48 Hours at the Kempinski Gran Hotel Manzana, Havana
For everyone who is not following our blog for some time already, I have to admit I am a total lover of hotels. If there is any new, exciting hotel opening somewhere in the world I need to see it and stay there. It's like a hobby to myself and I can't get enough of it. So it was back in January when I was already preparing our trip to the Caribbean, arranging flights and selecting hotels when suddenly out of nowhere Kempinski launched the news to open a hotel in Havana. Cuba was on our list to be visited and so it did not take long until we decided to book a room at the back then soon-to-be opened Kempinski. Compared to the Saratoga (the leading hotel in Havana until the opening of the Kempinski) the new Gran Hotel Manzana seemed to be extremely pricey with patio rooms for double the price of other luxury hotels in Havana. Anyways it is the first official five star hotel in Havana and I simply wanted to see it. We flew in from Vienna via Miami and a layover of one night in Grand Cayman until we finally reached the airport of Havana. Everything seemed super exciting and we couldn't wait to discover one of the hottest places to see in the world.
Interestingly our prejudices were not confirmed, there was only one vintage car outside the terminal so we took a (for cuban standards relatively good - for European standards an old and not well maintained) minivan towards the Gran Hotel Manzana del Gomez. While the taxi driver did not even know they opened we were all in for a surprise. Havana is such an interesting place and while it's actually a dirty city from the street, it has auch a special character that you don't care about that detail anymore. It's loud, it's old but it's somewhat we always wanted to see being born as a Millennial. I could call it the white palace as it shimmers like white like no other building in the city, however it states Kempinski Gran Hotel Manzana as the minivan slowly stoppes in front of two big gray carpets. Unpacking the car and heading towards the front desk - the idea of a bellman has not yet arrived at Gran Hotel Manzana (I guess it's a hard job for Kempinski to educate the all Cuban staff) so we carried our bags to the room by ourselves. I don't know why but I did not really expect a tour of the hotel or a room tour in Cuba, so I would not say they failed to provide a five star check-in. Good News for all fellow Cuba travelers: There is free wi-fi for the entire stay at Kempinski Gran Hotel Manzana. It's actually one of the best working but remember you always need to enter code and pin again once you put your phone on standby.
When we arrived in our room, we were welcomed by bright colors, a grey tiled floor and an open bathroom with separate toilet, big vanity desk and (a total unqiue thing in Cuba) a walk-in shower area with a seperate bath tub. All toiletries are by Kempinksi which are not too bad and they even provided us with toothbrushes and shaving kits which I did not expect neither. Water pressure was flawless and the same like in Europe, as was the wi-fi connectivity in-room. The only app we could not access was Snapchat - so absolutely convenient. Unfortunately our budget was only enough for a patio room however we did not plan to spend most of the time inside the room, however I would have appreciated an upgrade to an outside facing room as one of their first guests. Anyways the entire room was super cool, there even was a flat-screen tv (tough we did not have time to check the channels) and guess what (!): a brand new Bose iPhone Docking station with the lightning charger. I was really impressed since the room itself did not feel to be in Cuba at all. The only cuban thing seemed to be the bed and pillow (only one per person) which I can tell was not Kempinski style.
There are many highlights about this hotel but my favorite was the infinity roof-top pool overlooking Il Capitolo, Gran Teatro and the main square of Havana. The vast outdoor pool is heated and offers stunning views of the cuban capital. Next to the pool there is a bar and a restaurant overlooking El Malecon and the sunset, while on the other side there is the entrance to the magnificent spa area. On the second evening it was raining so badly that we decided to do a spa session on the vitality pool overlooking the old part of Havana. All in all felt perfectly designed and the spa really looks amazing plus the pool is super warm and chic. When I headed for my workout, I was speechless when I found out that they have the latest equipment of TechnoGym. The first thing that came to my mind was how much the import of all these stuff must have been. Anyways it was much fun working out there with the most magnificent view of the city.
Breakfast is served on the first floor in the second restaurant next to the amazing cigar lounge with rum butler and the main lobby bar. While the majority of rooms are sold on a room only basis, we decided to go for a breakfast included basis and really enjoyed a western styled meal in the morning. The entire buffet is set to be breaking standards in Cuba with a vast and esthetic selection of fruits, hot dishes, bread, pastries, juices and cold cuts. No matter if Italian Parmesan cheese, Spanish Iberico ham or a glass of Prosecco - the breafast at Gran Hotel Manzana is certainly the best in Havana, tough not sure if it's worth the 30 CUC per person. Bear in mind that the orange juice in Cuba tastes different than the one in Europe - same for the bread. If you wanna be sure, go for toast.
To briefly talk about location, the Kempinski is situated next to Il Capitolo where all major hotels are located. You can access the old part of Havana directly next to the hotel and the walk to the major sights takes you 10 minutes. I loved the fact that La Floridata is just accross the main entrance - it's the bar where Hemingway always had his Daiquiri, again better don't get drunk there as a glass of this drink can set you back 20 CUC and you might enjoy a fresher version just a little bit up the street in one of the typical restaurants. Generally if you wanna go out for dinner my three places are Havana 2 Miami next to Melia Cohiba, ChaChaCha restaurant behind the hotel or my absolute favorite Il Cuisinero next door of Frabica dell Arte Cubans (FDAC) - the most amazing place in Havana and definitely worth checking it out.
If you seek for a revolutionary stay in Havana with a perfect hardware including top notch spa, fitness, pool and gastronomic outlets, make sure to get yourself a room at the Kempinski Gran Hotel Manzana del Gomez. It is essential to go for an outside facing room as it can get very loud in the patio rooms when the music is playing on the rooftop.