Salvador Marquez dreamt of opening a casa particulare. A mechanical engineer by training (he owns three 1960 Volkswagens that he maintains himself just to prove it) , like many other professionals in Cuba, he enhanced his income by driving a taxi. For years he scrimped and saved enough money to buy one of the other apartments where he lived on Calle 21 in Vedado (a baseball’s throw away from the Habana Libre hotel on Calle 23) and then enough to buy the other.
Assembling the money for the purchases was one Herculean feat but then to renovate the spaces into first-class accommodations that would appeal to the discerning traveller, was another. The first challenge was to figure out how to reclaim these one hundred year old spaces to their former glory, in one case, and to modernize on the other, with extremely limited access to building supplies (which is the handy man’s bane of existence in Havana).
Miraculously, Antonio and his three sons (who also hold engineering degrees) have managed to do just that.
The front casa, which overlooks Calle 21 and has a spectacular balcony view on the peaceful neighborhood, is a restoration project of the finest magnitude. Original tiles were meticulously removed and re-grouted then finely carved woodwork was stripped of layers and layers of paint to reveal exquisite craftsmanship from generations gone by. This casa, which is 30 square meters or 323 square feet, has twenty-foot ceilings! With a full bathroom with flawless working components plus a kitchenette, a queen sized bed and a television it’s perfect for one or two people.
The second casa (I would call it the “modern” one versus the “historical” one in front) displays an ingenious use of space (40 square meters or 430 square feet) to offer a truly contemporary interior design on two floors. The sleeping area and bathroom are in the upper loft section while the sitting area and kitchenette are on the lower level where the entrance is. Sunken spotlights on dimmers as well as Architectural Digest stonework gives this casa a designer feel. In this case, both the beds are larger (two double beds are squeezed together here so it could accommodate a family of four, if need be) and the kitchenette and sitting area are also larger. This casa has more of a “bunker” feel to it, which is why the ample lighting is so critical. You would feel safe here, though, if another revolution were to take place down the street.
Both casa have private entrances, which are monitored with security cameras for added guest protection. A strong exterior gate re-enforces this priority. Each casa is equipped with a personal safe and each is rented for 40 CUCs per night. For an additional fee of 20 CUCs each way, Salvador or one of his sons will pick you up and return you to the Havana airport 24/7 . Salvador lives in the building so if you ever need anything while you are there, or city taxi service as well, help is never far away. Get in his good books and he may even lend you a local cell phone. One thing is for sure,Salvador can’t wait to see you and to show off his casas particulares!
Hostal Marqués de Liz
No. 715, Calle 21 entre D y E
Vedado, Havana, Cuba
Or Antonio Marquez, one of his sons who speaks much better English, is +535-2936984
Or : firstname.lastname@example.org
A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer and photographer.