaurants and bars.
Accor Paseo del Prado
A joint venture between the Cuban State group
Gaviota and the French company Accor, this hotel has 250 rooms and 10 floors.
It is designed by French architect Michel Regembal, who was one of the four
architects behind the Stade de France in Paris.
Interestingly, this brand new building pays
homage to the past with its shape. The corner of the building is designed to
look like a ship’s bow, whilst the top of the building is shaped like the deck
of a ship. Countless ships have passed in and out of Havana Bay, the harbour to
the east of the hotel, and so the architecture can be viewed as a playful nod
to the fact that Havana was once one of Latin America’s busiest ports.
The hotel provides immediate views of the
Malecón and the sea, with floor to ceiling windows in many of the rooms. You
can take the lift to 9th floor for a higher view, and should you want to go even
further up, you can take the steps that are designed to feel like ascending to
the top deck of a ship. Once on the top ‘deck’ you can enjoy one of the best
360 degree panoramas in the city.
In keeping with the architecture either side of
the hotel is an arcade walkway which corresponds with the height of the arches
of some of the neighbouring buildings. Being so close to the sea, the building
is made from salt-resistant materials, something of utmost importance when one
considers some of the damage that fine particles of sea spray have done to
older buildings nearby.
Iberostar Grand Packard
A joint venture between the Cuban State group
Gaviota and the Spanish hotel chain Iberostar, this hotel has 321 rooms and 10 floors.
It is designed by the Spanish Pritzker Prize winning architect Rafael, who also
oversaw enlargements of Prado Museum in Madrid and the Cathedral of Our Lady of
the Angels in Los Angeles.
What makes this building particularly spectator
is the care they went through to maintain some of the facade of the original
hotel building, which dates back to 1911, salvaging what they could and not
just preserving it but also making it into an architectural feature of the
north side of the new hotel.
The hotel has some great vistas. Go for a drink on the 6th floor bar and you’ll be facing directly out onto to some of Havana’s most important historical fortresses: you can see the ‘La Punta’ fortress in the foreground, and across the bay is ‘El Morro’ castle and the ‘La Cabaña’ fortress. To stay here, then, is to have the facilities of the 21st century but with a view of centuries past.
Among the outlets available on the ground floor is a room specially dedicated to gourmet chocolate, a fitting choice considering Cuba’s historical cultivation of cocoa.
A joint venture between Cuban State group
Gaviota and French company Bouygues, this hotel has 246 rooms and 10 floors. It
was not built from scratch, instead it was a restoration and enlargement of a
century-old former shopping arcade and commercial building. The restoration was
overseen by Cuban architect José Antonio Choy López, known for his work in a
range of cultural, commercial and touristic buildings in Santiago de Cuba and
Havana. The original building was known as Manzana de Gomez, which it is still
often referred to by locals. The name change to Kempinski is due to the fact
that the hotel is operated by the Swiss-based hotel chain Kempinski.
As part of the restoration, various eco-friendly
elements were included, such as the installation of motion-activated light
switches. Other new additions to the building include lifts that have three
glass sides, which makes going up and down feel less like a mundane activity
and more like a fairground ride.
On the ground floor of the building are upmarket
shops, including Giorgio
Armani, Lacoste, Montblanc and Versace. Whilst having
access to these shops is a new development for Cuba, interestingly it also
harks back to Cuba’s past. A hundred years ago the ground floor of this very
building was Cuba’s first shopping mall, specifically designed with arcades to
enrich the shopping experience. So it could be said that this is as much a
historic restoration as it is a brand new chapter.
The rooftop view provides a different panorama
to other two hotels. Whilst it doesn’t allow a view of Havana Bay, instead it
gives one of the best views of El Capitolio, encapsulating not just the dome
but much of the front facade too.