Natalia Miyar’s perfect weekend in Havana

The Cuban-American designer – who has her atelier in London – designs charismatic interiors inspired by her island roots. Recently, she co-curated a striking exhibition of British craft in Miami

Natalia Miyar in Havana
Natalia Miyar in Havana | Image: Lisette Poole

“Havana is all about exploring, walking the streets and coming across charming little places. Old Havana, where my sister Claudia and I stay in a casa particular, is buzzy and chaotic but I love it. There’s virtually no internet here, so you just have to relax, put on comfortable shoes and see where the city takes you.

On Saturday morning we set off early through the quiet streets, admiring old colonial buildings. I’m always lamenting the decay, but also feel at home here. We end up at La Plaza Vieja for cortaditos (shots of sweet, joltingly strong Cuban espresso with steamed milk) at Café El Escorial. It’s always packed because it has the best coffee in town and it’s easy to get chatting with people.

After breakfast, we’ll pop into the Rationalist-style Palacio de Bellas Artes, the part of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes that houses the Cuban art collection. I once left inspired to design a royal-blue and hot-pink bedroom after seeing Amelia Peláez’s fabulous colour combinations.

Then we’ll head to Vedado to catch up with the contemporary art scene. I like to check out El Apartamento, a gallery that represents local talent, and we might visit Michel Pérez Pollo’s studio to admire his 3m-high paintings of colourful, sculptural forms. This neighbourhood has myriad architectural styles, including Spanish colonial and art deco. One of the prettiest buildings is the former home of the Countess of Revilla de Camargo, in beaux arts style, which today houses the Museo de Artes Decorativas. I go to see the interiors by Maison Jansen, a perennial source of design inspiration.

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For lunch, we’ll head to Starbien for classic Cuban food. It serves the most delicious vaca frita – literally, “fried cow” – which is shredded beef seasoned with lots of garlic and lime, and fried until crispy. For dessert it’s guava cheesecake, which we walk off along the Malecón (seafront). The ocean feels ever-present in Havana, particularly here, where the waves crash and bathe you in sea spray.

Saturday evening is for meeting old friends such as Orlando Inclán, a local architect, and Christian Gundín, owner of El Apartamento art gallery. We’ll have a cocktail on the terrace of the Azúcar Lounge, overlooking the Plaza Vieja, then drop in at the Taller de Serigrafía René Portocarrero, where you can watch the 1930s letterpress making decorative cards.

I like the way dinner is itinerant here. We start at El Chanchullero for camarón enchilado (spicy prawn taco) and move on to El del Frente for enormous jars of watermelon mojitos with mariquitas, tasty plantain chips with garlic and lime. We then hop across the street to O’Reilly 304 for milk flan, a sticky custard dessert. If we have the energy, we’ll then jump in a taxi and head to a DJ session at Fábrica de Arte Cubano and dance until late.

On Sunday we’ll go to Miramar to visit the Iglesia de Santa Rita de Casia, where my grandparents got married. I was brought up in the Cuban community in Miami, but I love being here and reconnecting with my roots. Lunch is at Vistamar, a casual restaurant with an ocean view and a saltwater pool in a palette of sublime blues. It’s a really cool place and serves delicious grilled lobster.

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In the afternoon we’ll go to Gran Teatro de La Habana to see some modern ballet. Cuban dancers have great rhythm and I find it hard to sit still in my seat. Feeling energised by the show, we head a few doors down to the Hotel Saratoga rooftop bar for an incredible view of the city and to discuss my dream of opening Havana’s first art hotel over daiquiris. Then we’ll take one last stroll through Old Havana before making our way to the airport to fly back to Miami and start a new week.”

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