Tip of the Month

Valley of Viñales

Each month we highlight a place of interest around the globe that we consider as unique as Borgo di Vagli. The tips are selected as they either show respect for the environment, nature, and architectural beauty or are deeply indigenous to their individual origin. This month our gorgeous Resort Director shares with us her passion for the Valley of Viñales in Cuba.

"Some of you may recall my Tip Of The Month in 2013 January's newsletter where I shared my thoughts about Cuba and my last minute decision to visit the island...; Well this year it was a bit different, I had barely stopped to dream about visiting again since I came back and researched all sorts of information about the island that had stolen my heart and I was ready to explore it again.

This time my best friend decided to visit with me but we agreed to book only flights and then move around as we felt. We stopped for a couple of days in Havana and enjoyed the beautiful colonial architecture that makes it so unique, the vibrant atmosphere that you breath throughout the city, night and day, and the warmth of the people who seem to have the attitude you’d find in small towns instead of in the capital of the Caribbean biggest island; everybody knows each other and everyone can’t help but talk to you.

After long days spent on beautiful turquoise beaches in various seaside towns and long nights enjoying the typical movida cubana, unfortunately and all too soon the time arrived for my friend to return to Italy while I still had another week to spend somewhere…

I had read a lot about different places that seemed interesting whether for the historical richness, the cultural one or the natural tropical beauty that Cuba is famous for, but distances on the island are always something you have to keep in consideration due to its size and the condition of the roads, so the option of visiting Santiago de Cuba, the second biggest city in the country, was crossed from my list as soon as I was told it was going to take me almost 12 hours by taxi!

I asked around different taxi drivers and before I knew it I was on the way to the Valley of Viñales, a beautiful and lush valley in the Pinar del Río province and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.

The 3 ½ hours drive is through some of the most spectacular countryside and takes you back in time. Agriculture is still the number one activity here and worked totally by hand. The man in the middle of the field sitting in the hand-made plow pulled by bulls and the women picking tobacco leaves brings back to my mind the words Dina recounts of when her and other inhabitants of Vagli used to work the fields… and not everyone may know, but also at Vagli like in Cuba tobacco was one of the main crops and funnily enough lots of Cubans know about Tuscan tobacco!!

As soon as we approached the entrance of the National Park, the views are so breathtaking, I’m suddenly sure to have made the right decision!

The valley feels very remote, with a lost-world quality mainly due to the unique mogotes, the boulder-like hills that look as if they’ve dropped from the sky onto the valley floor and the mist that every morning rises from the vast stretches of tobacco, sugar cane and banana plantations.

These particular hillocks were formed by erosion during the Jurassic period, some 160 million years ago. Rainfall slowly ate away at the dissolvable limestone and flattened much of the landscape, leaving a few survivors behind… with the most famous ones being the Mogote Das Hermanas or “twin sisters”, two huge cliffy mounds sitting next to each other on the west side of the valley.

One thing that would strike your mind is the contrast between the red, even orange soil and the super verdant vegetation... it makes it dramatic and very picturesque, a bit like our Crete Senesi!  

The small town of Viñales is a peaceful and romantic village, where everything revolves around the main street with small houses all painted in different colors and the main plaza with its beautiful Catholic church.

Each house is painted in different colors and boasts the typical colonial architecture; they looked so pretty I just couldn’t even think about staying in a hotel.

I start asking around and literally minutes later I’m in the casa particular drinking instantly made zumo de guayapa, chit chatting to Papito, the owner of the house and with one of his kids sitting in my lap, that’s what I call hospitality!  

While enjoying the Cuban conversations and the hundreds of questions about our world, I’m getting more and more excited in knowing how to get out there and when I hear about the option of exploring it on horseback, I don’t think twice. I walk through the tobacco plantation and a local guy is waiting for me with my new friend, Muñeca, a young female horse that will accompany me in one of the most amazing places I have ever visited.

As we slowly leave “civilization”, the beauty of this valley is overwhelming, no other people are seen anywhere apart from a few campesinos working their fields, the silence is only broken by the hooves of our horses and the color of the paths are of the most intense red..

After a few hours of galloping, my legs start to ache and we head for one of the few miradores, small wooden huts on top of the hills with the most beautiful views and the freshest fruit you could ever imagine. Coconuts are literally picked in front of your eyes, carved and filled with rum and honey, all you need to do is sit on the porch sipping this delicacy, staring at the kms and kms of unspoiled nature and feeling thankful for having this opportunity!

The sun is about to set making the colors even more alive so we race back to the town and we agree to meet again the following day, there is so much to see I don’t want to waste any time.

The aim for mañana is to visit the Cueva del Indio, as the mogotes, amongst their peculiarities, hide an incredible system of natural caves, making the area of great speleological interest too. Further west from where I am, the Santo Tomás cave system, criss-cross for 45 km of galleries, one of the largest in Hispanic America.

The caves in the Viñales Valley were inhabited for many centuries before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors. The cimarrones, escaped slaves from Africa, often found refuge there and the Pan de Azúcar site contains the ruins of the biggest hacienda, where slaves were taught different trades.

As we approach the entrance, we tie our horses to the trees (by now I’m feeling like a real cowgirl!) and start to descend a very steep wooden ladder and the natural show begins: the different shapes and forms of the rocks that water and time have created over the centuries and the ancient drawings in the rocky walls are quite incredible... We continue to climb up and down until we get to the bottom where a small dinghy is waiting for us… the San Vicente River runs through for nearly four kilometres of underground streams and offers you great spots to stop for a dive.

A good home made piña colada was waiting for me at the end of the two hour visit and couldn’t be a better choice before galloping back to the town…

Unfortunately my camera broke whilst I was in Havana so the pictures are courtesy of the World Wide Web! Another good reason to go back…  


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