In the war
twilight, the silhouette of a man can be seen wading in the pool of the Hotel Nacional and smoking a long, pungent cigar
. Forty years ago, it could have been Winston Churchill
, who had an affinity for this grand hotel in Havana, but today it is simply another tourist enjoying the facilities at the city`s finest hotel.
The Nacional showcases old Cuban
traditions for luxury and service and suggests that they have not been completely forgotten in the wake of the 1959 Revolution. A face-lift costing $64 million has brought the hotel back to its former glory. Everything-the simple yet tasteful rooms and apartments, elegant dining areas and vibrant swimming pools-has been restored.
Located on a small knoll overlooking the entrance to Havana Bay, the Nacional, belonging to Intercontinental Hotelss (which was property of PAN AM Airway and at the same time to the Chase Manhattan Bank of the Rockefeller Family) was originally built in 1928 through a joint agreement with the Cuban
government and U.S.-based banks. The project firm was Mc Kim, Mead and White of New York. Purdy & Henderson Company firm was in charge of the construction, using 38 thousand barrels of Portland cement (6440 tons). The hotel had a glamorous opening on the night of December 30th 1930. As soon as it was completed, tourists from America flooded the hotel`s spacious reception areas, dining rooms and gardens. It was `the` place to be in Havana. This hotel was frequented by film legends like Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, and Ava Gardner - their pictures decorate the walls of the hotel`s café bar.
Hotel Nacional is inextricably linked to the mobster years. In 1946 Lucky Luciano
called a summit at the Nacional at which the carving up of Havana was on the agenda. In 1955 the Nacional`s casino
and nightclub were opened and managed by Meyer Lansky
In 1990 the government decided to renovate the hotel and bring it back to its showpiece status. In May 1992, the 483-room hotel reopened, catering primarily to businessmen and high-class tourists. Unlike most other hotels in Cuba, the Nacional does not focus on the package tour business, giving it an altogether more professional and luxurious ambiance.
The Nacional is now a major business center in Havana. Businessmen are in abundance, speaking English and Spanish and making deals. The Havana Libre hotel used to be where the deals were made, but the power center is quickly moving to the Nacional. There`s even an executive floor in the hotel with concierge service, meeting rooms, faxes and computers. All the guest rooms have air conditioning and are well-equipped with minibars, direct line telephones and cable television.
However, this doesn`t mean that you can`t come to the Nacional just to relax and enjoy the Cuban
weather and culture. The main swimming pool is large and extremely welcoming after a hot day spent on the Havana streets or visiting cigar
factories. There are few things better in Havana than taking a quick dip in the pool and then sipping an ice cold Cuban beer
while overlooking the cityscape or the bright blue Caribbean. A three-minute walk from the hotel and you are on famous Malecon Boulevard, which runs along the rocky coast of Havana. In addition, the hotel has a good gym, tennis courts and plenty of gardens to stroll through.
Finishing the day in such a glorious way, it`s easy to see what Churchill
liked about the Nacional-or whoever it was in the swimming pool that evening.