HAVANA, march 4th Tucked away on the most famous street in Havana, near Plaza de la Revolución, sits Paseo 206, a restored colonial mansion and Havana’s first luxury boutique hotel. The eight-room hotel is the brainchild ofItalian economist Andrea Gallina, and his Cuban wife Diana Sainz.
“We aimed to bring the charm of the époque houses back to life, and give guests the comfort of a luxury hotel while staying in a Vedado mansion,” Sainz explained recently.
The manor was built in 1934 by a senator who worked in the administration of then president Gerardo Machado. Family lore has it that the senator gave the house to his mistress in the 1940s, and then lost it a few years later in a grueling poker game to a friend of Sainz’s grandfather.
While the couple had no intention of owning a hotel, when they saw the house for the first time in 2015, shortly after current president Raúl Castro restarted diplomatic relations with the United States and opened Cuba to American tourism, they knew they had to give it a shot.
“It was love at first sight—we saw it and bought it right away,” continued Sainz, who relocated her family to Havana from Hanoi and spent the next eleven months restoring the house to its original, old world grandeur by refinishing intricate wooden moldings and replacing glass on original cabinetry.
It is a truism of spending time in Havana, but walking through the hotel you do feel as if you are stepping through time, which is especially true of the library room, where guests can enjoy an aperitif before heading out for the evening. “We looked to the colors of 1940s Havana,” Sainz said of the brightly hued custom Italian-designed furniture they used to modernize the space.
The hotel is equipped with four junior and master suites, accentuated with velvet furniture reminiscent of the time when Havana was America’s most luxurious playground. The grand room on the rooftop has its own entrance and hot tub as well as a view overlooking the Malecón, the famous promenade along the Havana Harbor.
Even if you can’t get a room, make sure to visit their lobby restaurant, Eclectico, which in six short months has become a top-rated restaurant in the city under the watch of chef Vincenzo Frassanito, who serves Italian so scrumptious, you may think you’re in Italy not Cuba. Their unique, homemade dishes are prepared using locally sourced ingredients, with highlights including pumpkin truffle ravioli, octopus carpaccio, and rum tobacco gelato for dessert (yes, it’s a good).
While there are suggestions that luxury hotel groups like Starwood may soon move to get a slice of the Cuban hospitality market, private couples like Sainz and Gallina, with firmly-set roots, are the forefront of the country’s booming hotel business. And, they have plans to expand this year. “Thirty years ago, no Cuban was even thinking about renting a house or a room to a tourist,” Sainz said “But the landscape of Cuba is changing, so we seized this opportunity. And we’re so lucky we did.”