Hemingway's Finca Vigía
After having previously lived temporarily on Havana hotels like the Ambos Mundos, where he partly wrote two of his books (his room also stands as a museum today and preserves his personal belongings) it wasn’t long before the American author decided to buy a permanent address in Cuba. For this he chose a location a little outside Havana and not too far from the sea as he was a keen fisherman. He called it Finca Vigía (Lookout Farm) because of its elevated position in the town of San Francisco de Paula.
The house was built in 1886 and Hemingway bought it after marrying his third wife. He paid $12,500 for it and took up residence for long periods of time. As you can see its elegant exterior evokes the glamour of the 1940s and 1950s, including a former garage seen on the third picture, that was later turned into a guest house and is now used as an office.
Living room & Dining room
I decided to group these two areas of the house together because one beautifully leads into the other via an arched door. All items found here have been painstakingly positioned so that guests find the property just as if lived in, including the selection of liquor bottles by the two armchairs. There are also numerous hunting trophies hanging from the walls, as Hemingway was a notoriously keen game hunter who embarked on several trips to Africa throughout his lifetime.
On a curious note, and as you’ll quickly notice as you glance through the remainder of the house, the American novelist filled every room in the house with books, even the bathroom! The living and dining rooms here are no exception to the rule.
Study - Library
If there’s a room in Hemingway where books really take over that’s, quite understandably, his study and library. As you can see, shelf upon shelf lines the walls with hundreds of books and magazine publications.
Overlooking it all is Hemingway’s desk, adorned by the head of a lioness on one end and littered with books, boxes and office paraphernalia including a stapler, pencil sharpener, stamp and pen. Just as if the author had briefly popped out for a minute. It is said that, however attractive and inspiring this studio might look, Hemingway actually preferred to write in his bedroom, which leads us to the next section.
Bedrooms (+ workroom)
Spacious, airy and naturally well-lit, as most rooms in this house are, Hemingway’s master bedroom featured a large double bed and had a small workroom attached to it. Separated from the sleeping area via three arches (two of which are lined by, you’ve guessed it, bookshelves!) the compact study area had a desk, this one far more personal and messy than the one at the official study, with photographs stuck under the desk’s protective glass and a myriad of small and curious possessions (including a line-up of small wooden animals).
The photograph at the bottom is of the second bedroom, with double beds, yet another animal head hanging from a wall and yet more books. It also features a vanity desk, stool and mirror. I’m guessing this is probably where Hemingway’s children slept.
Attached to the master bedroom, the spacious en-suite bathroom features a few curious objects. Beyond the usual toiletries and Hemingway’s hairbrush and shaving mirror, there are two dead animals in jars: a reptile (quite possibly a baby crocodile) and what looks like a small bird. We wondered as to why he would choose such extravagant items as decorative bathroom ornaments, but then again, we’re talking about Hemingway and writers are, after all, known for their eccentricity.
Another curiosity is the scribblings on one of the bathroom walls, which are Hemingway’s personal weight and blood pressure recordings.
The Lookout house
Separate from the main house and added to the 12-acre property by Hemingway’s fourth wife, The Lookout tower was erected with the aim of inspiring the traveller with sweeping countryside views. It was here that yet another study was created, complete with desk and typewriter, bookshelves, a chaise-longue, a large painting of Hemingway hunting in Africa (posing next to a dead leopard in case you were wondering) and a telescope for starry night viewing.
It was a very hot day for all of us on the tour that day, and for the little dog pictured, so we were glad to escape the area through the shaded, leafy path leading us to the swimming pool.
Although empty now, Hemingway’s pool was the stuff around which many legends circulated, including a very famous anecdote that says Ava Gardner swam naked in it. Being the most social part of the house, where he liked to entertain some very famous guests that visited him, this large pool was the centre of all the party action, and, as can be seen, it had gorgeous, cooling vegetation around it.
The Boat Pilar – a boat with a story
His faithful friend of the high seas, witness to all his Cuban fishing adventures, the Pilar boat is so famous that a Cuban beach in Cayo Guillermo is named after it. Its name actually derives from a nickname of one of Hemingway’s wives, Pauline, as well as the woman leader in one of his novels, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. Several of Hemingway’s works were inspired by his trips onboard Pilar, most famously “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Islands in the Stream”.
Upon his departure, Hemingway left his boat to his beloved Cuban friend and fellow fisherman, Gregorio Fuentes, who is said to have been the inspiration for the character of Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea”. When Fuentes died, he left the boat to the people of Cuba and restoration works spruced up the vessel for its display in Finca Vigía, Pilar’s final resting place.