Available in a bewildering array of lengths, ring gauges, shapes and tobacco blends, these wrapped bundles of dried and fermented tobacco leaves attract the same level of fascination and devotion as fine wines or gourmet food. From the strong, dark maduro sticks to the lighter, milder claro cigars, and from a rich Cuban Churchill to a spicy Nicaraguan robusto, the range of possible flavours is endless.
Here we take a world tour of some of the beautiful cigar-producing and manufacturing countries around the world, perhaps as inspiration for a cigar-themed holiday! Many factories run tours and tobacco farmers are often open to showing polite visitors around their fields.
Cuban cigars are still the benchmark for quality and flavour, and make up 70 per cent of sales in the world market. However, the US trade embargo on Cuba, signed in 1967 by John F. Kennedy one day after he ordered 1,200 H. Upmann cuban cigars for himself, has allowed other countries to build substantial cigar industries to compete with Cuba and serve the US market.
Many of the top Cuban cigar brands moved operations over to the Dominican Republic after the US trade embargo, with some producing in both countries. Cohiba, Montecristo, Davidoff, Romeo y Julieta and other top brands make world-class cigars on the island, and the annual ProCigar festival each February is a great chance to sample the very best Dominican produce.
Like the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua benefitted greatly from the US/Cuba trade embargo, with many brands setting up there to supply the United States. Nicaraguan tobacco is highly-rated and used in many of the world's most sought-after cigars, and a Nicaraguan cigar - the Padron Family Reserve No. 45 Maduro - was deemed the best in the world by Cigar Aficionado magazine in 2009.
Similarly, although Honduras has been producing cigars for more than a century, the political situation in Cuba gave the country's tobacco industry a huge boost. Tobacco seed was smuggled from Cuba into the country, and it now produces cigars to rival the best Cubans. Indeed, the best cigar in the world in 2011, according to Cigar Aficionado magazine, was the Alec Bradley Prensado Churchill - made in Honduras and blended from Nicaraguan and Honduran tobaccos.
From top Costa Rican brands like Don Benigno down to the smaller brands, Costa Rican cigars are good quality and the industry has expanded in recent years, but higher taxes have ultimately limited the country's growth in this area. Although more renowned for its coffee than its cigars, Costa Rica is still worth a visit for cigar fans, and the country's dramatic landscape, rich culture and friendly locals only add to the experience.
Although your average visitor to the US will head straight for the cheapest flights to New York or Florida, cigar buffs might choose to head to Miami instead. The city is one of the major hotspots for cigar manufacturing in the US, with the Little Havana neighbourhood of Miami being home to many Cuban immigrants who brought their skill and knowledge of cigars with them. As well as Miami, Las Vegas is home to a good variety of cigar-rollers to cater for the huge number of revellers needing a good smoke!
While southern states such as Virginia account for the majority of tobacco in the country, highly sought-after cigar wrapper leaves are grown in the north-eastern state of Connecticut.
The San Andres valley of Mexico produces some top-grade tobacco and the country's cigars are starting to make a name for themselves. Generally milder than Cuban and other Central American sticks, the finest Mexican cigars are made by a handful of top brands, including Aromas de San Andres and Santa Clara.
Ecuador, with its warm, humid climate, consistent cloud cover and rich volcanic soil, is perfect for growing fine wrapper leaves for premium cigars. Some of the highest-rated cigars in recent times have been wrapped in the fine-veined, silky leaves produced by the expert farmers of Ecuador.
Cigars have been integral part of Dutch culture since the country began producing its own cigars in 1896, using tobacco crops from its colonies in the Far East. Dutch cigars are popular across Europe, and tend to be smooth, sweet and drier in construction than other comparable brands.
Cigars have been produced in the Caribbean archipelago of Puerto Rico for centuries. With its tropical climate and skilled artisans at companies such as Don Rey Cigar and Don Collins, Puerto Rican cigars are starting to stake a claim on the exclusive premium cigar market.
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