Cuba – it is to this proud Caribbean nation that Ernest Hemingway, the quintessential American writer, dedicated his Nobel Prize. It is at his Cuban finca that he started and finished The Old Man and the Sea – for which he was awarded the prize in 1954 – and it is in his favorite hotel room in Havana that he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. The city – if not the whole island – is crisscrossed with Hemingway's travels. Anecdotes and legends featuring Papa are shared, even today in the Havana's old clubs.
Room 511 at Hotel Ambos Mundos
Start your literary journey in this hotel in Old Havana where Ernest Hemingway spent his first Cuban years. It is on the 5th floor, in room 511, overlooking this magnificent city, that the writer began his work on For Whom the Bell Tolls. You may visit the famous room today, simply by enquiring at the reception. Or even rent one of the similar bedrooms on the same floor of this charming old-world establishment – Hemingway vistas guaranteed.
It was Ernest's third wife, Martha Gellhorn, who found this spacious Cuban farmhouse, hidden in the lush jungle some 15 miles from the capital. They moved here in 1940 not changing much in the house itself but building a splendid outdoor pool and a three-story lean tower near the main building. Up on the last floor of the tower, above the hustle of the household, Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea. The finca itself is meticulously preserved as a museum by the Cuban government. Peeking through its wide-opened windows and doors, you get a strong feeling that the writer's family has just gone out for a ride to Havana – and will be back any minute.
El Floridita & La Bodeguita
If Hemingway ever left his beloved finca, it was either for one of his fishing trips or the infamous Havana bars. His loud American presence was so intense that even today most old-time Havana clubs, cafes, and restaurants claim Ernest as their loyal customer. Go for a daiquiri at El Floridita (following Hemingway's insistence the cocktail is still made here with more rum and less sugar than elsewhere) or for a mojito at La Bodeguita before carousing your way to Tropicana, as did Hemingway.
Being more or less locked out from the rest of the world for nearly half a century, Cuba was spared the pros and cons of globalization. As a result, many of the island's cultural institutions were preserved intact as if the year is still 1956. To contemporary tastes the settings and the costumes of the legendary Tropicana show might look a bit dusty – but if you let yourself relax and have another daiquiri, you might find yourself living a scene from The Blue Angel or Casablanca.
If the night at Tropicana proved to be a bit too tiring, Ernest Hemingway – in his later years – simply stayed overnight at the (still!) splendid Hotel Nacional where he might have encountered a friend or two – the list of famous guests stretches from Ava Gardner to Paris Hilton. In the tranquil and elegant setting of its inner courtyard, Hemingway used to spend hours, puffing at that thick Cuban cigar, debating politics, and observing the guests – and so can you, if brave and fortunate enough to, one day, disembark in Havana.