Whenever I visit Varadero, Cuba's main beach resort, I never fail to visit Parque Retiro Josone, especially in those mid-noon wasted hours when I'd rather not take a nap. This paradisiac place, always bearing nice surprises, is an oasis of peace in the midst of the heat and the crowds that flock to this Cuban coastal town, especially during the summer months.
Between 1942 and 1950, the 9-hectare extension of Parque Retiro Josone, was acquired by Mr. Jose Fermin Iturrioz y Llaguno. This personage of Basque origin, was one of the most important executives of the Arrechavala S.A. company, founded in Cardenas in 1878. It was this very same company that eventually created the famous Havana Club rum in 1934.
Parque Retiro Josone was a long sought dream by Iturrioz y Llaguno and his wife Onelia Mendez. Since 1942, the couple longed to own a place of leisure in which their love could be perpetuated. Thus, to commemorate their silver wedding anniversary, and as a beautiful tribute to the social customs they were forced to break in order to be together (Onelia came from a very poor family), the construction of the park began, From then on, the park hosted many unforgettable parties and receptions in which Onelia welcomed those who due to her social origin, had banned her years before from the most elegant and high-society halls of Cardenas, Matanzas and Havana.
The park's original name - Josone - , is the result of joining the first three letters of the couple's names: Jose and Onelia. It took several years for engineer Manuel F. Arias, Technical Director of the Arrechavala S.A. company and other architects, to finish this natural paradise whose design included a swimming pool, a private oratory devoted to La Virgen de Lourdes, a water area almost in the centre of the site that formed a lagoon named Laguna de la Paz (Peace Lagoon), the main house for the owners and other constructions.
The copious tropical plant life that grows in the park is characterised throughout the year by its beauty and exuberance. In addition to this, the place also bears small caverns and a rich endemic fauna that cohabits in perfect harmony with other exotic animals that range from parrots to dromedaries.
In 1963 the park's owners left the country and thus the site became state property. The place was turned into a holiday lodge that has received renowned world celebrities, including; Yuri Gagarin, Houari BoumediÃ¨ne and Salvador Allende. In 1989, Parque Retiro Josone was opened up to the general public, welcoming national and foreign tourists.
What to do in the park? Where to eat?
There are many snack-bars, restaurants and other interesting places within the park. Among them I recommend the following, some of which I have visited more than once with my family and friends:
- Bar Varadero 1920, in which aside from tasting authentic Cuban drinks and cocktails, you can rent rowboats and enjoy a gentle rowing experience on the Laguna de la Paz, which circles a small island.
- Dante restaurant, specialised in Italian food. It is situated in a house built in 1943. Made of stone and roof tiles, it maintains its main original features. This house was the Iturrioz family's first residence. They later moved and left it as a lodging place for visitors.
- El Rancho (The Ranch) restaurant, where you can dig into a delicious paella or an arroz mixto; rice cooked in different ways, including all kinds of meat, seafood and/or vegetables.
- Retiro Josone restaurant, specialised in Cuban and international food. It's on the park's main house, whose construction was finished in 1945.
- La Campana (The Bell) restaurant. It's located in the building known for years as La Cabana (The Cabin), due to the fact that it resembles the rustic houses of Basque origin. Built in 1945, it was destined for the owner's breakfasts and dining with guests and friends. Its appearance bears a certain influence of American ranches. The ancient bell giving new name to the site was placed here in 1966.
- La Estrella (The Star) polyvalent hall. It was intended for the recreation and relaxation of employees of the Arrechavala S.A. company and family guests. It had pool tables, domino games, a bowling alley, target shooting, a reading room and a bar where guests sampled the famous Havana Club rum.
- The swimming pool; the ideal place to go for a dip and cool down from the intense heat. It was built in 1953, in an open area near a private dock. Josone's owner; always had his sailboat, named after his wife Onelia, docked here.
- El Tunel (The Tunnel). It connects the park to the north coast of the Hicacos peninsula while crossing Varadero's first avenue via an underground tunnel. It was built in 1953, so that the Josone owners and their guests could safely reach the beach strip.
- The restaurant in the Centro Internacional de Buceo (International Scuba Diving Centre), specialised in marine and seafood dishes.
- El Restaurante Antiguedades (Antiquities restaurant). This construction wasn't part of Parque Retiro Josone, but was attached to it after 1959. It belonged to American multi-millionaire Mr. Irene Dupont and his butler lived in it for years.
- Bar Guarapera, a place in which to informally enjoy a tasty guarapo a traditional Cuban beverage made of squeezed sugar cane natural juice , and learn about the history of sugar in Cuba.
Parque Retiro Josone can be easily reached; from any hotel in Varadero, in just a few minutes by car. You may even reach it walking, if you are within the limits of the resort's residential zone. Beautifully preserving all its magnificence, this park is visited by thousands of Cuban and foreign tourists each year, especially by families and groups of friends of all ages who find in it, an ideal place for leisure and recreation. I never miss a chance to visit it when I'm in Varadero. I recommend you to never miss yours either.