|Las Terrazas is a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve|
A couple of hours drive west of Havana is a nature reserve called Las Terrazas, high in the Sierra del Rosario mountain range. It's a strange and somewhat haunting place, which although beautiful, seems to have a sense of sadness. It's hard to explain unless you've been there, but feels as though you've been left on a disused film set. All the props are there - stunning views, a forest canopy, sounds of birds and impressive plants and foliage - but somehow, the place lacks spirit and the actors went home long ago!
|Men, not machines, do the work in the Cuban countryside|
This region was once one of the poorest in Cuba and deforestation was so severe that it threatened to impact on both the ecology and survival of the area. But in 1967 the Cuban government stepped in and orchestrated a massive project which led to the replanting of 10 million trees across a 5,000 acre area. They wanted to turn the area into an eco-tourism centre in the hills in the province of Pinar del Rio, where tourism was sustainable within an area of outstanding natural beauty.
|View over the valley from La Moka Hotel in Las Terrazas|
Green is really GREEN here, as you can see from these pictures - in reality, I've never had such an overwhelming sense of green in my life - the grass, the plants and the way the people live! Las Terrazas was designated a Biosphere Reserve in 1984 by UNESCO. The main tourist hotel - La Moka - is a brilliant design feat, perched high on the hilltop, surrounded by trees and indeed, with one large tree growing through the atrium.
|The hotel was constructed around the trees in Las Terrazas|
Excellent by foreign standards, this is the place to stay in Las Terrazas. The staff are wonderful, the gardens are beautiful and the views outstanding! But even with all the natural beauty, high standards and an aparently idyllic life, there is something lacking here. There is music, but it's muted; there is nature, but it appears orchestrated; and somehow, there is a sense of Stepford wifery and you almost expect perfect wax-like images to appear from around a corner.
|Early morning view across the mountainside village|
If you are looking for typical Cuban entertainment - music, salsa and dancing - this is not the place be. But those in search of nature will enjoy their stay here. You can walk for miles through the forest; visit the old sugar plantations in the area; and get a sense of how this former agricultural community once thrived. You'll find spectacular plants and foliage and hear the birds singing in the trees. But you won't get a night out on the town here - we tried, but found ourselves in a village hall that closed before midnight!
|Las Terrazas will leave you feeling green!|
Definitely worth making a stop here on your way to Vinales, where they make some of the finest cigars in Cuba, but don't expect music or dancing. This is a different kind of Cuba, where you'll be able to appreciate what can be achieved between man and nature! Perfect for a break from the frenetic pace of Havana - the city that never sleeps - and great for a change of gear en route to the heart of Cuba's agricultural communities further west...