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Havana celebrates its 500th anniversary

Beyond the clichés and often Manichean visions, the largest city in the Caribbean remains unknown. Capital visit.


It all started in Old Havana, on what is now Place d’Armes. The booksellers offer who biographies of Che, who the history of the revolution. Read Communist! Or rather dive into the origins of Havana. Here is a small temple, El Templete, where the capital’s first mass would have been celebrated, in the year of grace 1519. It is a very strange monument, more Greco-Roman than Hispanic. After all, Cuba is the empire of interbreeding. Before El Templete, there were quite a few Siboney and Taino Indians, but the Spanish settlers massacred them.

Of Native American culture, there is nothing left in Havana, except the names of a few streets. The capital has been by turns the jewel in the Spanish Crown, the playground of English, French, Dutch pirates, the tropical dancer of the Americans and the whore of the Caribbean of the Soviet Union. The skimmers are gone, replaced by nearly five million travelers each year, eager to discover a formidable heritage.

• Cuba the Spanish in the time of the pirates

First of all, that of the pirates. Attracted by the lure of gain and the riches of the Spanish galleons, the corsairs of the great European powers entered the dance from the 16th century.e century. Jacques de Sores, Henry Morgan, Francis Drake and their congeners led raids for several centuries against Cuban ports. To face it, the Spanish Crown is strengthened. She places her castles at the entrance to Havana Bay.


On your arrival, hail a “bicitaxi” (bicycle-taxi) for a journey through time in the Havanese alleys and towards the Parque Central

This is the Castillo de la Punta. Behind its rusty 16th century cannonse century, it now houses a museum. The real bastion, the one that often saved the capital from invasions, is the fortress San Carlos de la Cabana, located at the mouth of the bay. The view over the city is breathtaking. La Cabana hosts all the major fairs, including the Havana Book Festival in February. Every evening, at 9 p.m., artillerymen in period costume fire cannon. A few hundred meters separate this 18th century chateaue century of the croquignolet district of Casablanca, its doll station and its electric train, the Tren Hershey, named after an American billionaire, king of industrial chocolate. A few dozen meters away, the return to Old Havana takes place in a ferry from another time.

An old tub approaches. This is La Coubre, named in tribute to the French freighter of the same name, the victim of a mysterious explosion in 1960, while sailors from France conveyed weapons to the young revolution. The ferry spits billows of smoke in the azure sky to reach the maritime terminal, located opposite the Russian Orthodox Church, a gift from Fidel Castro to Vladimir Putin. When you arrive, call a bicitaxi (bike-taxi) for a trip back in time in the Havana alleys and towards the Parque Central, a pretty park located on the borders of Old Havana and Centro Havana. There, the drivers line up their old multi-colored American convertibles, still gleaming.


Thousands of Cubans learn French in the three French alliances of the capital with a dream: to go to Canada

• French influences

Throughout its history, Cuba has crossed paths. Beyond the beaten track of the Cuban revolution, France has kept a special place with the Napoleon museum. Imperial this Museo Napoleonico, located near the university. Cuban conservatives watch over 7,000 pieces dedicated to the Emperor. Napoleon haunts the corridors. Isn’t there his cocked hat, one of his locks of hair and even a preciously preserved molar? Meet on the top floor of this Renaissance-style palace. The panoramic terrace is a delight to see the capital. Napoleon never went to Cuba, but Louis-Philippe, before being king, owned a small trianon in the district of El Cerro, a palace today in ruins. The influence of France in Cuba, although dethroned by Italy, remains important. Thousands of Cubans learn French in the three French alliances of the capital with one dream: to go to Canada.

Farewell to the Emperor and his museum. Outside, Nelson’s Chevrolet Bel Air, our driver, purrs. She swallows a hill, runs along the University of Havana, before getting lost in the alleys of Vedado, the artists’ district. The palaces parade, mutilated, restored, always fascinating. Crossbreeding of good and bad states. Nelson decrees a stop, near the park John-Lennon, with the French Union. Disappointment, no one speaks the language of Molière.

The comrades workers still put an Eiffel Tower at the entrance of this delightful three-story palace, now transformed into Cuban and Italian restaurants!

Bronze statue of Ernest Hemingway leaning on the counter of the bar-museum Le Floridita, where the writer used to be, in Havana. Jean-Christophe MARMARA / Le Figaro

• Hemingway’s America

Rather than a trip to the Ambos Mundos hotel in Old Havana, where Ernest Hemingway’s room is kept intact, Nelson offers a stroll to Cojimar, a small fishing port a few kilometers from the capital, where the writer was going to tease the marlin with the captain of his yacht, Gregorio Fuentes, the character who inspired The old Man and the Sea. Nelson heads for the Havana tunnel, built by the French in 1957. The Chevrolet rumbles, overtakes other old Americans. Those are almond (collective taxis), immortal with a little cosmetic surgery. Four passengers in the back, three in the front. And sometimes more!

Here is Cojimar a few minutes later, then the Cojimar seafront restaurant, La Terraza, where the American came to get drunk on daiquiris after his fishing trips. La Terraza does not deserve a meal, but its room, with its period photos, is a beautiful tribute to Hemingway. The homage would not be complete without going to the bust of the writer, located 500 meters away, facing the sea and a 17th century fort.e century.

• A tour of the Soviets

Return to Havana and change of crew. On the Malecon, the waterfront, our new driver, Carlos, tortures the starter of a thirty-something Lada. It broke down a few dozen meters from the Nazdarovie restaurant, whose red flag flies over the Malecon. The establishment is at the heart of one of these ancient Spanish palaces. The pink walls are studded with propaganda posters in praise of the USSR. The bombers in squadron rub shoulders with a solid worker who works for “the glory” of Stalin.


Lada or Moskvitch are the best cars in the eyes of Cubans. They are easy to repair and parts are plentiful

All that’s missing is the Red Army. Outside, good Samaritans push the gasping Lada. Quick, we must leave before she changes her mind. Lada or Moskvitch are however the best cars in the eyes of Cubans. They are easy to repair and parts are plentiful. The Jew’s harp is already rolling on Fifth Avenue in Miramar, the diplomatic mission district. Here are the marvelous palaces and residences of African ambassadors, from Belgium and not far from France. Then comes the Russian Embassy, ​​a fascinating concrete mushroom. The Lada gets scared and runs away. Towards Jaimanitas, very close, where Raul Castro has his house? No, to the suburbs. Where else than in history books is it possible to see a huge statue of Lenin in the heart of a 750 hectare park? At Parque Lenin.

There, dozens of attractions make Cuban toddlers dream: swimming pools, slides, MiG hunter rides. If you’d rather make it more comfortable to Parque Lenin than to Lada, hire one of Fidel Castro’s ex-Soviet ZIL limousines. Today, ambushed drivers near the Capri Hotel are taking tourists away for less than $ 30. Drive Brezhnev to Havana!


The Callejon de Hamel, this magical alley, its murals and sculptures, is that of the initiates of the Santeria, the Afro-Cuban religion

• Cuba today

In Old Havana, the initiates are swooning for the formidable initiative of Papito, artist and hairdresser. The hair grower has transformed his alley, Calle Aguiar, into a pedestrian street of art galleries. Papito, a luxury hairdresser, has himself converted his salon into a hairdressing museum.

At the corner of the street, a coco-taxi, a yellow motor scooter, invites you to take a stroll towards the Capitolio, the huge replica of the Washington Capitol. This is necessary, especially as a few hundred meters away, it is the Chinatown of Havana. This Chinese mojito version is one of the most lively places in the capital at night. The golden plaques of countless Chinese restaurants sparkle, even though the subjects of the Middle Empire left the ship of the revolution more than half a century ago. From 100,000 to the middle of the XIXe century and still 10,000 before the revolution, they are only a few hundred old people.

A visit to this district of Centro Havana would not be complete without a detour to Callejon de Hamel. This magical alley, its murals and sculptures, is that of the initiates of the Santeria, the Afro-Cuban religion. The santeros meet there on Sunday afternoon in a festive environment. A unique opportunity to unravel the mysteries of santeria and Havana.


Air France, Air Caraïbes, Corsair, Air Europa, Aeroflot. From Paris: return flight from € 411 in economy class. Arrival: José-Marti airport. Between 30 min and 45 min from Old Havana by taxi. Count between € 25 and € 30. Flight information, tel .: +53 7 266 4143 and

Many taxis around Parque Central in Havana. Bargain firm. Count 20-25 € to go to the eastern beaches and 10 € to go from Old Havana to Vedado. The bicitaxi (bicycle-taxi): to visit Old Havana and Centro. Count 3 € to cover a few streets.

Fabrica by Arte Cubano. Trendy culture in an old factory. From 6 p.m. Thursday to Sunday.Tel .: +53 7 838 2260 and

– Le San Cristobal
. In 2016, Barack Obama chose this “paladar” (a private restaurant). A beautiful establishment for Havanese dining. Tel .: +53 7 867 9109 and
– Roof Garden.
The restaurant of the Sevilla hotel is a dream for a breakfast. One of the best views of the city.

– Hôtel Manzana Kempinski.
In the heart of the capital, it is one of the most luxurious hotels in Havana. From € 400 to € 600 per night in a double room. Tel .: +53 7 869 9100 and
– The National.
Mythical. It can be visited like a museum. Around € 300 per night. Tel .: +53 7 836 3564 and
– Hotel Santa Isabel.
An old colonial palace with a beautiful view of the bay of Havana. Around € 200. Phone: +53 7 860 8201 and

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