‘Rotten paintwork and the smell of cheap aftershave’ await visitors to
Havana’s new luxury hotel
Claire Wrathall•The Telegraph
June 5, 2017
Given the extent to which the US began last year to make it easier for
its citizens to visit Cuba, it was only a matter of time before
mainstream luxury brands turned their attention to Havana. Starwood, for
example, has announced it will be adding the Hotel Inglaterra
(established 1875) to its Luxury Collection at the end of 2019 and has
already opened a Four Points by Sheraton, one of its less exalted
brands, in the city’s Miramar district.
In terms of a proper grande dame though, Kempinski, which prides itself
on being “Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group” and celebrates its 120th
anniversary this year, has beaten them to it. Its Gran Hotel Manzana
Kempinski La Habana is already accepting reservations and opens its
doors on June 9.
It’s an unlikely fit, somehow, that the Geneva-based operators of the
stately, staid and slightly stuffy Adlon in Berlin and the excessively
blingtastic Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi should be opening in a
crumbling city where the average wage is less than £25 a month.
Certainly they would seem to be doing what they can to temper
expectations of its Old Havana location, a block east of Paseo de Martí
and El Capitolio, Cuba’s answer to the Capital in Washington, and a
15-minute walk from the Malecon, the five-mile esplanade that runs along
the Gulf coast.
Take this, headlined Welcome to Havana, from the hotel’s website: “Close
your eyes for a moment and imagine you are there. Waves crashing against
a mildewed sea wall; a young couple cavorting in a dark, dilapidated
alley; sunlight slanting across rotten peeling paintwork; a handsome
youth in a guayabera shirt leaning against a Lada; the smell of diesel
fumes and cheap aftershave; tourists with Hemingway beards…”
But it’s stranger still, somehow, that a management company
substantially owned by Thailand’s Crown Property Bureau, which manages
the Thai royal family’s wealth and assets, should have been engaged to
manage a building that belongs to Gaviota, the tourism arm of communist
Cuba’s army, which owns 67 hotels on the island and is headed by General
Luis Perez Rospide.
That said, the venerable Gran Hotel Manzana retains a certain majesty,
having been built at the turn of the last century as part of the city’s
first European-style shopping arcade, which has itself just been brought
back to life and is now home to the Cuban outposts of Armani Jeans,
Giorgio Gucci’s Giorgio G VIP, Lacoste, Montblanc, L’Occitane and
Versace, among other brands. Though not yet Chanel, even if Karl
Lagerfeld brought its 2017 cruise and resortwear collection to Havana
for a runway show on Paseo del Prado, the street that divides the old
and new parts of town earlier this month.
As to the revamped hotel, its décor has been contrived to signal
opulence, what with the Louis Quinze-inspired furniture and
Schiaparelli-pink accents one finds in its 246 bedrooms and suites.
There’s a rooftop swimming pool and terrace, a spa, a lobby bar and,
inevitably, a cigar lounge, as well as a restaurant, Confluencia, that
has sensibly taken its inspiration from the nation’s paladares, the
small independent restaurants run by locals, often out of their front
rooms, and not the state-sanctioned hotel restaurants that have blighted
so many holidays.
Wi-fi and high-speed internet access – still not a given in Cuba – will
be available in the rooms (though as is the case everywhere here, it
will be charged for). And for the moment at least, it will be in a class
of its own.
Doubles at Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana? start from US$330 (£255).
Source: ‘Rotten paintwork and the smell of cheap aftershave’ await
visitors to Havana’s new luxury hotel –