A grand crenelated entry gate a few kilometers west of San Diego de los Baños announces the surreal, long-abandoned grounds of Hacienda Cortina. The brainchild of wealthy lawyer José Manuel Cortina, this rich-man's-fantasy-made-reality was built as a giant park during the 1920s and 1930s, with Cortina plonking a stately home in its midst. After nigh-on a century of neglect, in 2014 refurbishment money arrived out of the blue and the hacienda has been partially restored.
There's a lot to take in at this tropical pleasure dome, although most of it is yet to be fully appreciated by foreign visitors (most passers-by are Cuban). A driveway from the grandiose entrance leads up to a cluster of attractively restored buildings, including a restaurant, swimming pool and hotel (Cubans only). From here a staircase leads down through a French-style garden adorned with colorful buds and statues of Carrera marble. Beyond, lie the ruins of Cortina's erstwhile mansion, partially restored and incorporating another open-air bar-restaurant.
On either side, the extensive plant-rich grounds spread out to incorporate an artificial boating lake, several ornamental bridges, plus Japanese and Chinese gardens complete with pagodas. It's a spirit-lifting and beautiful domain and would be even more so if the various eating joints didn't insist on playing ear-splitting music.
The hacienda grounds fan out beyond into the wild 25,000-hectare Parque la Güira.