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Hit the Beach

With its Glistening Sand and Luxury Hotels, Varadero Harks Back to Cuba's Glory Days
Thomas Matthews
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99

(continued from page 1)

One artifact of the past is worth a visit: Xanadu, the mansion built by the Du Pont family in the 1920s. Now a restaurant and bar called Las Américas, it reflects an utterly different conception of how to live on a beach: the walls are thick, the windows small, the decor heavy and ornate. It's hard to visualize the house's inhabitants in bathing suits. But the dining room is opulent and grand (though the food is undistinguished), and the wine cellar, original to the house, offers the island's best selections. The top-floor bar offers long views, tasty cocktails and a dance band. It's the closest you can get to the decadent luxury of the days prior to the revolution.

New hotels continue to be erected on Varadero. If the latest ventures prove successful, the island's services, activities and restaurants will surely progress as well. Whether they can justify their steadily increasing prices in the face of competition from the rest of the Caribbean remains to be seen. But whether economic indicators rise or fall, Varadero can always count on clear water, balmy breezes and the lazy caress of the tropical sun.

Thomas Matthews is a senior editor of Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado's sister publication.

ISLAND LODGINGS

Outside of Cuba, telephone numbers need the 53-5 prefix.

Meliá Varadero
Playa de las Américas
Carretera de las Morlas
Phone: 66 70 13
Fax: 66 70 12
http://www.solmelia.es
Built in 1991, Meliá Varadero is the first five-star hotel on the resort island and certainly the best. With nearly 500 rooms, it was constructed to handle large groups, but it also caters to high-end independent travelers.

The rooms are clean, bright and comfortable, with tile floors, wicker furniture and contemporary marble bathrooms. All rooms have balconies; many have stunning ocean views. Swimming pools are set amid lush tropical plantings; the public beach is large and clean. Rates for double rooms run from $125 for a standard to $195 for a suite in the low season, rising to $155 and $225 in the high season. Groups can sometimes negotiate significant savings.

Meliá Las Américas
Playa de las Américas
Phone: 66 76 00
Fax: 66 76 25
http://www.solmelia.es
Though built in 1994 as an upscale alternative to the Meliá Varadero, the Meliá Las Américas doesn't justify its higher prices.

Las Américas basically replicates the decor and services of Varadero. The rooms are slightly larger and most have balconies. One significant draw is the hotel's proximity to the island's only golf course, Xanadu (once part of the Du Pont property; greens fees are $45 for hotel guests, $60 for others). Four interlocking swimming pools are surrounded by plush landscaping. Las Américas also offers bungalows, detached structures that are closer to the beach; they are small, however, and the decor is uninspired. Room rates range from $120 to $175 for a standard double in the low season, rising to $290 and $320 in the high season, with the larger bungalows as much as $355.

Club Varadero
Carretera Las Americas Km 3
Phone: 66 70 30
Fax: 66 70 05
This all-inclusive 270-room property, which opened in 1992, is part of the Super Club chain, which runs resorts in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. The base price includes room, food, beverages (including alcoholic drinks), sports equipment, activities and most other incidentals, excluding only Champagne, telephone charges, massages and laundry service.


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