Cuba is one of the most unique countries in the Caribbean, an island brimming with vibrancy, soul inspiring music, and villages full of Cubans who thrive off a culture of social interaction and a characteristic of openness. I recently went on the most incredible art and culture tour where I visited both Havana and Vinales with a small group of women lead by my friend Rachel Melvald, Founder of Psychitecture. My time in Cuba was happy. Home to incredible history, architecture, culture, art and design, this trip was a beautiful experience. Most of the time we had no internet which made it so much easier to live in the moment. We drove around in vintage convertibles, learned to Salsa dance, sang, went to the ballet, museums, artist studios, Hemingway House, met new friends, rode horses, tried cuban cigars and above all I got to share this with my sister (and fab contemporary artist) Randi Russo.
Below are the highlights of where to stay, dine, explore and what to pack for Cuba or your next warm weather trip. We had a packed itinerary and got a lot in during our four day stay.
We stayed at The Hotel La Reserva, a boutique hotel intimately related to the neighborhood with a spirit that reflected Cuban soul. Characterized by Spanish style, both through the tile floors and big windows that open to the patio this balance between old restored house with amenities of a modern hotel were ideal. The in-house Art Gallery offered selected works of contemporary Cuban artists. Another fabulous boutique hotel to check out is Paseo 206 (we had dinner there and a tour of the property).
Cuban cuisine is a blend of Spanish, African and Caribbean influences. This cultural diversity in cooking results a noteworthy combination of spices and flavor. One of the nights, we ate at La Guarida a magical fine dining space offering family history and ambience. Contrasting this with oceanside served lunch of fresh lobster at Miya Cayito the following day with pre-ballet private dining experience at Paseo 206 later that night. Paseo 206 is a ‘romantic jewel nestled among the tree-lined streets’ in the heart of Havana. The Executive Chef, Vincenzo Frassanito at Eclectico, offers a distinctive interpretation of the Italian cuisine, emphasizing artisanal ingredients, working with local farmers and small producers.
With so much to explore in Cuba we indulged in the art culture. One highlight included our trip to Fabrica de Arte (FAC). The factory inspired art gallery is a super hip communal space where pieces from Cuban artists are displayed to the public. The atmosphere is like a combination of a bar, art gallery, performance arena and club. The factory brings together collective Cuban identity; and modern arts including design and architecture, visual arts, dance, and fashion. FAC is an absolute must-see!
On our last full day of the trip, we went riding through endless fields in the Viñales valley with its green tobacco and fertile red soil, it felt like a land stuck in time. Lined with small wooden homes with faded paint and passing locals on old bicycles, horses and driving vintage American cars. At the Tobacco farm we experienced cigar rolling with the farm owners. A few interesting facts on Cuban cigars - 90% of the profits are paid to the government and they remove the center vein of the tobacco leaf which is the most addictive part containing most of the nicotine! I want to mention how much I normally dislike the smell and taste of cigars, however, these were smooth and sweet due to the fresh honey they use to seal their cigars.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A WARM WEATHER TRIP
With a beautiful blend of cultures, Cuban fashion is very casual, simple and lightweight especially for the warm climate. Think head wraps, cotton dresses, sexy, femine and colorful.
During this trip I took some of my favorite outfits which included: Alice + Olivia dress which I wore to the ballet. Then the gorgeously femine Wild Thing maxi skirt and tie top by Spell & The Gypsy Collective.
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From the market visit in San Cristobal to a delicious lunch at hidden gem, Café Laurent, my time in Cuba was rich with culture and a variety of experiences. If you are interested in an organized custom trip to Cuba contact Rachel Melvald, Founder of Psychitecture at Rachel@psychitecture.com.
I also met New York fashion stylist Evan Elkowitz who offers customized fashion and arts tours in Cuba for small groups of women. Her next tour is April 10th - 14th, 2019. For more information regarding her tours, email Evan at email@example.com.
Tips to remember for your Trip to Cuba:
• Wear comfortable walking shoes
• Bring jeans for horseback riding
• Pack a Water Bottle
• Take along some toilet paper (limited amounts given out in public bathrooms) and pack anti-bacterial wipes
• Your bank card or credit card will not work in Cuba so you want to make sure to bring enough money with you! Euros better as the American dollar is automatically penalized 10% on any exchanges.
I left Cuba with a feeling of appreciation and the trip also sparked a desire to travel more in 2019. I am sure to go back again as I was deeply touched by the Cuban lifestyle, culture and people. Definitely a destination to add to your bucket list!