I was exceedingly excited about going to Havana; I was not very enthused about Havana’s seemingly dismal hotel choices. The Kempinski Gran Hotel Manzana was the only and obvious choice.
I have not stayed at a Kempinski hotel before, nor have they really appealed to me. However I must admit that my pre-conceived ideas of the brand have stopped me from looking into a stay at one of their properties. The few that I had endeavoured to look at seemed generic and dated for my taste, however the brand spanking Havana hotel had a different type of allure. After seeing the super sleek website imagery of the glittering new property, I was sold.
Built at the beginning of last century, the Kempinski Gran Hotel Manzana occupies a whole block in Old Havana. The brilliant location sees the property directly opposite The Museum of Fine Arts with Parque Central to the left and El Floridita (Ernest Hemingway’s favourite place for a tipple) to the right. The hotel is comprised of 246 rooms and housed in the beautifully restored Manzana de Gomez shopping mall. The European style shopping arcade has been returned to its former glory with shops including Versace and Armani Jeans.
The drive from the airport is an assault on the senses and the poverty of the country is very apparent. This is completely juxtaposed as you pull up to the grand entrance of the gleaming Gran Hotel Manzana. Luxury oozes from the building before you even step out of the taxi and I just couldn’t wait to get inside.
As Kempinski’s first outpost in the Americas, I was worried that the vibe of the city would be lost and it would feel as though you were anywhere in the world. This was not the case and a taste of Havana blended seamlessly into the opulent design. I did think the lobby was slightly ostentatious and lacked character, however the second floor and beyond were simply stunning.
We stayed in a Gran Deluxe Room which boasted 6.5 meter high ceilings and not one but two sets of French doors looking directly out onto the forecourt below and The Museum of Fine Art opposite. You could see both the sights to the left and the right of the property which by sunset were immersed in the most beautiful pink light.
My room was grey with splashes of turquoise and featured a bathroom not a dissimilar size to my flat in London. You could have easily had a party of 12 in the shower room alone. Double sinks adorned one wall with a wonderful free standing tub on the other. As someone that sleeps in an eye mask even with the curtains closed, the blackout curtains were more than adequate. In fact you could have slept for days in there with no indication of the time at all. Lights and electrics were controlled by a panel by the bed and the Bose speakers were a great addition. There was also ample storage, however the age-old question resounded. Why do they never give you enough hangers?
On the second floor you will find the El Arsenal lobby bar, cigar lounge, Constante bar and Confluencia restaurant where breakfast is served. The Lobby Bar was very pleasant with its mustard and aubergine hues however I must admit not a very inviting place for a drink, perhaps due to its sheer size. The cigar lounge was a great place to while away the day, bathed in the most wonderful afternoon sunlight. However it was Constante that was most appealing, with its tiled floors, gold accents and French doors allowing you to soak up the city from the comfort of the hotel. Although I appreciated the design I think it was the Mojito Royale’s that kept luring me back, a mojito topped with prosecco…my two favourite drinks combined!
Moving toward the top of the building it was the breath-taking rooftop that really stole the show, featuring a sensational infinity pool, lounge area, bar and restaurant. Life does not get any better than sipping daiquiris in the pool, whilst observing the spectacular panoramic views. Even the vistas from the gym, which resides on the same floor, are exceptional. It is easy to see why the tourists flock here potentially to the dissatisfaction of the paying guests.
The pool service was extremely attentive and the staff were on hand to attend to your every whim, bringing you a fresh cocktail or a complementary canapé. However and this is a big however, the food at the hotel was the worst that we experienced during our whole trip.
I had been warned that people do not travel to Cuba for the cuisine, although I expected to get a decent fare in the hotel. This was in fact the complete opposite. On the first evening we decided to keep it simple and head to the rooftop restaurant, where we experienced a rather questionable meal. One of the delights that graced the menu was spaghetti with satay sauce. I opted for a lacklustre tuna tartare. The pork was edible but uninspiring. The lunchtime options were slightly better but not what you would expect in a five-star establishment owned by an international hotel brand.
The breakfast spread was far superior with a large assortment of pastries, cured meats, cheese, cereals and a hot buffet including bacon, scrambled eggs, croquettes and other options which changed daily. There was also a whole leg of Serrano ham which seemed slightly over the top, as well as à la carte options including American style pancakes.
There are so many five-star qualities to this hotel however there are still elements that need to be addressed as the hotel goes into its second year. It is all in the detail and some of these details were missing; the breakfast menus were printed out on a bit of paper as if you were in the local café, the mini bar was un-stocked for half the week, there was a complete lack of fresh orange juice as well as any edible bar snacks, the doormen were stroppy and the smell of petrol perforated the room through the air conditioning unit. Additionally the price of the stay was relative to the brand but not relative to the destination, something Kempinski may want to address.
Despite these small quibbles, The Kempinski Gran Hotel Manzana is deserving of its title as Cuba’s most luxurious hotel. The super stylish design, relaxed vibe, free WiFi, central location and sensational rooftop make up for any of its short comings and I would definitely stay again (if they will have me!).