One of life’s great pleasures is nestling oneself in a huge rattan chair on the Hotel Nacional’s terrace and lighting up one of your favorite Cohibas while awaiting a refreshing mojito. You might not be a billionaire but for the next thirty minutes you sure damn well will feel like one!
Then why not take all that to the next level and book yourself a ticket to next month’s 18th Annual Habanos Festival? Running from February 29- March 4th 2016 you will be joined by a thousand other cigar aficionados and trades people who are gathering for tobacco’s foremost international event. And guess what? You are allowed to smoke! Try to find that right or privilege anywhere else in the civilized world these days!
What can you expect at the Habanos Festival? Your week would begin on Monday, Feb. 29th with a massive welcoming cocktail held at the newly renovated Wood and Cigar Warehouse in Havana’s Old Port district.
This will feature endless buffets of fine hors d’oeurves; a wide array of open bars for mojitos, aged rums and imported wines; live entertainment by some of Cuba’s finest contemporary bands; and welcoming comments from the organizing committee. All while you enjoy the seaside views of Old Havana by the water. Oh, they will also make sure you have your first samplings of their latest cigar offerings to make sure you know why you’re there!
On Tuesday, providing you have been able to roll yourself out of bed (one rum anejo too many, my friend?), you are off for the day on a bus tour of the tobacco plantations of Pinar del Rio (about a two hour bus ride south of Havana). This region is an agricultural gem and you will get up close and personal with farmers and their tobacco to see where and how this whole wondrous process begins. The area is scenic, and dare I say, the air… fresh!
Wednesday is a slower day; you can take in the sights of Havana if you decide not to participate in some of the master classes on cigar rolling or enjoy the evening dinner celebrating the art of rolling.
One of the main highlights of the week is Thursday’s tour of the local cigar making factories. One of the tours may be at the Romeo Y Julieta cigar factory (formerly the H. Upmann factory) where you will walk through the entire cigar rolling process from the separation of the leaves to the watching hundreds of veteran rollers pound out handmade masterpieces to the labeling of the cigar boxes. Photos are allowed. Travel tip: outside, on the corner of the ground floor is a cigar store and café. Get in there now before the Hollywood production houses roll into town and take it over for film after film shoot.
On Friday, the festival culminates with a gala dinner at the Palacio de
Convenciones (this is in the western part of Havana where many of the festival events are held such as the trade show and registration). The gala will features guest appearances by many local and international celebrities. Last year socialite Paris Hilton and super model Naomi Campbell graced partygoers with their presence and Tom Jones was there a few years ago. One of the journalists’ favorite past times is guessing who will this year’s “big star” surprise guests (they are never announced before hand. ).
On top of the stunning local entertainment, guests are treated to many more cigar gifts and an auction of beautifully crafted humidors. Last year’s finest went to a Canadian who bid $350,000 US for a five-drawer humidor stocked with some of the finest stogies known to mankind. All proceeds of the auction go towards to the Cuban Public Health System.
Enjoying the week’s entire festival will set you back 1700 CUCs though tickets for the individual events can also be purchased separately (some regulars just take in the gala which is 700 CUCs).
Tickets and full festival details can be found at www.habanos.com. But hurry. Not only do you need to reserve your spot at the festival but you also need to find a place to stay (which is no easy task in Havana these days). The festival website features some hotel partners where festival goers can enjoy preferential rates (while they last).
A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer and photographer.