Villa Paradiso: Cuba's Best Casa Particular
A labour of love and pure joy. These are the overwhelming feelings you will arrive to and depart with at Villa Paradiso.
Nestled in its own Garden of Eden, owners Roberto and Manuel have created a miniature paradise perched above the rolling hills of Baracoa, Cuba. Flinging their doors open to visitors with warmth and genuine friendship this casa particular was so good that even a cancelled flight and 48 hour journey home couldn't taint the memory.
What was it that made Villa Paradiso so great?
Please excuse me while I gush about my stay.
Possibly the delicious home cooked breakfasts served every morning with eggs cooked to your exact liking. Perhaps the stunning views across the Miel bay, where river meets sea. Maybe the cute little Havanese dog Tato, his talkative parrot friend Lola and affectionate kitty cat Plinio. (I'm a sucker for animals.) Most likely the endless hospitality.
The casa encompasses elements of boutique hotel and loving home delicately, perfectly. Taking three and a half years to turn dream into reality, you can feel the love poured into its concrete construction. The cosy and homely touches can be found in abundance: Photographs and trinkets are dotted throughout and the bright, cheerful colours beam with personality and individuality. Nothing has been forgotten, nothing is too much trouble; every detail of every guest's stay is carefully considered, including the personal touch of welcoming you by name.
Most will arrive to Baracoa as I did: Stumbling up the steps following a lengthy ten to twelve hour bus journey. Fortunately for the cranky traveller that I am on limited sleep and not enough food, Villa Paradiso is the perfect place for body and soul to breathe a sigh of relief. Ushered into a light and airy bedroom with a dreamy private terrace, I knew immediately that coming this far across the island was the correct decision despite my hatred of travel days/nights.
Each component layered upon itself to create the most wonderful experience of relaxation, comfort and a glimpse into authentic Cuban culture.
Mornings consisted of sneaking out at the crack of dawn to the various terraces and the garden lookout to catch sunrise. As I watched the light creep over the horizon and stretch over tiny houses scattered across the bay, I could not have been happier. Sat there, having a peaceful moment alone (after taking my hundreds of photos), Roberto anticipated a need I didn't know I had, bringing fresh, piping hot coffee to sip on while I eagerly waited for the house to stir and a less ungodly hour for breakfast.
What a breakfast it was! With Manuel in the kitchen and Roberto dashing between tables, their pride in the quality of the meal and service was apparent. Local, freshest of the fresh ingredients were delicious and laid on generously. A warm bread basket, homemade jam, tropical fruits laced with sweet honey, cold cuts of meat and eggs cooked on request (to the extent, would I prefer boiled for three or four minutes?) - breakfast was a leisurely and drawn out affair. My favourite kind of breakfast.
Having lived in Baracoa for five years, the two hosts have an enviable black book of reliable contacts, spoiling guests for choice. We crammed in excursions to local cacao plantations, beaches and a couple of hiking trails around El Yunque and Yumuri Canyon. The exacting, perfectionist standards of Villa Paradiso seem extend to all those associated with the casa - their friendly bicycle-taxi made sure to check the bags in at the bus terminal which also saved on the random tourist 'tips' paid out in Havana and Camagüey, and Steve our hiking guide must have apologised near on ten times for the rainstorm utterly out of his control. Evidently well-respected throughout the local community, Roberto and Manuel are sharing their successes while promoting sustainable tourism.
When not exploring Baracoa, time idled by playing with the various pets - Lola in particular is an entertainer - and chatting to Roberto. Native to El Salvador and having lived in Canada for 25 years, he flits with ease between French, English and Spanish as required, weaving wide ranging experiences to form carefully considered answers to a barrage of questions. Always ready to offer coffee and time, we discussed topics including Cuban culture, Communism, blogging, eco-tourism and touched on his continued work as a consultant in social justice. For an individual whose time is clearly so precious, with two jobs, a business and relationships beyond tourists to maintain, giving so much of it so freely to guests was humbling and one of the more intangible elements that made Villa Paradiso an unforgettable experience and one of the best places I have stayed in.
Leaving Baracoa was like saying goodbye to old friends, despite having only stayed two nights. Manuel sneakily grabbed my huge rucksack (I have issues packing light) before I realised it was time to go, while unleashing a huge bear hug and the kindest grin. I now appreciate why everyone told me to get to Baracoa at all costs during my Cuba trip, it was my favourite spot and in large part due to these two wonderful humans (and their three super cute animals).
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