Sleepover: Hotel Santa Isabel

A bed for the night in Cuba
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The Independent Travel

The Location

The Location

In Old Havana, the most attractive quarter of Cuba's amazing capital. The hotel is in the Plaza de Armas, one of the loveliest of Havana's squares. Built in the 17th century, this small establishment was a noble family's residence before becoming a hotel in 1867.

The USP

A dead heat between the rooms with a view and the tranquil courtyard, where light flickers off a fountain. Ask for one of the rooms on the second floor (third floor in Cuba) overlooking the square, which have terraces where you can sip a cocktail and watch life pass by.

The comfort factor

This is one of Cuba's first boutique hotels. The wooden shutters are painted pastel blue, while the bedsteads and light fittings feature wrought-iron. The rooms are large and contain period furniture and modern paintings from leading Cuban artists. Gorgeous rocking chairs are placed along the cool, shady corridors.

The bathroom

Beautiful tiles around the ceiling and a lovely marble washbasin and wood-framed mirror. Hot water is abundant, not always the case when Communists attempt four-star luxury.

The food and drink

Cuisine is not Cuba's strong point, but the hotel's El Condado restaurant makes as good a fist as anywhere in town. Lobster from £15 or shrimp with garlic are the pick of the bunch. Unusually for Cuba, it also serves beef, with a Creole sauce. A good buffet breakfast is served on the patio of El Globo bar, on the edge of the plaza. You will probably be joined by a couple of mournful dogs.

The people

A good mix of ages, from young couples (some choose to get married here) to well-heeled Europeans and Canadians. A photograph of Jimmy Carter, a former guest, has pride of place in the courtyard bar.

The area

A particular feature of old Havana is how local people live cheek by jowl with tourists, with families wandering around the Plaza de Armas, especially at dusk. There is a book fair daily, except Sunday, where most sellers speak good English and you can browse through works of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as well as unlikely curiosities such as biographies of Elvis Presley and Shirley Temple. The square also houses the City Museum, which maps Havana's colonial heritage.

The access

The hotel has level flooring, and a superb old Otis lift, with more wrought iron, which gives access to all floors.

The damage

Reserving any Cuban hotel can be time-consuming, unreliable or impossible. It is recommended that you book through a specialist travel agent such as Journey Latin America (020-8747 3108; www.journeylatinamerica. co.uk), which offers a room at the hotel for £127 for a single and £166 for a double per night, with breakfast.

The address

Hotel Santa Isabel, calle Baratillo 9, Plaza de Armas, La Habana Vieja, Cuba (00 537 860 8201; email commercial@habaguanexhsisabel.co.cu).

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