24-Hour Room Service: Hotel Sevilla Havana, Cuba

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The Independent Travel

I was sitting in the courtyard of the Hotel Sevilla, mojito in hand, the mild scent of Cohibas hanging in the evening air. Outside, 1950s Chevrolets rolled past to the sultry beat of a son band in the distance. Havana was living up to expectations.

I was sitting in the courtyard of the Hotel Sevilla, mojito in hand, the mild scent of Cohibas hanging in the evening air. Outside, 1950s Chevrolets rolled past to the sultry beat of a son band in the distance. Havana was living up to expectations.

The Sevilla occupies a landmark building on the outskirts of La Habana Vieja (old Havana). As the name suggests, the hotel's design draws influences from Moorish Spain - the architects, Antonio and Rogelio Rodriguez, were inspired by the Patio of the Lions at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, and filled the lobby with marble and mosaic tiles.

Construction began in 1880, when the area was a hotbed of bourgeois competition fuelled by the sugar trade, and property owners vied for the most lavish and original building. The Sevilla, which features in Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana, still manages to retain a feel of the era.

One of the hotel's main draws is the ninth-floor restaurant, where the huge windows open on to breathtaking views of the city and coastline. At ground level, there's a secluded outdoor swimming pool, shrouded by trees and shrubs.

LOCATION

Sofitel Sevilla, Calle Trocadero 55, Habana Vieja, Cuba (0870 609 0964; www.sofitel.com).

Most visitors are drawn to La Habana Vieja, a Unesco world heritage site. It's Havana at its most idiosyncratic, where crumbling mansions precariously propped up by wooden posts sit beside magnificently restored colonial buildings. The Sevilla is on the outskirts of the area, so it escapes most of the noise of the salsa and son bars that pump out live music well into the early hours. The hotel borders the tree-lined Paseo del Prado, a popular boulevard for an afternoon stroll to the seafront and the site of outdoor art fairs.

Time from international airport: about 20 minutes by taxi, and around 12 pesos (£6.70) one-way.

COMFORTABLE?

The hotel was refurbished when the French group Sofitel took over the management, but the Sevilla retains its original charm with elegant Lloyd Loom-style mahogany and wicker furniture and huge, airy, shuttered rooms. All the bathrooms have been updated in stylish white tiles and marble.

Freebies: A modest set of Sevilla-branded toiletries, as well as still and sparkling bottled water.

Keeping in touch: All rooms have direct-dial telephones. In reception, there are rather sluggish computers with internet and word processing (12 pesos/£6.70 per hour).

THE BOTTOM LINE

Standard double rooms start at 195 pesos (£103) with breakfast, although special rates can often be secured through operators such as The Holiday Place (020-7644 1770; www.theholidayplace.co.uk).

I'm not paying that: Try a casa particular, a type of homestay. Private homes, licensed by the government, are allowed to offer up to two rooms to paying guests. This can yield a rewarding insight into Cuban life at a fraction of a hotel's cost. Make sure the property bears the "Arrendador Inscripto" licence sticker. A popular option in Habana Vieja is Casa 01 Eugenio y Fabio (00 53 7 862 9877), offering doubles in a colonial house from 30 pesos (£17), room only. The owner Fabio speaks English, and meals can be prepared at extra cost.

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