Hemingway’s villa in Cuba – Finca Vigía

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía, Cuba

This is the Cuban villa where Hemingway lived from 1939-1960 and wrote many of his best known novels. It sits high in the town of San Francisco de Paula about half an hour outside Havana, and from the patio you can actually see Havana in the distance, hence the name Finca Vigía or “Lookout Farm.” The villa was discovered by Hemingway’s wife at the time, Martha Gelhorn, who was seeking somewhere spacious for the two of them to live. Hemingway had been mostly living and working out of his room on the fifth floor of the Ambos Mundos Hotel in Havana, and it was too small.

In the photos below you can see that Finca Vigía has two studies, one off the bedroom (which Hemingway apparently used most), and a grander one off the living room. The elements of machismo in the house are hardly surprising considering his tiresome fixation on proving his manhood—the bullfighting posters, his hunting trophies from Africa—but otherwise the house is unexpectedly relaxed, airy and not particularly boastful. Hemingway was delighted (his word) with Castro’s overthrow of the grisly Batista regime, despite the fact that Finca Vigía was later expropriated by the state after the Bay of Pigs. By then Hemingway was on his way out of Cuba anyway; his health and mental state were in serious decline and he was already fed up with the flow of houseguests and tourists to the villa. He moved back to his home state of Idaho. Upon Hemingway’s death in 1961 the villa was made into a museum. Nothing has been touched since—almost all of his books and trophies and art and furniture remain. You can’t go in, but they open the doors and windows and you can look into almost every room.

There is also a pretty wooden guest house, not open to the public, where Hemingway’s sons would stay here when they visited. Considering the overcrowding in housing in Cuba it’s weird to see these buildings sit empty, but there is something unexpectedly moving about this place. I had half-expected the Cuban government to have turned it into a monument to Hemingway’s friendship with Castro, but there’s no evidence of that anywhere. For that you need to go to the restaurant in Cojimar and see the framed photos. You don’t see this at Hemingway’s room at the Ambos Mundos Hotel in Havana, either. It too is a museum now, containing a rotating display of objects from the villa. It’s surprisingly small.

Just east of the villa is the fishing village of Cojimar where Hemingway kept his famous wooden fishing craft the Pilar (which is now on the grounds of the villa, sitting on blocks on the old covered tennis court). Cojimar gave Hemingway the setting for his book The Old Man and the Sea, and he is still remembered there—you can still get a drink in the story’s famous La Terazza bar where Hemingway often drank (but then it’s hard to find a bar near Havana that he didn’t drink in). The bar is filled with photos of Hemingway, including the two with Castro, below.

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía, Cuba

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía, Cuba

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía, Cuba

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía, Cuba

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía, Cuba - bathroom

Hemingway kept an obsessive record of his weight which he would often mark directly on the wall. (Closeup here.)

Hemingway's weight chart at Finca la Vigía

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía, Cuba

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía

Hemingway's boat the Pilar

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía, Cuba

Hemingway's Finca la Vigía - tree

Roadster at Hemingway's Finca la Vigía

Dogs at Hemingway's Finca la Vigía

Hemingway had many cats at the villa, but the current caretakers keep dogs. There were about 12 well-kept little Cuban dogs on the villa grounds, and like most dogs in Cuba they’re friendly, trusting and obviously well-treated. There was a “cold” spell this year in Cuba, relatively speaking, and in Havana you could identify which dogs weren’t strays because they were the ones wearing t-shirts. It never got below 10 degrees C.

Below, are photos taken in nearby Cojimar. The first two are of framed photos of Hemingway and Castro from the large collection on the wall at the La Terazza bar. They must have been shot after the revolution in ’59 and before Hemingway’s suicide in 1961.

Hemingway and Castro, probably 1960

Hemingway and Castro, probably 1960

Cuba - La Terraza in Cojimar

Cuba2011_1505

Hemingway memorial, Cojimar, Cuba

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10 Responses to “Hemingway’s villa in Cuba – Finca Vigía”

  1. Tweets that mention Hemingway’s villa in Cuba – Finca la Vigía | ouno -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ouno and Keith Scharwath. Keith Scharwath said: Many books… all organized by height. RT @ghubacek Love this – Hemmingway's Villa in Cuba. http://is.gd/k5wlo […]

  2. Cherry Says:

    I just discovered your blog. I’m loving what I’ve seen so far. Those are gorgeous photos of Hemingways house. I love the whole weight monitoring system.

    I’ll definitely be checking this space again.

  3. Marya Says:

    If you are still in Cuba you MUST go to the Art Schools. They are amazing. http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2003/sep/08/architecture.cuba

  4. bree Says:

    Wow, really interesting and thoughtful post – thanks!

  5. ElizabethC Says:

    “Considering the overcrowding in housing in Cuba it’s hard to see these spaces sit empty, but there is something unexpectedly moving about this place and I’m glad it has been kept up as a museum.”

    Yes.

  6. CHARLES FINCH Says:

    How far from Jose Marti International Airport is La Vigia farm? IS Cojimar close by the house?

  7. LB Says:

    Not sure of the exact distance but Jose Marti is on the other side of Havana from Cojimar. I seem to remember it was a half hour drive from Havana to Finca Vigia or maybe a little more. I forget exactly. It seemed interminable because there were far too many of us in far too small a taxi (there are plenty of new cabs but we didn’t get one) and it was hot. Cojimar was perhaps about 15 mins from the finca by car? Google map “Cojimar” and you can clearly see the distances. Jose Marti is the large grey shape on the other side of Havana, a little to the south.

  8. Ed Says:

    Keep in mind Hemingways support of the revolution was because Batista was becoming unbearable and to this point Castro had stated he was NOT communist. Many people like to infer Hemingway supported communism and nothing could be further from the truth, even in Spain, the choice was relatively benign communism or brutal fascism, which would you have supported? Hemingway met Castro a grand total of ONE time at the fishing tournament and Castro has overstated this relationship ever since. Modern scholars who travel to the Finca pay Castro lip service and show his ‘magnanimity’ because you basically have to in order to get anything done in Cuba as an American.

    Also, Hemingway’s home state was Illinois, not Idaho.

  9. LB Says:

    Ed, thanks for the correction; yes, it was Illinois of course.

    This might interest you:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jul/03/fbi-and-ernest-hemingway
    proving that Hemingway’s so-called paranoia re: surveillance on him after Cuba was in fact not paranoia at all.

    Castro may not have been exactly communist, nor did I claim he was (not that it would have been a problem), but he was clearly a supporter of the revolution and clearly despised Bastista’s brutality. That is the point I think.

  10. DAvid Ray Says:

    In my 2011 book, Hemingway, A Desperate Life, I describe a man who, though pursued as a communist by his arch enemy, J. Edgar Hoover, could never have been a communist. He was about as capitalist as they come, aggressive, competitive to the core, money-oriented (to say the least). Anyone who’s read his books, including For Whom The Bell Tolls and To Have and Have Not, can easily see that any coincidental links to various ideologies were as tenuous, temporary, and tangentially essential for the causes he fought for alongside idealists of any stripes as were Orwell’s or those of others drawn into conflicts. His references to communists, with the possible exception of Castro, are always contemptuous.

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