Cuba is synonymous with fine cigars so it’s no surprise the annual Habanos International Cigar Festival is one of the biggest tourist events of the year. This past week (Feb. 23-27th) was the 17th edition and never before has it attracted so much interest. There was not a single hotel room nor casa particularavailable in the city. On top of the normal excitement this year’s event attracted international celebrities Paris Hilton and Naomi Campbell just to add to the glitz and glamour of it all!
The week began with an impressive welcoming party in the old port followed the next day with tours of tobacco plantations in the Pinar del Rio region of Cuba, home of the finest tobacco grown in the world (or so claims Habanos, the main cigar producer and exporter in the country).
Next up (on Wednesday) was the opening the International Trade Fair where Cuban producers of cigars, coffee, rum, truffles, cigar memorabilia and clothing presented alongside international shippers and seafood exporters.
On Thursday, hoards of festivalgoers trekked through two Havana cigar factories (La Corona and H.Upmann’s) and were treated to the live production of hand rolled cigars from the tobacco sorting room right through the packaging process. Every step of the way is a manual affair with absolutely no machinery involved whatsoever. Cuba prides itself on its hand rolled traditions and its legions of fans adore this time-honored process.
Finally, on Friday night, was the eagerly anticipated gala held at the PABEXPO convention hall in the Siboney district of Havana and likely the only facility in town able to accommodate a sit-down dinner for 1650 participants (and another 200 or so wait –staff). The best entertainment Cuba has to offer ran continuously throughout a five-course meal and each stage was paired with yet another perfect cigar. After dinner, the legendary humidor auction, as conducted by Mr. Simon Chase, an icon in this milieu, raised over $740,000 with all of the proceeds going towards the Cuban Public Health System.
According to the Habanos press release, guests from as many as 60 countries were represented at the dinner. At our table alone, diners listed Indonesia, Pakistan, Canada, Britain and the U.S as home.
If you like or sell cigars, there was no better place to be on earth than at the Habanos Festival in Havana, Cuba. If you missed it, don’t worry; there will be another one the last week of February 2016. But book your air and hotel early! The word is out!
For more info, visit: www.habanos.com
A. J. Twist is a Montreal based travel writer and photographer. firstname.lastname@example.org