Insight Paladares: Balcon Del Valle

Visiting Valle de Viñales is all about the views. There are more than a few lookouts over the bucolic tobacco fields but only paladar Balcón de la Valle (Balcony of the Valley) lets you take in the landscape while feasting on the best traditions of rural Cuban cooking. 

Balcon Del Valle in Pinar del Rio, Cuba

Valle de Viñales doesn’t fit the image of a traditional valley held between two mountains. Instead of erosion from surface water Valle de Viñales was formed by erosion from underground streams, which then caused caves to collapse, forming an intricate network of low and high points throughout the area. Instead of a continuous mountain range the hills stand as solitary magotes, like giant 100-300 meter haystacks in the verdant landscape. 

Balcon Del Valle views over Valle de Viñales 

These unique geographical features are only part of the draw to Viñales, the other attraction is the cultural heritage that typifies rural outposts of Cuban life. Farming, storytelling, tobacco rolling, ranching, and maintaining a tight-knit community are some of the more important parts of living in a place such as Valle de Viñales. Of course central to all of this is being open and welcoming to outsiders. With more casa particulares (bed and breakfasts) per block than any other Cuban town Valle de Viñales goes over and above to make sure that foreigners feel more than welcomed in their quite little town.

To honor these traditions the area was given the distinction of being a United Nations Cultural-Landscape Site in 1999. The restaurant Balcony of the Valley does its best in preserving this unique mix of culture and geography.

The deck at Balcon Del Valle provides a beautiful view!

Perched on wooden platforms made from planks cut from Royal Palm Trees (the official tree of Cuba) and held aloft on pine posts cut from the tropical pines that surround the valley this could be one of the most unique paladares on the island.

The more than 180-degree view of the valley from any of the tables means that you might spend more time looking out at that magnificent sunset than at your plate.

Stunning views from the Balcony of the Valley in Cuba

If you need convincing that your food is worth a minute of your time in this brilliant setting consider that everything is cooked over a charcoal fire. This cooking technique produces a taste that can’t be replicated over gas or electric stoves.

Everything is cooked over a charcoal fire at Balcon Del Valle

Just because you are in the mountains doesn’t mean you have to stick to pork and chicken. The paladar offers family style meals where guests pay a per-person price (between $10-15) and are served several plates of starters (croquetas (like hush-puppies but chewier), fresh vegetable salad and fried plantain chips are commonly offered) and then 5 different plates of meat (beef, fish, shrimp, pork, lamb, chicken or lobster) are then shared between hearty serving of rice, beans, yucca, and grilled vegetables.

People used to go to Valle de Viñales because it was an off-the-map destination with a stunning landscape. Even though tourism has become the staple crop of this farming town the locals have not let that alter their affiliation for their unique heritage. The highlight of any visit continues to be the geographical and cultural heritage of their community. Balcony of the Valley off the both of best worlds: stunning views and savory rural cooking.

More views from Balcon Del Valle in Pinar del Rio, Cuba

Balcon del Valle is located before you enter into Viñales proper at Km 23 of the Pinar del Rio – Vinales highway just 120 meters from the visitors center. Open daily from 12pm-10pm reservations can be made at 52238969. Come before sunset to see stunning views and bring bug spray to keep the mosquitoes away.

Photos and Text by Graham Sowa.