Soul and a little sauce are all part of lovingly retouched Havana stay Paseo 206’s story. Built by a senator in 1934, family lore tells that he gifted it to his mistress before it was lost in a heated poker game – and we’d expect no less in the one-time mob and gambling melee of the Vedado ‘hood. Now, the mansion’s gone the way of the locale, cleaning up its act (thanks to the Italian-Cuban descendants of the lucky winner) and retaining the best bits. Mouldings and decorative cabinetry have been brushed up, custom Italian furnishings in the Technicolors of vintage Havana and luxurious treats have been brought in, and fine old-country dining is served. From chips down to luck way up, this is a glamorous wink at the past.
12 noon, but flexible, subject to availability and a charge of US$50. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £203.65 ($249).
Rates usually include a Continental buffet breakfast with breads and spreads, fruit platters, pastries, coffee and tea, and eggs cooked as-you-like.
One of the Master Suites has ramp access.
At the hotel
Library, free WiFi. In rooms: Marshall speaker, free WiFi, turndown service, slippers and bathrobes, Hermès bath products and L'Erbolario Absinth shampoo. The Master Suites have a shared terrace and the Rooftop Suite has a private terrace with a Jacuzzi.
Our favourite rooms
After a tender 11-month restoration, you can almost feel the rum-soaked nights of the 1930s its senator owner – and his mistress, who was gifted the house in the 1940s till she lost it in a poker match – would have held here. Although it feels a bit more respectable these days now that the mouldings, floor tiles and glass cabinetry have been restored and custom Italian furnishings (in colours taken from the looks of 1940s Cuba) and Carrara finishes have been brought in. In debonair duck egg and teal, with Frette linens and Hermès bath products, there’s not a bad egg in the bunch, but the suites have the bonus of either a shared terrace or a private terrace with a Jacuzzi and wide-ranging views.
There’s no spa, but the hotel’s teamed up with local pampering squad Namaste to provide in-room massages, beautifying and more. Book at reception at least one hour beforehand.
Flats for cobbles, your dancing shoes for rumba lessons (they’re impossible in flip-flops) and an open mind: Cuba’s like no other place and learning how things work takes a little adjustment, plus many Cubanos are genuinely curious about visitors, so may well strike up a conversation. And, if you see something you like in Paseo’s gallery, all artworks can be purchased.
The hotel aims to be a cultural hub too and has its own art gallery, which has exhibited famed Cuban artists Niels Reyes and Mabel Poblet.
Dogs under 30 pounds can stay for US$50 a night, plus a US$100 cleaning fee. They need to be leashed in public and supervised throughout the stay, and cannot go in the restaurant, kitchen, on the rooftop or in the library. See more pet-friendly hotels in Havana.
The hotel has the Italian’s affection for bambini; suites sleep one under-12 and most room types connect. On request, a nanny can be hired for US$20 an hour.
Paseo Avenue has a lot of foot traffic, so sit on the terrace to see what’s trending in Habanero street style.
With Eclectico, chef Vincenzo Frassanito brings a little of the Med to Cuba. True to Italian style, its dishes are simple (tonnato, pumpkin ravioli in a parmesan fondue, grilled spiny lobster, potato-crusted swordfish), but focused on fine ingredients and craftsmanship. Pasta and gelato are handmade, and ingredients are sourced from local farms and small-scale producers.
Eclectico doubles up as a bar, with a terrace so you can watch the world go by as you drink your heavy-on-the-rum frozen daiquiri, mojito or Cuba libre. Cocktails are split into Cuban classics and international favourites, with the likes of caipiroskas, martinis, negronis, gins with fragrant mixers or two kinds of margaritas; and there’s a small but tight edit of old- and new-world wines (heavier on the Italian bottles, naturally).
Breakfast is from 7am to 10am, brunch 11am to 4pm (Sundays only), lunch from 12 noon to 3pm, and dinner 6pm to 10pm.
Paseo 206 hotel is in the Vedado neighbourhood, set on bustling thoroughfare Paseo Avenue, which leads down to Plaza de la Revolución where there’s a grand homage to Che. It’s close to cultural corridor Linea Avenue and lively esplanade the Malecón.
José Martí International Airport is a 30-minute drive from the hotel. There are direct flights from various major cities in Europe, the US, Mexico and some countries in South America. The hotel can help kick off your trip by arranging transfers in a classic American car, usually from US$50 for up to four guests, but free (pick-up only) for Smith guests. You’ll need to provide flight details more than 24 hours in advance and cancellations made within 24 hours will be charged in full.
Cuba is the only Caribbean island with a train system, so you can ride the rail all the way down to Santiago de Cuba. But, it’s more likely you’ll hop on the Hershey Electric Railway from Havana Central to the city of poets Matanzas to explore its monuments and museums, and head out to beachy Varadero.
If you’re staying in Havana then you could choose to walk and take the odd taxi, cheery yellow Cocotaxi or bike. If you do rent a car, keep in mind that it may not be the Fifties American beauty you have in your head – these are mostly owned by resident Cubans, and if you do somehow manage to convince someone to loan you one, they’re not the easiest to drive and have been dubbed ‘Frankensteins’ due to the lack of correct parts used to keep them going. Opt for the hotel’s more reliable transfer service if this is one you need to tick off the wishlist. There’s parking opposite the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
The hotel’s Vedado neighbourhood is in the more modern part of the city, although this is relative, as it was developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, so you’ll see flamboyant Belle Époque, art nouveau and art deco buildings and some fine mid-century modern monuments and mansions. It was also the stronghold of the mafia and a gambling hotspot in the Fifties – a shadier time, but with an eye-catching legacy of retro casinos and nightclubs. At the hotel, see if anyone’s showing in the on-site art gallery, or ask staff to arrange a trip to the local market with chef Vincenzo Frassanito to pick out ingredients, or send you off along the Hemingway trail. The Floridita and El Bodeguita del Medio are famous, of course, but you can pay your respects at lesser-known haunts, such as the Tropicana Cabaret, Hotel Ambos Mundos (where he started work on For Whom the Bell Tolls), and his farm outside the city Finca Vigía (where he finished it and started on The Old Man and the Sea). Colón Cemetery, José Martí Memorial and the Plaza de la Revolución offer grandiose peeks into the past, and the Museum of Decorative Arts shows off its gilding and gentility. Pose by John Lennon’s statue in his namesake park, see art expositions and live music at the Pabellón Cuba pavilion, and hangout in the Fábrica de Arte Cubano, a gallery, club and general creative thinktank set in a former cooking-oil factory. The Centro Cultural El Gran Palenque is dedicated to Cuban folk dance and Santería priests’ drumming, and holds live performances; but if you want to learn some moves after dark, grab some rum and cokes in cans and hang out with the locals grooving along the Malecón. Cabaret club El Gato Tuerto was once a somewhat salacious spot, and while it’s been tamed a little, it can still promise a fun night. If you overdo it, spend the next day lazing on the grass in Parque Almenara. To cover the Old Town sights (the Museum of the Revolution, the Capitol, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, Havana Club Rum Museum) you’ll need to take a 15-minute taxi ride.
Formerly a hush-hush paladar in a turn-of-the-century building, La Guarida is now a bit more of-the-people, or at least better known to them. It’s a dreamy spot, with saffron walls, original tiles and low lighting, and the menu is a mouth-waterer, with tacos stuffed with marlin marinated in rum, cinnamon and clove; grouper in a green sauce with slugs of sherry and a ‘lasagna’ of papaya and seafood salad in a citrus compote. Otramanera is a little more modern, with a dining room lined in warm woods and a smattering of art. It takes inspiration from Asturian food with a little Cuban kick, with fusion wins such as albacore in papaya chutney, taro fritters with fish brandade, salt tuna with crushed tomatoes and basil – plus tocinillo de cielo for dessert (a dish similar to flan that translates to ‘bacon of heaven’). Vistamar has the sea view of its name and a simple Med-style menu with ratatouille, ceviche, fish in parmesan and seafood pasta.
Set on the ground floor of the Palacio del Conde de Lombillo, Café Bohemia overlooks the Plaza Vieja and also has an elegant interior courtyard. It’s named for a cultural magazine, so cocktails have literary names and the menu serves pastas, pizzas, tapas and crusty baguettes. El Biky is a touch more sophisticated than its name suggests – slip into one of the cosy booths for hearty breakfasts and brunches washed down with café cortados.
La Casa de la Bombilla Verde AKA ‘the house of the green lightbulb’ does indeed have the sort of glow you’ll see after a few rounds of absinthe, and it leans into the Vedado’s bohemian feel with art shows, music by scene vets and quirky furnishings made of old barrels, tires, rope or comic books. Madrigal is another former paladar, working its old-school magic with vintage decor, oversized movie posters, paintings by Javier Guerra and smooth, seductive jazz.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this colonial Italo-Cubano retreat in the formerly dubious, now delightful Vedado neighbourhood and unpacked their Panama hats and humidor, a full account of their cross-cultured break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Paseo 206 in Havana…
Being strapped to the wheel of fortune is a wild ride – as dramatically evidenced by Paseo 206, a chic (although with plenty of effort behind it) boutique stay in Havana’s formerly gambling-addicted mob-run Vedado neighbourhood. Built by a senator in 1934, this mansion, caught between arts nouveau and deco, was then gifted to his mistress and eventually lost in a poker match – as family legend goes. And, to the – almost – victors the spoils: native Cuban Diana Sainz, whose grandma’s friend supposedly won it, with the help of her Italian economist husband Andrea Gallina bought the house in 2015 after Cuba started to open up. It worked its old-school romance on them and they set about restoring it for the next 11 months, an in-depth project that required re-glazing cabinetry and windows, retooling elegant mouldings, tiles and other architectural elements, painting its 10 rooms in duck-egg-blue and teal, and moving in custom Italian furnishings in the vivid blues, greens, yellows and reds of back-in-the-day Vedado. With little luxuries like Frette linens and Hermès bath products, a gallery that celebrates Cuban art and a restaurant that celebrates Italian cuisine – both with gusto – and a fine line in rum-based drinks soundtracked with soft jazz, it brings both European panache and Caribbean soul into play. The Gallina-Sainz family might have taken a spin on it, but it’s a gamble that paid off.