San Miguel de Allende, a small and outrageously charming town, perches on hilly contours in the heart of Mexico, away from beaches and the historic Aztec and Maya sites. A three hour drive from Mexico City, the town sprang up during the colonial era, as it lay en route between the silver-mines and shipyards.
Its narrow, cobbled streets, gracious casas and green squares have defied the passage of time and its World Heritage Site status will ensure the town remains unchanged.
The town was named after its founder, San Miguel, a Franciscan monk in 1542, as well as Ignacio Allende, a freedom fighter who first declared his hometown free from Spanish Rule in 1811.
The painted facades of San Miguel in the sunset
EXPLORING SAN MIGUEL
Besides its historic significance, what makes San Miguel compelling are its dramatic vistas and pigmented facades. The town falls steeply off the side of a hill, before sprawling into the plains below. This allows infinite views of its iconic church, La Parroquia, which is also the focal point of the town.
The colonial era walls of elegant homes, cantinas, haciendas, shops and cafes adhere to a code and are painted in the captivating tones. We revelled in the whimsical combinations of raspberry, plum, russet, garnet, ruby, mustard and sage tones that were further mulled in the witching hour of the setting sun. It was late March, and the purple flowers of hundreds of jacaranda trees formed dense canopies against the sky.
Locals at a Zumba dance class by the parish church
In the 1950s, San Miguel was colonised afresh by American artists who moved in and opened their galleries, infusing an air of bohemian chic. More recently, the arrival of Boutique hotels, chefs, and music venues are enticing visitors to discover the little gem in the Mexican highlands.
While Spanish and American influences abound, you never forget for a moment that you’re in Mexico. The streets are filled with vendors selling cloth dolls, wooden toys, and local snacks of corn tortillas with cactus, chopped salad and string cheese.
Chocolate and churros are enjoyed best at Café San Augustine. The vendor outside Immaculada Conception church doles out rose-petal and basil flavour ice-creams.
From left: Stone and painted facade of a local church in San Miguel; Tortilla vendor at the Mercado el Nigromante, San Miguel; Textile vendor at the market, San Miguel
At the Mercado El Nigromante, ladies bring homemade tortillas. Others sliced the needles off the cactus and sold herbs, boiled corn, dried mango and tamarind. Indigenous Indians had stalls of woven textiles and embroideries from their provinces.
At nightfall, as the streets become quiet, the terraces of San Miguel come alive as people mingle for drinks under the stars. Mariachi bands gather in the squares around La Parroquia church, singing lively songs.
* BEST TIME TO GO
Spring and autumn. March is the best time to enjoy a profusion of jacaranda blossoms.
* HOW TO GET THERE
Fly to Mexico City and drive 3 hours northeast to San Miguel or fly from Dallas and Chicago to León, Guanajuato and drive 30 minutes.
The San Miguel Arcangel Parish church, San Francisco Church, Immaculada Conception, and the Ontario church Mexico are the main colonial gems.
The Mask Museum and the Mexican Toy Museums give great insights into the living culture of Mexico.
El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden
The Rosewood for top end luxury (www.rosewoodsanmiguel.com)
Nena, a charming 5-bedroom boutique with views of San Miguel from the terrace. (www.hotelnena.mx)
Affordable style- Bed and Breakfast- Casa de la Cuesta (House on the slope), the home of Bill and Heidi. Levasseur is beautifully designed and has great views.(www.casadelacuesta.com)
The Restaurant on Sollano street- A charming space with local cuisine with a contemporary twist.
Café Cumpanio café and bakery serves delicious western and local Mexican fare. (www.cumpanio.com)
Aperi at Dos casas boutique hotel (www.aperi.mx)
Aurora Galleries has art galleries, handicrafts and interiors stores. The fine crafts market for souvenirs and local textiles and crafts.
* FURTHER AFIELD
There are four major historic cities in the State of Guanajuato: San Miguel, Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo and Mineral de Pozos.