Five de­li­cious ways to get a taste of the Cuban cap­i­tal.

Air Canada enRoute - - GETAWAY / ESCAPADE -

Proudly touted as Cuba’s first “real” lux­ury ho­tel, this for­mer 19th-cen­tury shop­ping ar­cade un­der­went a five-year facelift be­fore open­ing as a ho­tel in June 2017 with a re­fur­bished fa­cade and cool grey and teal in­te­ri­ors by South African stu­dio Archipoli­tan. Start your ex­plo­ration in the base­ment to see a pre­served por­tion of the 350-year-old colo­nial wall that once pro­tected the city and har­bour from ma­raud­ing pi­rates. Next, or­der a basil mo­jito at Con­stante Bar – named af­ter El Floridita’s famed cock­tail king Con­stantino Ribal­aigua Vert, cred­ited for mak­ing Ernest Hem­ing­way’s favourite daiquiri – be­fore end­ing up on the roof to catch the sun set­ting over El Capi­to­lio from the in­fin­ity pool.

A swirling metal art in­stal­la­tion af­fixed to the yel­low wall of this bustling new pal­adar spells out the words In­ven­tiva Na­cional (na­tional in­ven­tive­ness). You can taste the cre­ativ­ity in chef Dany Echevar­ría López’s ten­der leg of lamb (slowly braised in red wine, tomato, egg­plant and cin­na­mon) and his Es­fera de Guayaba, a guava cream cheese-filled orb sprin­kled with crum­bled gra­ham cracker and mint sprigs – the per­fect hit of sweet and sour. Duck into an unas­sum­ing door­way at O’Reilly 303 and fol­low the sound of whirring blenders and clink­ing ice cubes to a spot at the bar lined with vases of fresh cel­ery leaf, cilantro and pars­ley, all sourced from Finca Santa Marta, near Va­radero. Ask bar­tender Wil­son for an Un­der the Bridge, an off-menu daiquiri made with ha­banero and mango that he was in­spired to cre­ate while lis­ten­ing to the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers. In­side a for­mer 18th­cen­tury man­sion, the scents of mari­posa, san­dal­wood and even cho­co­late waft from rows of brightly coloured ce­ramic bot­tles filled with fra­grances made with Cuban in­gre­di­ents. Don’t miss the retro lab space in the back, where the per­fumes are con­cocted – a black­board scrib­bled with chem­i­cal com­pound equa­tions hangs above a back­lit counter of an­tique glass de­canters. Lo­cals head to this ope­nair mar­ket on Calle San Rafael early in the day when the meat is fresh­est and the best pro­duce is avail­able (all stalls must charge the same prices, so qual­ity de­ter­mines what sells first). Wan­der aisles lined with plantain, lime and malanga, keep­ing an eye out for the gangs of res­i­dent cats on the tin roof above the butch­ers’ stalls, loung­ing as they wait for choice scraps to be tossed their way.

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