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1. Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana

Proudly touted as Cuba’s first “real” luxury hotel, this former 19th-century shopping arcade underwent a five-year facelift before opening as a hotel in June 2017 with a refurbished facade and cool grey and teal interiors by South African studio Archipolitan. Start your exploration in the basement to see a preserved portion of the 350-year-old colonial wall that once protected the city and harbour from marauding pirates. Next, order a basil mojito at Constante Bar – named after El Floridita’s famed cocktail king Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, credited for making Ernest Hemingway’s favourite daiquiri – before ending up on the roof to catch the sun setting over El Capitolio from the infinity pool.

kempinski.com

2. 5 Sentidos

A swirling metal art installation affixed to the yellow wall of this bustling new paladar spells out the words Inventiva Nacional (national inventiveness). You can taste the creativity in chef Dany Echevarría López’s tender leg of lamb (slowly braised in red wine, tomato, eggplant and cinnamon) and his Esfera de Guayaba, a guava cream cheese-filled orb sprinkled with crumbled graham cracker and mint sprigs  – the perfect hit of sweet and sour.

paladar5sentidos.com

El del Frente

Photo: Asori Soto

3. El del Frente

Duck into an unassuming doorway at O’Reilly 303 and follow the sound of whirring blenders and clinking ice cubes to a spot at the bar lined with vases of fresh celery leaf, cilantro and parsley, all sourced from Finca Santa Marta, near Varadero. Ask bartender Wilson for an Under the Bridge, an off-menu daiquiri made with habanero and mango that he was inspired to create while listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

O’Reilly 303, between Habana and Aguiar, 53-7-863-0206

4. Habana 1791

Inside a former 18th-century mansion, the scents of mariposa, sandalwood and even chocolate waft from rows of brightly coloured ceramic bottles filled with fragrances made with Cuban ingredients. Don’t miss the retro lab space in the back, where the perfumes are concocted – a blackboard scribbled with chemical compound equations hangs above a backlit counter of antique glass decanters.

Mercaderes 156, between Obrapia and Lamparilla, 53-7-861-3525

5. Mercado San Rafael

Locals head to this open-air market on Calle San Rafael early in the day when the meat is freshest and the best produce is available (all stalls must charge the same prices, so quality determines what sells first). Wander aisles lined with plantain, lime and malanga, keeping an eye out for the gangs of resident cats on the tin roof above the butchers’ stalls, lounging as they wait for choice scraps to be tossed their way.

San Rafael, between Escobar and Gervasio

Rum cocktails

3 more spots to rum wild

Climb La Guarida’s worn marble spiral staircase to a hopping rooftop terrace and quaff cocktails like The Mansion, with Havana Club 7, mint, peach jam and fresh pineapple.

laguarida.com

 

Immortalize your visit to La Bodeguita del Medio, where Hemingway famously swilled mojitos, by scrawling your name on the walls alongside those of Nat King Cole and Salvador Allende.

Empedrado 207, between Cuba and San Ignacio, 53-7-867-1374

 

If El Cocinero’s lush rooftop garden feels too crowded, sip your Dark and Stormy (in a copper julep cup) in the industrial building’s towering brick smokestack under a chandelier made of old snorkels.

elcocinerocuba.com

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CUBA     HAVANA