B&B and Beyond: Habanavista, Havana

A penthouse overlooking Havana's Malecón seaside wall is a new breed of 'casa particular', says Claire Boobbyer

Habanavista straddles a sky-high penthouse and pool overlooking the Malecó*, Havana's serpentine seaside wall. At this height, the city looks like a children's playset with toy cars – classic US autos – motoring between the midnight blue Atlantic and the peeling pastels of oceanfront homes. Deliciously intriguing is the pelican's-eye view of the US Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy, a pseudo American mission. (The US and Cuba broke diplomatic relations in 1961.)

Habanavista's high-rise is part of a cluster of 1950s skyscrapers that sprouted near the seafront esplanade in the Vedado district during Cuba's last building boom. A few miles west of Old Havana, Vedado's tree-lined streets house classical villas, stylish restaurants, galleries and museums. It was here that businessman Someillan built three eponymous buildings. Legend relates that it was in Habanavista's Edificio Someillan that he kept a fully grown lion. Graham Greene would have relished this eccentric portrait during what was Havana's decade of libertine leisure.

The Bed

The decor and furniture of the two-floor apartment – with a wall-to-wall black terrazzo floor – are eclectic, with its Spanish colonial one-piece statements, 1950s sofa newly upholstered in burnt orange fabric, and colourful portraits of women by contemporary Cuban artist Cuty. The two doubles, with modern beds draped in chenille throws, feature boxed-in balconies – a common architectural quirk in Havana. The Caribbean Breeze room overlooks the Straits of Florida with a window facing the US Interests Section, while the Malecó* suite, with its macro view of the city's seawall and Vedado's architecture, is fitted with walk-in wardrobe with an enormous inbuilt original safe. A marble spiral staircase leads to the small al fresco pool and a tiny sunbathing terrace. The panoramic views of Havana's slumping cityscape are outstanding.

The Breakfast

Finding delicious food in a country with 50 years on the ration book is a time-consuming process, which makes the breakfast at Habanavista an incredible feat. The table is laid with French breads and pastries, fresh pineapple, mango and guayaba juices, plus hams, cheese and chorizo. Organic chicken or quail eggs are served as tu gusto. Fresh fruit is piled into cute, apple-shaped glass dishes and freshly brewed rich Cuban coffee accompanies the veritable feast. Linger longer to absorb the high-flung views of the Art Deco López Serrano building and the distant Brutalist Russian embassy.

The Hosts

Habanavista is run by accountancy student Lamay and her youthful mother, Estrella, a former agricultural scientist. They are also aided, off-site, by Lamay's Italian entrepreneur husband, Gualty, and on-site by the couple's delightful two-year old daughter Ginebra.

Habanavista opened in February. It's a new breed of casa particular (Cuban homestay), because it's not the family's ancestral home. It was acquired by swapping apartments – the only way Cubans could move house until a change in the law last year – and thus the feel is different from the majority of Cuban B&Bs. There's no extended family sitting around drinking coffee, packing kids off to school – in short, playing normal families. But the universally acclaimed warmth of Cuban hospitality is ever present. There was a coffee crisis when we stayed – the apology was lengthy and Estrella said she'd walked miles to secure our caffeine fix.

The Weekend

As well as rum, rumba and revolution, visitors come for the avant-garde art (guide Sussette Martinez Montero takes visitors on fascinating tours to the home studios of established and emerging artists: 00 53 7 267 7979); the ballet (festivalballethabana.cult.cu); and the festival of Latin American film (4-14 December; www.habanafilmfestival.com), and to wander amid Spanish colonial churches, baroque palaces, Art Nouveau villas and mob-built hotels before climbing into an old American car for a sunset cruise along the sea- and salt-battered ocean road.

The Pit Stop

Havana's new wave of private restaurants (paladares) means it's now possible to eat well in the capital. Stylish Le Chansonnier (Calle J 257 between Linea and 15; 00 53 7 832 1576) offers delicious duck in orange reduction (13 cucs/£8) as well as one of the city's best dessert platters – a welcome change from the Cuban norm of bland chicken, rice and beans.

The Essentials

Habanavista, 51 Calle 13, corner of N, Vedado, Havana, Cuba (00 53 7 836 3895; habanavista.com). The Malecó* suite costs €100; Caribbean suite €120. Breakfast €6 per person.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk