Valle de Viñales, Cuba

Fresh from the recent Mexico & Cuba tour Linda Ross and Dan Wheatley reflected on their visit to the Pinar del Rio province in Cuba’s north west. Here Dan walks us through the jewel in this region’s crown, the Valley of Viñales.

On returning to Spain in 1492 Christopher Columbus told his Queen that the country we know now as Cuba was the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen – a tropical paradise of verdant abundance, sunshine and rich productive soil. The province of Pinar del Rio in the north west of Cuba is overflowing with such tropical bounty as to inspire swelling in the chest Columbus was moved by centuries ago. As I looked out over the Valle de Viñales at sunset I caught a glimpse of the land that took his breath away.

Giant limestone Mogotes tower over the Valley of Viñale, Cuba

Viñales truly is the Jewell in Pinar del Rio’s crown, a vast valley bordered on the north western side by towering limestone cliff faces called Mogotes, a small rural village in the centre of the valley where the local houses (Bohios) cram happily together in pastel hues, and where the local farmers (Guajiros) follow the long tradition of growing tobacco for the finest cigars in the world. While tobacco farming is a significant rural industry in the area its also a popular tourist attraction. Tourists arrive by the bus load to walk through the farms dotted all through the valley and see how this crop is grown, harvested, dried, aged and eventually rolled into the cigars that are synonymous with Cuba.

The indigenous Cubans, known as the Guantanhatabeys were the first people to farm and smoke tobacco. The pipes in which they smoked tobacco were called Cohibas, a name later borrowed by, and adorning the cigars produced with tobacco from this region. Intensive commercial tobacco farming commenced in Viñales in around the 1500’s with the arrival of immigrants from the Canary Islands. By the late 1700’s the area was renowned for very high quality tobacco, which was sold and exported to Europe by the shipload.

Tobacco fully grown and ready for harvest in Viñales

Freshly harvested and tied to the racks, these leaves will be moved to barn-like sheds where they will be dried and aged for around 4 – 8 weeks before the fermenting process, which can take up to 6 years

Cigars are hand-made by expert rollers. This takes skill and practice

A Cuban dozen – 14 cigars. Be warned though. That’s more than you’re allowed to bring back into Australia

But the area’s fertility makes it perfect for a variety of organic agricultural production apart from tobacco.

Our recent tour to Mexico & Cuba included a visit to ‘El Paraiso’, an organic farm and restaurant, perched on a hillside overlooking the valley. Here, after a tour of the extensive vegetable garden and orchard, our group was treated to a feast of delicious organic produce all grown on the farm. The outstanding highlight of this meal – the welcome cocktail, an El Paraiso speciality, the ‘Anti-stress’ (something like a pina colada with five medicinal herbs and honey. Absolutely divine!). Rum is optional, but they left the bottle on the table. My reputation proceeds me, I guess.

Vegie gardens at El Paraiso feature ‘Decoy’ plants like marigolds and corn that the bugs go for rather than eating the new vegie seedlings.

Tobacco farming and the stunning beauty of the region has seen tourism in Viñales’ become its fastest growing industry. Viñales hosts thousands of visitors every month from all over the world, many of whom stay in the many Casa Particulares (bed-and-breakfast-type accommodation Cuba style), where guests can get a unique perspective of Cuban rural life from their host families.

Viñales only has one hotel, the colonial style pastel pink palace of Hotel Los Jazmines, located in prime-position on a steep hillside and sports the best view across the valley to the small town beyond. The growing number of visitors every year has created an opportunity for another two hotels, which are scheduled to open in early 2018.

This adventure exceeded our expectations enormously. We simply can’t wait to return to Mexico, Cuba and the Valle de Viñales in 2019. If you’re interesting in joining Linda and I on the tour contact Ros or Royce at the Ross Tours office on 1300 233 200, or go to the Enquiries page.

 

 

 

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