Che Guevara's mausoleum
Che's City - Santa Clara, Cuba
Santa Clara is an urbane Spanish colonial city of ordered streets with a pivotal role in the Castro Revolution and a well-known alfresco bar that features regular camp nights out. It's also known as Che Guevara's city as the guerrillero hero is entombed here in a vast mausoleum in the Plaza de la Revolución. Beneath the concrete memorial lies Che and the remains of 37 other revolutionaries who fought alongside the Argentine in his last battleground of Bolivia. In late December 1958, revolutionaries, led by Guevara, derailed a train full of government troops. This significant victory aided Fidel Castro and his band of men in securing control of the country a few days later on January 1st 1959.
The upturned rail carriages are now a small museum (Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado); the most intriguing exhibit is the tractor (mounted on a plinth) used to derail the train; it must be the only memorial to a tractor in the world.
The central city square, Parque Vidal, is fringed with benches and focuses around a bandstand. It is flanked by handsome pastel-shaded colonial buildings including a theatre and a library. The architectural anomaly in this line-up is the ugly, modernist Hotel Santa Clara Libre that has preserved its bullet-ridden facade (it was caught in the fighting in December 1958).
Guevara would no doubt have savoured victory while smoking a cigar. A number of Cuba's cities have cigar factories (Fábricas de Tabacos) that can be toured; what's unique about Santa Clara's is the shop opposite where Marilín Morales Bauta, a female cigar sommelier, works - a rarity in Cuba (La Casa del Tabaco, Ron y Café La Veguita, Calle Maceo 176-A).
After touring the sights, retreat to Santa Clara's loveliest private restaurant, Hostal Florida Center (Calle Maestra Nicolasa 56 between Calle Colón and Maceo). Here, flamboyant host Angel will serve seafood in his candlelit garden. His 1876 colonial home is graced with plenty of antiques and the interior courtyard garden flourishes with well-tended plants and flowers. If any of his rooms are free, take a peek at the colonial furnishings.
After dinner, wander across Parque Vidal to Bar La Marquesina where old men croon (and flirt with well-honed chat up lines known as el piropo) along with the live band.
After a couple of mojitos, head to nearby Club Mejunje (Calle Marta Abreu 12), a courtyard centre of bohemian entertainment popular with students, arty types and the gay crowd; Saturday nights, especially, draw a fun-loving crowd.