Distinguished for its elegance, beauty and majesty, the Hotel Nacional of Cuba reaches its 80th year of existence with a vintage charm that continues to attract visitors from around the world, including artists, dignitaries and other celebrities. From its privileged position atop the rocky outcrop by the sea known as Taganana Hill, the Nacional opened its doors to Havana on December 30, 1930. It belongs to the Gran Caribe hotel group and is the flagship hotel of Cuba.
In the middle of the 19th Century, the Santa Clara artillery and the Ordonez cannon were set on this same Taganana Hill; the name also borne by the hotel’s posh restaurant. The Ordonez was one of the largest cannons Spain used to defend its colony from attacks by pirates and other enemies. This colonial military relic still has pride of place in the hotel gardens.
The Hotel Nacional was built by United States firms Mc Kim, Mead & White and Purdy Henderson Co., which took two years to complete the meticulous details of its eclectic architecture: a combination of Art Deco, Neoclassical and Neocolonial. According to experts, the main floor of the Nacional resembles the three parallel naves of a medieval church, and the simulated roof beams recall an old Catalan monastery with Moorish influence. One does not need to be an expert however, to appreciate the large galleries with their Spanish-Moorish arches, reminiscent of monastic cloisters.
The Nacional has 462 rooms, six bars, three restaurants, two swimming pools, a fitness centre, a business centre and a floor reserved for executives. From this striking hotel with its ample gardens, one takes as much pleasure in the sweeping view of the sea as of Havana itself, winding along the northern Cuban coast.
In preparation of its 80th birthday, the executives of Hotel Nacional have already begun the celebrations with the inauguration of the Luces de la Ciudad (City Lights) exhibit. With producer and artist Roberto Chile as curator, the exhibition includes paintings about the hotel and its surroundings.
There is another, simultaneous, artistic presentation in the Salón de la Fama (Hall of Fame), with photographs of the notables who have stayed here over the course of eight decades. In addition, on Saturday evenings there are performances by renowned musical groups such as the Aragón, Jorrín and Compay Segundo Orchestras and invited guests of the Buenavista Social Club.
Personalities of all times – presidents, aristocrats, scientists, artists, Hollywood celebrities have stayed in this beautiful Havana hotel. Among the famous early visitors to this hotel were United States actors Buster Keaton, Johnny Weissmuller, Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn and Marlon Brando, novelists Rómulo Gallegos and Ernest Hemingway, the Dukes of Windsor and scientist Alexander Fleming, as well as countless others, including presidents and monarchs.
The hotel recalls some of these guests in its distinctive menu that includes favourites of many of its illustrious visitors, such as the red meats desired by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the lamb fillet with herbs that was the preference of Argentine singer and actress Libertad Lamarque, or the desserts that delighted the oh-so-famous Fred Astaire and the world renowned Cuban singer-songwriter Bola de Nieve.
Besides being the headquarters for Havana’s celebrated Latin American Film Festival, the Hotel Nacional is a usual command centre for major business and scientific conferences. Among its many attractions, the Nacional offers its guests daily historic tours with anecdotes accumulated over 80 years about its numerous guests.