The mention of Cuba still conjures up images of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara despite both having passed from this world and into communist mythology. Fidel fairly recently in 2016, Che back in 1967. With the passing of Castro Cuba has seen a slow transformation to a more inclusive commercial world.

This Caribbean island nation with its sugar-white beaches, alluring tobacco fields, and legendary cigars is throwing open its doors to tourists wider than ever before.

The capital, Havana, is leading the charge with its pastel houses, 1950s cars and Spanish-colonial architecture in the 16th-century style a staple in Old Havana. Salsa music plays in the dance clubs and cabaret shows performed at across the city including the famed Hotel Nacional.

Our focus was just beside the 1930s Art Deco Hotel National, the legendary La Zorra El Cuervo Jazz Club. Translated as 'Fox & Crow' this intimate jazz club plays host to a constant flow of top Cuban Jazz musicians.

Once you get past the burly bouncer the quirky venue has a classic red phone box providing the gateway to the dark underground chamber below with low ceilings, and small round tables cramped together providing an intimate and atmospheric locale.

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Tonight we are blessed with Cuban trumpet player and composer Yasek Manzano who has played with major figures like Celia Cruz, Los Van Van, Irakere, Bobby Carcassés and also Simply Red.

Having attended the Havana School of Arts and Music he was then offered a scholarship at the Juilliard School of Music, where he studied under renowned jazz trumpet player Wynton Marsalis and played in the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra. Manzano has been a regular at La Zorra El Cuervo since 1997 and it shows.
His relaxed manner and freestyle playing is both fluid and entertaining.

The stage is only slightly raised from ground level yet when Manzano raises his trumpet it's just centimetres from the ceiling giving you that informal front-room feel. His accomplished three-piece band were exemplary and sonically speaking the venue provides great sound.

With Manzano having been invited abroad to countries like the United States, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, United Kingdom, South Africa, Switzerland, Italy, and Barbados to record, teach or perform he may well be coming your way soon.

We enjoyed a very relaxed cozy evening at La Zorra El Cuervo, and with an entrance fee of 10 CUC$, which includes a cocktail of your choice, and subsequent cocktails 2.5 CUC$ it's a reasonable and throughly recommended experience for any music lover out there.

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Just around the corner is the perfect site for your stay, Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a historic luxury hotel located on the Malecón in the middle of Vedado, Havana, Cuba. It stands on Taganana Hill a few metres from the sea, and offers a view of Havana Harbor, the seawall and the city.

Opened in 1930 the Art Deco building was the site of a bloody siege that pitted the officers of the Cuban army against the non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Cuban army, who supported Batista and would become known as the Battle of the Hotel Nacional of Cuba.

In December 1946 the hotel hosted the Havana Conference, an infamous mob summit which Francis Ford Coppola dramatised in The Godfather Part II. An absolute gem of a place it's a must for anyone looking for an extra special holiday memory, make sure you take the free hotel tour and definitely try their Pina Colada, the best I've ever had.

Hotel Nacional de Cuba

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Cabaret Parisien at Hotel Nacional