They turn a backyard with a plastic play set exotic, add that perfect pinch of spice to even the best vacation, a tinge of mystery to the dullest of men. They help us relax, take in the moment and appreciate. A smoke has kept me watching the ocean for hours when I would have otherwise been in the pub or taking a nap. Their unique scent have brought on great conversations and connections with people I would have never met otherwise, and I still remember the time she took the stogie from my mouth and drew for the first time; she coughed and coughed, but there was something sexy about her curiosity.
There is something very special not only about smoking fine cigars but smoking them in foreign places – be those domestic or abroad. For cigar people, smoking is a regular part of life and thus any trip, that’s why the travel humidor was invented, but for people who aren’t cigar people or only smoke occasionally, there is intrinsically a travel element. After all, fine hand made cigars are rolled in some of the most amazing places in the world, and at least for me and my circle, more often than not we find ourselves talking and dreaming about the place of origin. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the country of origin is the best place to smoke a fine cigar, in fact, none of my favorite places to smoke are in places renowned for their cigars. Maybe that’s part of the reason I like them so much.
If I may, the listed five are not definitive. Needless to say, I haven’t been everywhere in the world (yet), nor would I pass up a good ‘gar around a campfire with a group of close friends, but on my journeys the following places have made an impression as cities, countries, that hold a beautiful smoking atmosphere. Thus, here is my criteria:
They have to be off the beaten path (sort of). Paris, Rome, Cape Town, Disney World; they are beautiful, surely amazing places, but who hasn’t been there? Boring isn’t the right word, of course not, but there are certainly quieter, more serene places to partake. Plus, the experience will be more genuine. You know why they don’t speak French in Paris, right? Because there’s no French people there.
They have to be reasonably accessible. There are plenty of hidden gems throughout the world, beautiful places that cars can’t access but determined hikers can. We’re not interested in those today. Sure they may hold incredible views and few crowds, but they are not reasonably accessible to the average person.
I have to have been there. Anyone can read about a place online, paraphrase, and spit out an article, but that doesn’t do us much good, it’s not reliable. I doubt my words here will persuade anyone to ditch their plans to vacation in Hawai’i, but I want to be as authentic as possible.
I’ve been to a great number of cities and countries across the globe, taken my collective experiences, and narrowed down a long list into my top five places to smoke a fine cigar. Enjoy.
5. St. Martin/Sint. Maarten, Virgin Islands
The second time I visited the island was better than the first, not because the first trip was bad but because the second time I was impossibly in love with life and a young lady I had met in Bermuda some days before. It’d been a smooth sail, the weather perfect, and arriving to the exotic atmosphere of St. Martin/Sint Maarten was significantly enhanced by the blonde beauty at my side. As we walked through the thick summer air at the base of mountains draped in green, I noticed a young island girl rolling long tobacco leaves into a Churchill maduro under a canopy by the water. I was sold. The local cigar is a great find, my personal favorite (though they’re hard to come by), and the culture is pure beach.
St. Martin/Sint Maarten is actually two countries, split into a French and a Dutch side. The island is frequented by cruise ships and is home to several nude beach clubs, so there is a heavy tourist presence. Even so, most people you’ll run into (even the naked ones) are very friendly. Away from the piers and tourist beaches though, it can be a dangerous island if you don’t tread softly in some of the more “local” areas, but with common sense there shouldn’t be any problems; unless you’re trying to buy cigars.
Be picky when choosing your cigars, especially Cubans. The Caribbean is ripe with cigar fraud, so much so that those who sold real Cuban cigars were losing profits. Their answer was registration. Find a fine cigar shop (you’ll know it when you see it down there) or a store that is on the list of those registered to sell authentic Cuban cigars, then enjoy at one of the low-key beach bars.
4. St. Augustine, Florida
Florida is America’s cigar Mecca, and while Miami and Tampa Bay hold their own in the runnings for cigar culture, there is no better Floridian city to enjoy your favorite stick than St. Augustine. America’s oldest established city is known for its forts, white-sand beaches, notoriously pirated past, and Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. The history buff could get lost in the cities colorful past for years, while the rest of us watch a space shuttle launch from the beach (which happens to be quite the party and lasts well past the shuttle breaking the atmosphere). Turtles nest in the dunes, pelicans fish offshore, and infant hammerheads brush your toes in the warm water.
Ecology aside, the real beauty of St. Augustine is found in the city itself. There’s plenty to explore and you might be amazed that you’re still in America when you stop and look at the ancient buildings and walls made from bricks of coral. The mix of tropical forest finding its way slowly into town, dunes that line the sea, and a haunted past, all lend the city shadows of mystery. Breathe in everything St. Augustine has to offer – beauty, culture, a lost past – along with some rich smoke.
The island is small enough to be so general, but is both beautiful and interesting. Still a part if the British Commonwealth, Bermuda has a rich history and a fine mix of island culture and British influence. Pubs and distinctly English houses crowd awkwardly next to huts and palms. Once I was lucky enough to observe a military parade outside the government block and finish the day off with a few pints at one of the pubs, full English. It’s not my favorite thing to do while there, but was an experience nonetheless. In the same vicinity is the luxurious side of the island which houses elegant shopping and, you guessed it, some places to buy fine cigars. Though they are overpriced, if you didn’t bring your own, my suggestion would be to pick up your sticks and then mosey over to the “realer” part of the island.
On certain beaches the sand is pink, everywhere it’s a perfect temperature – not too hot like the Caribbean and not too cold – and everyone is friendly. I enjoy combing the local restaurants and markets everywhere I go but Bermuda is so lively and friendly, I wouldn’t miss it. There are some interesting areas to explore, forts, museums, the like, and the Rum Cake Factory makes a mouthwatering desert, but if nowhere else but Bermuda, find a spot on the pink sand, next to one of the many beautiful rock formations, with a cold beer and your favorite stick, no beach towel necessary. Little else comes so close to paradise.
2. Cadiz, Spain
Other than the Spanish, not a great number of people know about Cadiz (at least before the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie), but it wouldn’t be accurate to say that it is a hidden gem either. Cadiz is a booming coastal town famous for its elaborate cathedral that looks over that special piece of water that is neither the Atlantic nor Mediterranean.
If for no other reason than the colorful streets themselves, Cadiz is a place that shouldn’t be missed. Once a fortified city, the coast is lined with ancient stone walls, lookout towers, and forts. From the outside sailing in, you may think you’ve stepped back into the days of the Conquistadores. Inside, however, narrow streets are lined by high and colorful apartment buildings. In a great feat of engineering, the design and placement of the buildings – narrow, long, and close together – flush fresh sea air into the city’s center, turning the walkways and alleys into a light and refreshing wind tunnel. Walks are glorious and cool and the twists and turns often lead to hidden squares where locals sip espresso under umbrellas and farmers sell their farm to table produce. Be mindful of the country’s siesta, though, a practice that has twice found me looking into a store window and my watch wondering why no one was around to rent me a surfboard.
Beautiful little cafés line the streets (don’t miss the tapás or sangria) and the Spanish know how to party once the sun goes down, but for smoking, I suggest finding a perch somewhere along the old sea wall, maybe overlooking the fort that lies on a small island in the bay, and soak in the sunset. The sea is a perfect blue and the gentle breeze will cool you as you smoke.
1. Villefranche, France
Villefranche is Nice (France) apart. Lying only a few kilometers to the east of the famous city, Villefranche has the authentic old-world-French-Rivera atmosphere that Nice tries so hard to capture. With steep, lush mountains that look out over the turquoise Mediterranean, the town stretches the topography to bring friendly faces and open arms.
Take a walk up the hills to see one of the best views in the Côte d’Azure, or sip a glass of rosé with some fresh seafood at one of the local marina-side restaurants. A swim out into the bay boasts an amazing view of the hills and the beautiful old structures teetering on their edges, plus the beaches are sand, verses the pebble beaches of Nice. If you’re up for exploring, leave the map behind and take walk through the narrow walkways to observe some incredible architecture and hidden courtyards.
Good luck trying to find a decent cigar, though. I spent quite a while trying to find an alleged cigar-exclusive shop to pick up a decent stick to no avail. (There are “tobacco shops” strung throughout the whole of France, but predominantly carry cigarettes and machine rolled cigars sold in packs.) However, when I dug into my travel humi and found the perfect spot overlooking the bay, I had one of the most relaxing and enjoyable smokes of my life.
The world is an amazing place, why not see it with a cigar in hand?
Comment below and tell us you’re favorite place to smoke a fine cigar