Bespoke Cuban Holidays for the Discerning Traveller

Cuban Plantation Table

VILLA PORTERIA – Buying antiques in Havana
If you ask people about ´that house´ in my Havana neighbourhood they will tell you of a young Cuban woman, married to a Spaniard, who used to live there. But no-one seems to know much about the new owner or about what goes on now behind the heavily net-curtained windows. In a street full of colonial-style architecture his casa stands out: high gates, garden palms and rather grand, incongruous modernity. But step inside and modern´s not the word. Room after spacious room is filled with gracefully ageing beauty: antique paintings, sculpture, glassware, ceramics and more.
Alexis López Hernandez is a man who, depending on your perspective, really got it right, and at the right time. During the harsh years of the so-called Special Period (1991-4), when the Soviet aid that kept Cuba afloat had completely disappeared, a young Hernandez, like the majority of Cubans, found himself without enough bread on his own antique family table. So he sold it to a foreigner and the rest is history. Desperate former middle and upper class Cubans started selling the family silver to survive and Hernandez was in place to buy it. For many years it was Russian, French, Spanish and Italian dealers buying and exporting. Now it’s mainly foreigners working here, some tourists and, for the very first time, Cubans with money who are investing.
Sadly, the very best treasures left the capital with those early wheelers and dealers but, judging from my visit to Villa Portería, there’s still a lot of lovely stuff around. Hernandez´s personal passion is his collection of Cuban pharmacy jars. A lovely (1940´s) Italian ceramic dish, decorated with delicate orange and green leafs, seemed a good buy at 40 cucs; a French silver-worked c19th jug with 4 glasses, 100 cucs. – more expensive (250 cucs) – is a rather beautiful c18th wooden Saint (for dressing). Cuba doesn´t necessarily mean cheap but you´ll probably find something here that will enchant you and that might even be a bargain, too.
Depending on their age some antiques can’t be taken out of the country so check with Alexis before opening your purse. But buying or not, Villa Portería is an interesting place and – always important in Cuba – the coffee is very good too.

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