The provincial interior of Matanzas, wedged between the two touristic poles of Varadero and the Península de Zapata, is dominated by agriculture, with islands of banana and vegetable crops dotting the seas of sugar-cane fields. There are a few small towns in this sparsely populated territory – a couple of the larger ones, Colón and Jovellanos, are on the Carretera Central, the main road bisecting the northern half of the province. Away from the highway the smaller, more picturesque hamlet of SAN MIGUEL DE LOS BAÑOS is one of the province’s lesser-known treats, off the official tourist track and accessible only by car, hidden away in its own cosy valley 25km southwest of Cárdenas. A cross between an alpine village and a Wild West ghost town, this once opulent settlement has lost most of its wealth, with the wood-panelled ranch-style houses and villas on the hillside among the few reminders of what San Miguel de los Baños once was. These faded signs of success are part of the enchantment of a place that made its fortune during the first half of the twentieth century through the popularity of its health spa and hotel, the Balneario San Miguel de los Baños, still one of the focal points for visits here, along with the Loma de Jacán – though don’t miss the magnificently perched outdoor public swimming pool either, five minutes’ walk from the old hotel through the centre of the village – often empty but with lovely views of the enclosing, fir-covered, palm-dotted hills.

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