This hotel was made famous by Ernest Hemingway who regularly stayed here and wrote the opening chapters of "For whom the Bell Tolls" in room 551. We took the lift—an ancient affair holding four people and the attendant—to the top floor and the infamous roof garden café. We were there just after mid-day to enjoy a refreshing glass of water and a coffee. As if to celebrate our arrival, the resident band started to play cheerful Cuban music and I joined many a tourist opening my shutter across the rooftop views of Old Havana Town. I settled down with my notebook and a view of the sea and, as I was penning a journal, dreamt that perhaps the great Ernest had sat exactly in this position. Certainly the spirit of Hemingway is ever present and I pondered what a catch he would have been for IgoUgo, but then my dreams were interrupted as the waiter arrived with my coffee. Typically strong, this beverage would maintain my caffeine levels for the rest of the day.
Once again, I was surprised at the cost of food and drinks in such a popular venue, it was no more expensive than anywhere else. We sat in comfortable, heavy, wrought-iron chairs amidst a bright array of colourful mosaic tiles, protected from the heat of the midday sun in the shade of a substantial gazebo. This is a great roof garden restaurant and a vast number of potted plants and shrubs were flourishing. As the house band completed their performance, the strains of music from the rest of the town seemed to surround us. Havana seems to have music everywhere.
After resting our weary limbs, we took the lift down to the fifth floor where, for $2, you can visit the 1920s room reserved for Hemingway. It was a small, compact residence but had superb views across the town and the desk set up in the way he would have had it certainly made the place live. Room 551 has a small but ever-changing exhibition of Hemingway memorabilia and, when we visited, the theme was his African Safari. He was a great lover of Africa and his traveling and safari clothes were on display alongside souvenirs of his stay. But at the end of the day, the lasting memory of this museum is the tremendous view and the quirky lift.
It only takes fifteen minutes or so to enjoy the museum and you'll be sure that the attendant will give you her fullest attention whilst you're there. We wandered the fifth floor and then returned to the lift to check out the ground floor, where there's a free permanent photographic exhibition of Hemingway and his life in Cuba. This is a stylish 1920s hotel, made famous by the writer but also very accessible and great to check out for a midday snack or afternoon coffee.