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Where to eat & drink in Havana & how to visit Ernest Hemingway's old Cuban home, Finca Vigía

After spending a few days reading books by Ernest Hemingway in Trinidadone of Cuba's coolest towns—I was curious to explore the places the writer took inspiration from, so I travelled back to Havana for a trip of discovery, good food and mighty strong drinks.

Vintage cars driving along Havana's sea front
Vintage cars driving along Havana's sea front

Set mostly on the Gulf Stream and in a small village near Havana, Hemingway's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Old Man and the Sea tells the tale of an ageing fisherman, on a tiresome quest to catch a colossal marlin. So intrigued to see the place the book had been so diligently typed, back in 1951, I flagged down a bright blue, vintage Chevrolet Bel Air Impala to drive me out of Havana’s hot and heady streets and into the countryside of San Francisco de Paula, the suburb Hemingway lived and worked for over 20 years.

Palm tree and the sky above Hemingway's Cuban home
The sky above Hemingway's Cuban home

His home, Finca Vigía has been left exactly as it was when Hemingway lived there, mounted gazelle heads still watch over the dark wooden dining table from the bright white walls above and thousands of old books sit side by side, crammed into bookshelves in almost every room. 

One of Hemingway's desks at Finca Vigía
One of Hemingway's desks at Finca Vigía

Just above the tiling behind the door in his bathroom are daily weight readings etched directly onto the wall in a series of messy pencilled scribbles, while copies of the New York and Miami newspapers he loved to read lay strewn across desktops and beds. 

Hemingway's Cuban bedroom
Hemingway's Cuban bedroom

But it’s the places Hemingway actually wrote that enthralled me most. His aptly named, ‘Corona 3’ typewriter still sits on a wooden desk on the top floor of a slender tower adjacent to the house, and while the view across palm trees out towards the sea seems the perfect writing aide, Hemingway actually preferred to stand in his bedroom to write, shunning a chair and desk to type his daily words. Rumoured to be an early riser and heavy drinker, he would tap away each and every day from around 6am until lunchtime, before rewarding himself for his disciplined morning’s work with whiskey or gin. To his own admission he ‘drank to make other people more interesting’ and his love of the afternoon tipple ensured he was well-known on Havana’s social scene. 

Where to eat & drink in Havana for Hemingway vibes?

A regular at Floridita, a bar in old Havana, Hemingway once drank a record 13 double daiquiris in a single sitting and on the menu today is a maraschino and grapefruit daiquiri mixed in his honour. Curious to see the place for myself I stopped by one afternoon for my very own Hemingway Special and was delighted to find a life-sized bronze statue of the man himself, leaning permanently against the bar. As waiters wearing bright red bow-ties and perfectly pressed white shirts manoeuvred skilfully around the glamorous bar, live music began and the rum went to my head, I absolutely understood what the old man loved so much about Floridita, and indeed, Havana.

Bar Floridita in Havana, Cuba with vintage car outside
Bar Floridita in Havana, Cuba

Hypnotic, bold, brash, Havana is a true one-off and as I became acquainted with the place and its provocative demeanour I fell deeper in love with the labyrinth-like streets that revealed eye-popping scenes of self-assured dancing, cool characters, hypnotic music and colourful, crumbling mansions. Havana is a city that exudes confidence and I couldn’t figure out if the country's lack of advertisements and outsider influence added to the tenacity of the place or it was simply inbuilt. Inspired by Hemingway’s intoxicated nights and spurred on by Havana’s carefree vibe, I hunted out bars and restaurants each evening, strolling through different parts of the dimly lit city. Cafe El Mercurio provided coffee topped with rum, champagne cocktails were sipped at another of Hemingway’s haunts, Sloppy Joe’s, and La Guarida’s marlin tacos were so good I returned twice. During the weekend, an old converted factory now known as Fábrica de Arte Cubano lured me with displays of modern art, strong cocktails and sweaty dancing, before the rustic room I was staying in at Hotel Sevilla proved too enticing and a 1950’s Cadillac taxi dropped me home as the sun began to rise.

Drinking coffee the next morning, I watched swallows dart in and around the open windows of the sun-filled breakfast terrace, almost in harmony with the violin player’s melodious tune. Hemingway’s cherished city is so full of excitement and joy that a sense of deep contentment made me consider if I too could live a life in Havana—it might just have to be my next base.

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