The 22-story Meliá Cohiba hotel towers over Havana's seaside promenade, known as the malecon. The shiny new building stands in contrast to the surrounding dilapidated neighborhoods and other nearby run-down hotels. But at night, the hotel shows off its true glory. Huge floodlights cast a blue-green, metallic-like glow on the facade, turning it into an otherworldly beacon that can't help but send out a single message: This is the future of Cuba.
Finally finished after seven years in construction, the 462-room hotel is owned by Cubanacan, a government agency, and managed by Grupo Sol, a Spanish concern that owns Meliá Hotels around the world. The chain operates 172 hotels globally, and owns 110 of those outright. The Havana property opened for business in late February but didn't have all the rooms available until late April. The hotel contains all the modern amenities--including a gym, a sauna and a complete business center--another contrast to the other hotels in Havana.
Modern Spanish design dominates the look and feel of the hotel. It is modern and clean, without visual clutter. The lobby is airy and open, with large leather couches. The floors and pillars are all tan marble. The rooms are decorated in soft pastel colors, and everything from the beds to the carpets could be found in any world-class hotel. The swimming pool occupies a series of levels on a terrace where the waters are set off by bright red pillars. The water seems to spill out of the pool before disappearing down drains set level with the terrace floor, creating the effect that you can walk on the water.
The hotel's restaurants currently are hampered by the lack of foodstuffs in Cuba. But the hotel's main restaurant serves up various sandwiches and grilled meats and often has an outstanding buffet with a wide assortment of meats, seafoods, salads and vegetables. The gourmet dining room, called Abanico de Cristal, is trying to set itself apart; the menu is drawn from historical records discovered in libraries in Havana. Carlos Villota Hernández, the hotel's director, says, "Meliá always tries to take something from the local area. These dishes you can't find in Havana today. But they are traditional Spanish cuisine that had been put in the hands of the local Africans."
A recent dinner included turtle soup (Cuba still allows the capture of one plentiful type of turtle) and sopa habanera (made with almonds, garlic and tomatoes). The native menu's main courses consisted of Shrimp Puerto Principe, which has a thickened parsley and garlic sauce, and grouper spiced with garlic. In season, the restaurant also serves the local venison. The desserts were also excellent. Winners included a pineapple flan (custard); a coquimol, a feathery light coconut cream; and Pensamiento de Habanero ("Havanan Thoughts"), a combination of honey, almonds and coconut cream. Standard continental dishes are also served, including veal and steaks, along with excellent seafood, including shrimp and lobster.
But the hotel's pièce de la résistance is its smoking bar, called El Relicario. The cigars are supplied by Habanos S.A. and include top sizes of Cohiba (Lancero, Corona Especial, Esplendido), Montecristo ("A" and Nos. 1, 2, 3), Partagas (de Partagas, Corona), Romeo y Julieta Churchills, Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas and Punch Double Coronas. Try one of the outstanding aged Cuban rums, either seven-year-old or 15-year-old Havana Club, or the very expensive 25-year-old called Edmundo Dantes. There are few things finer than to smoke a great Cuban cigar and sip an aged Cuban rum.
-- Gordon Mott
Phone: (537) 33 36 36
Fax: (537) 33 45 55
Rooms Rates: $150 to $400 for a suite