Beach + Island

World's Sexiest Beaches 2009

by Colleen Clark

Varadero Beach, Cuba

The turn-on: Cuba: The forbidden fruit. Our mysterious Southern neighbor at once spurns our advances and invites us in with her secret allure. New travel policies could soon open Cuban shores to American crowds and cruise ships, but for now you'll have to use your imagination (or a Canadian passport). Varadero, a two-hour drive from Havana, is Cuba's premier resort area, with more than 12 miles of sugar-sand beaches. The early-20th-century playground of Cuba's moneyed elite, Varadero drew everyone from Al Capone to Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. American plutocrat Irénée du Pont built his dream home, Xanadú, here. The paper-thin peninsula is backed by mangroves and ringed by virgin islets and coral reefs swimming with painted fish; the steamy downtown is populated with cafés and cabarets in decaying Art Nouveau buildings.

Hot bodies: For all its allure, we should probably break it to you: The Varadero of today has lost much of the sultry sheen of its pre-Castro days, with waves of European package tourists filling the 50-plus hotels lining the peninsula. However, there are still hidden coves on deserted cays and winding avenidas that seduce with the sense of bygone glamour, not to mention some seriously sexy locals.

Bed down: Not much has changed at the Xanadú Mansion since du Pont built it—except the inhabitants. The cliff-top palace, now owned by the Varadero Golf Club, has been converted into a six-room hotel that's a time capsule of 1930s decadence.

Next: Mexico's dream coast >

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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