THE MOST INTERESTING TOWN IN THE WORLD
[San Miguel De Allende: The Most Interesting Town in the World by Kelly Lee Treats Magazine August 15, 2015]
The ancient town of San Miguel de Allende—founded in 1542, making it Mexico’s oldest colonial town—is buried like a chest of rubies and pearls deep in the central mountains: Bathed in eternal sunshine, a world-class art school, candy-colored haciendas & savory scents of cinnamon-and-sugar-doused churros wafting down its cobblestone streets, has become an oasis for the world’s most inspired travelers, adventurers & artists. TREATS! channels the mix of storybook lanes of art galleries, sun-dappled courtyards, firecracker nights, candlelit rooftop cocktails & Audrey Hepburn’s former fit model at Givenchy that all make San Miguel de Allende la Ciudad más Interesante en el Mundo.
In a bleary-eyed haze, we drive into the storied sun-swept artist’s oasis that is San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We arrive from the Los Angeles on a direct three-hour flight at the lonely hour of 3am, keen on seeing what all the fuss is about, but vastly underprepared. After accepting a last-minute invitation to join on a trip to the Central Mexican mountain town, perched a mile above sea level, we can only respond when asked by friends and family, “Is it safe?” with an honest answer: “Guess we’ll find out.”
At the small, modern airport of León-Guanajuato, we are met by a tall, thin teenage boy who timidly holds a sign bearing our names. After some hand-gesturing and soft-spoken broken English and Spanish between us, he escorts us to our car, where we’re greeted by the boy’s father. He’s along for the ride and to help his son, our driver-in-training, navigate the 70-mile journey from León into San Miguel. Along the way, he confesses in perfect English that he hopes his son will choose to join the family business, a business that is in large part buoyed by expats, largely Americans and Canadians, yearning to explore Mexico’s oldest colonial town, San Miguel de Allende, founded in 1542.
We cruise as if on a slow-moving roller coaster, as our timorous driver cautiously traverses Central Mexico’s mountainous, rocky, arid, and mostly empty terrain. Next to him, his proud, dozing father wakes only to direct “a la izquierda” (to the left) or “a la derecha” (to the right) after being jarred out of slumber by the abundant speed bumps, some formed by nature, others by man.
We observe in the early-morning silence the light morph from an ombré gradation of inky indigo, turquoise, and periwinkle to amethyst, amber, and blush. The sun begins to wake, cresting over the hill just as a herd of cattle descends the mountain, brazenly claiming right of way. We sit in the stillness of dawn, waiting patiently, awestruck by the bovine crossing that is both remarkably swift and deliberate.
One and a half hours after our roller coaster ride begins, we enter the narrow cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende. Flanked by sinuous rows of ruddy, dulce-colored haciendas, we arrive at our destination. It’s 5am.
We bid our drivers adios and find ourselves, suitcases in hand, standing before a turquoise arched doorway engulfed in spritely fuchsia bougainvillea.
WE HAVE ARRIVED
In the three-story, intensely hued hacienda that we’ve rented through HomeAway along with our companions for just under $90 per night in the San Antonio neighborhood, we climb our way up the lime-painted staircase of Casa de los Amigos to the second story for a languorous siesta in one of two festively appointed bedrooms. Hours later, we awake to find our companions enjoying coffee and local pastries in the courtyard, and soon stumble into town for lunch on a rooftop garden, which we’ll soon learn are plentiful in San Miguel and prime for drinking in the town’s pink-and-gold-flecked sunsets and never-ending fireworks.
Bathed in eternal sunshine, we take in the 360-degree views over elegant, local Mexican fare, the uncomplicated but satisfying flavors, along with a glass or two of wine, to assuage our mild jet lag. We tour the town, beginning with El Jardín, the town’s main plaza, heartbeat, and hub for locals, who can be found quietly observing and chatting atop benches poised beneath tautly manicured laurel trees. On weekends, the Jardín transforms into a boisterous meeting place vibrating with the pulse of young families. Children nibble cinnamon-and-sugar-doused churros while mariachis make merry. Bunting and streamers dance in the wind. Pedestrian walkways surround El Jardín on three sides. On the fourth, we note that the unofficial town car is the classic Volkswagen Bug, as one after another lurches by in candy colors befitting the buildings of San Miguel. We deeply inhale the intoxicating scent of our surroundings—a unique mix of jacaranda and helotes (roasted corn), as we bask in the glow of the pink-granite parish church, La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. Often compared to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, La Parroquia and its rosy neo-gothic spires feel much less jarring—less fun house—yet equally as awing against the cerulean sky. A street vendor offers us hats for one dollar, but we pass, opting to explore the dusty cobblestone streets in full view of el sol. Vendors are friendly, but refreshingly unobtrusive, only offering their wares once for every “no gracias.” We imbibe the well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture that the 500-year-old town is renowned for, and for which helped earn its designation as an Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008. The baroque buildings and stone streets rival the most enchanting parts of Spain and Italy, including Rome’s charming cobblestoned Trastevere neighborhood and Andalucían Spain’s blissfully unpopulated town of Montejaque. We resolve to see more, but for now we must prepare for the evening’s activities: dinner, drinks, and live music with local expats. We drive to the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende, past a Mega grocery store and a multiplex movie theatre—San Miguel is growing—to meet our guides and companions for the night. A Swiss-German couple welcomes us into their home, an elegantly rambling estate they purchased over 30 years ago solely because it had a phone line, and which they renovated extensively 10 years ago when they made San Miguel their full-time residence. Over martinis and champagne on the patio, we learn their stories: he a retired CEO, she Audrey Hepburn’s former fit model at Givenchy; they first visited San Miguel for a week, each subsequent visit growing longer, eventually leading to the acquisition of a vacation home, which ultimately became their permanent residence. After living all around the world, there was nowhere else the pair would rather be than San Miguel de Allende.
THEY ARE NOT ALONE
The baroque buildings and stone streets rival the most enchanting parts of Spain and Italy, including Rome’s charming cobblestoned Trastevere neighborhood and Andalucían Spain’s blissfully unpopulated town of Montejaque. With the public relations and marketing assistance of American artist and writer, William Stirling Dickinson, a transplant from Chicago, they began advertising the school in the United States as a place where veterans on the GI Bill could study and live the good life. The pair, along with former Guanajuato governor, Enrique Fernández Martínez, and Nell Harris, Fernandez’ wife, went on to found another art school, the Instituto Allende, which has become one of the city’s main draws, furthering San Miguel’s reputation as an international art destination. Over the next week, we visit the Instituto, exploring its sculpture studio and Diego Rivera murals. We inquire about classes; the spell has been cast. We’re already planning our next trip, perhaps a permanent one. Afternoons are enjoyed languidly ambling through town, discovering all of San Miguel’s many charms. Despite the high stuccoed walls that line the cobbled streets, which at first seem foreboding and exclusive, we dare to peek behind them. Doors open to enchanting finds: sweet-smelling bakeries, bed and breakfasts, sun-dappled courtyards serving lunch, even world-class hotels like Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, which attracts Mexico City’s chic-seekers and where rooms easily go for upwards of $300 per night. The mix of cosmopolitan and historical is a powerful concoction. We stroll the storybook lanes and discover galleries of art where the stories often outshine the brushstrokes. A gallerist opens her doors—and more. A transplant from Connecticut who tired of the harsh winters, she’s wistful as she gives us a tour of her gallery and home, which is soon to be minimized—not by choice—due to a wobbly legal system. Though her fight against an admittedly corrupt government was for naught, she had plenty of support from fellow expats. “It’s easy to find community here as an outsider, as a gringo,” she explains. “Other expats see you and say ‘Oh, you’re one of us. How can I help?’” Sometimes, she admits, the help that is offered is more than one needs. A group of friends, a mature “ladies who lunch” crowd, advised she could fix the problem another way: by finding someone in a neighboring town infamous for hitmen. “I politely passed,” she relays. While she decided to turn the other cheek, it must be asked: “Is it worth it?” The answer is a resounding yes. “San Miguel de Allende is home,” she states matter of fact.
AND SO IT IS
More than a destination, San Miguel de Allende is an experience, often a transformative one. The rest of our visit consists of a routine as breezy as the big blue sky. We wake late, brunch in our courtyard, then head out to explore by foot or $3 cab ride the sights and sounds San Miguel has to offer. Fábrica La Aurora, a former turn-of-the-century textile mill that now houses art galleries and design shops is a highlight. Some days, our al fresco adventures lead us to neighboring towns like the tiny 600-person village of Atotonilco to explore places like El Santuario de Atotonilco, known as the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico.” Along the way, we pass vaqueros on horseback and creased faces moving their flocks of sheep. We then enjoy a leisurely lunch in a hidden courtyard, head home for a siesta, waking in time to take in the magical sunsets from our rooftop garden. A delicious meal—anything from Italian pasta to Argentine steak—often accompanied by live music, rounds out the days, the ideal mix of exploration and inspiration. We see all of the town’s main sights, but as with love, if asked why you adore your object of affection—the truthful answer comes down to an inexplicable feeling. The feelings San Miguel evokes are: inspired, enchanted, ready to pick up and move. Which, begs the question: “Do you feel safe?” Overwhelmingly. Well insulated from the violence plaguing the border towns of Mexico, what at first sound like gunshots reverberating through San Miguel de Allende are quickly determined to be firecrackers, which are set off for celebrations of all kind, many religious and ceremonial. At all hours, day and night. Expats joke that firecrackers are set off for the brushing of one’s teeth. Indeed, there’s much to celebrate in San Miguel de Allende. Though some fear that too many visitors could lead to the Fisherman’s Wharfication of San Miguel, the real locals—the Mexicans who have been living in San Miguel for ages—don’t begrudge the expat and tourist influx. In fact, most welcome it, acknowledging just how much the dollars help San Miguel’s economy. It’s one reason that, unlike its other Mexican town counterparts, San Miguel de Allende is flourishing. San Miguel feels like a secret you want to keep to yourself, but you’re just too excited to share. The secret’s out. But, go, go now. Just in case.
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There are many very good restaurants in San Miguel. Those below are some of our favourites and nearly all would be considered inexpensive.
Berlin great restaurant and bar. It reminds one of “Cheers” where you always see familiar faces and many know your name. Umaran #19
Dila's is definitely worth trying. The food is Sri Lankin. It is at the entrance to the short road leading to Hotel Primavera Address is Salida de la Queretaro 187 www.dilas.com.mx They have delivery. 154-1212
Dragon Chino Salida a Celaya #71 Chinese with excellent prices and no MSG.
El Archangel is an excellent small restaurant with unbelievably low prices. They open at 9 am daily starting with breakfast. Lunch includes chicken with mole, fish, lasagne etc for 60 pesos. Salmon is 85 pesos. One of those little known gems. It is at Calzada de la Estación #35, 2 doors east of UCD. http://restaurantelarcangel.negocio.site
El Rinconcito Refugio Norte #7, Husband and wife team featuring very good Mexican food and reasonable in price.
Hecho en Mexico Ancha de San Antonio #8. Large Mexican menu; very popular, fast service, children’s menu and excellent prices.
La Frontera Refugio Sur # 30; Comfort Food; excellent drowned burrito; very popular with expats. This is one of our favourites.
Muro Cafeteria beautiful, modern, great food. Cerrada de San Gabriel #1, Colonia El Obraje
OKO Plaza Alhondiga Carreretara San Miguel-Celya (the strip mall across from La Comer). Thai & Wednesday is sushi night.
Orquidea Zacateros #83 Thai; excellent food and reasonable prices.
Pizza Guy Joe and Ana have 40 years experience making New York style pizzas. Libramiento José Manuel Zavala 12, SMA, Wednesday to Sunday 12 to 9 pm. Menu includes numerous pasta dishes in addition to fabulous pizzas. https://pizzaguy.mx
Telephone: 415 110 2153 Email: Pizzaguymx@gmail.com
Vivali Café Hernandez Marcias #66 Italian Excellent service, Christina the owner is gracious, lunch 119 p ($7 US) for beverage, soup or salad and entree.
Guanajuato City Los Campos Cantina and Restaurant, one of the best restaurants in Guanajuato; 4a Calle de la Alameda Plaza Baratillo. https://www.facebook.com/Los-Campos-Cantina-y-Restaurante-430791580355388/ ; www.loscampos.mx Their sister restaurant is called Metate at 79 Positos https://www.facebook.com/metategto/ Both have excellent reviews.
Please never go to a medical professional (dentist, doctor, nurse practitioner, chiropractor, etc) who does not have a cedula, a professional license to practice medicine in Mexico. There are some, both Mexican and expats, who say they are a medical professional who have no credentials to practice in Mexico and maybe no where. The same applies to lawyers, accountants, notarios, architects, engineers, etc.
Dr. Isaias Garcia bilingual and his specialties are implants and crowns with training at an US university. Plaza Alhondiga where you find OKO and Italian Coffee, across from La Comer. His office is upstairs PH: 415-120-0055 / 442-242-0551 / 442-186-6605 email: Isaisgarcia5@gmail.com
Dr. Jaime Garcia Pediatric Dentist (only children and teens). Edificio Kubica Privada de los Industriales #110, Office #407, Jurica, Queretaro; Approximately 1 mile past Antea Mall on the same side; phone: 442-199-0656 / 58; Emergency: 442-343-4431; website: http://cesarfandino.com/portafolio1/dentistagarcia/
Dr. Enrique Ortega Rodriguez, Braces for all ages. He and his team are excellent. Appointments are available in San Miguel weekly. Paseo del Prado No. 102-603, Col. Del Prado, Queretaro, QRO, Mexico 76039 Tel: 442-216-8611
Dra. Laura Susana Vega Camarena, Gynecologist and Obstetrics, compassionate care, professional and excellent fees. Hospital Star Medica, Queretaro, office #1017, 442-195-8694; Emergencies 442-338-0952; 442-427-8000 / Ext. 21017 email: email@example.com
Dra. Margarita Karina Cruz, Cardiologist, bilingual; excellent doctor; MAC Hospital San Miguel de Allende (415) 120 5484 and Star Medica, Queretaro, (442)195-8685 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dra. Leslie Marie Flores, Primary Care Physician, office appointments and house calls, serving San Miguel and Queretaro. Speaks English, French, Spanish. Hospital Star Medica Queretaro Office #818, Floor 8 Tel. 442-195-9778; MAC Hospital San Miguel de Allende Office #119, Floor 1 Tel. 415-688-1618
Dr. Erick Ramirez Cruz, Orthopaedic Specialist / Surgeon. Bilingual; skilled; great personality; highly recommend. San Miguel de Allende 415-152-2545; email: email@example.com
Dr Jose Nestor Procuna Hernandez, Urologist; Libramiento Jose Manuel Zavela; offices at west end of H+ Hospital, San Miguel. 415-150-3301 / 3303 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dra. Luvia Rodríguez Quiñones, Ophthalmologist; bilingual; cataract, laser, refractive and retina surgery. Hidalgo No. 28 Centro San Miguel de Allende, Gto. C.P. 37700; 415- 554-2704 email: email@example.com; website: https://dra; email: firstname.lastname@example.org/en
Dra Itzel Martinez Magana, Dermatologist; Mac Hospital Consultorio #18; phone: 415-197-2208; email: email@example.com
Dr, Juan Bosco Ruiz Padilla, Plastic Surgeon bilingual; San Miguel de Allende; H+ hospital; phone: 415-152-5900.
Hospital MAC latest equipment; some bilingual staff, professional; across from the west side of Liverpool on Camino Alcocer; Phone: 415 150 3900; https://www.facebook.com/HospitalMACSMA/
Medical Laboratory, X-Ray, MRI, Etc:
CHOPO services include X-Rays, MRI, Ultrasound, blood work etc. They are professional, fast and a fraction of the price found north of the border. Location is next to Santander at Plaza la Luciernaga. http://chopo.com.mx/chopo.php
Adventure Park: 2 minutes from La Luciernaga mall http://www.parquedeaventurasanmiguel.com/index_eng.php
Canada de la Virgen Pyramids: 25 minutes from SMA
Candles: LaVela Calzada de la Estacion #239 (across from Immigration). Set back in from the street. 415-152-5353
Coyote Canyon Adventures: hot air balloon, hot springs, horse back riding, adventure tours etc. http://www.coyotecanyonadventures.com
Dolores Hidalgo is 35 miles north of San Miguel and known for pottery and ceramics.
El Charcoal Botanical Gardens 10 minutes from centro: http://www.elcharco.org.mx/Ingles/
Fabrica La Aurora was a factory that made fabric for nearly 100 years. Today, approximately 40 art galleries, interior design stores, restaurants,
Glassware: Guajuve is a factory that makes glassware, wine glasses, pitchers, vases, stemware and much more. Behind Immigration is the factory and also seconds are sold. Across from Inmigracion.
Guanajuato City is another World Heritage Center and definitely worth a visit. It is 80 minutes away.
Guanajuato City Tourist Guide / Driver: Israel Torres provides tours of Guanajuato City and also will drive you to San Miguel etc. in his own car. He is very professional, bilingual, informed and secure. 473-732-3143 / 473-597-3953
High road from Guanajuato City to Dolores Hidalgo, HWY 110, is a 2 lane, paved highway rising to10,000 feet with gorgeous views and vast pine forests. The drive reminds one of the High Road to Taos, NM.
Hot Springs: La Gruta and Xote are 15 minutes north of San Miguel
Markets: Mercado San Juan de Dios; Mercado de Artesanias; Tianguis de los Martes; Tianguis Organico
Mineral de Pozos, a 45-minute drive, once a very active silver mining town is worth a visit.
Queretaro Centro is European in feel with parks, fountains and it is clean and safe. Explore the alleyways, numerous restaurants, museums and much more. About 55 minutes from San Miguel.
San Miguel has numerous museums, gorgeous Parroquia (church) on the main plaza, 7 acre Juarez Park 5 minute walk from centro.
Shopping Antea Lifestyle Center is a modern, sophisticated mall on the northern outskirts of Queretaro in what is called Juriquilla. This mall is on a par with most any found in Canada or the US. http://antea.mx
Splash Water Park opened May 2016. 3 km from City Hall on road to Los Rodrigues.
Trampoline center called Sky Zone in Juriquilla just north of Queretaro, across from Antea Mall and City Market. In the Uptown Mall are big box stores, indoor skating along with Sky Zone for people of all ages. http://skyzonequeretaro.com
Assisted Living: Cielito Lindo at Los Labradores, includes fully assisted and independent living; http://www.cielitolindoassistedliving.com
Automotive Body Work: Luis Gutierrez: bilingual, has indoor paint area, matches colors well; Colegio Militar #16, Colonia Guadalupe
Phone: 415-154-7256 / cel: 415-113-9687
Cooking Schools: La Cocina Cooking School Sabino 26; 52 888-407-3168 http://www.deliciousexpeditions.com/classes-san-miguel.html
Hair and Beauty Salon: Ramon Salazar owner of Merak Salon, is creative, current and very reasonably priced. Ph: 415-688-1309 Cel: 415-115-7133, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. https://www.facebook.com/pg/MerakHairstudio/about/ For make-up and skin care please ask for Sophie Betancourt 415-156-3160; https://www.facebook.com/fetamakeup/. The location is a beautiful historic setting above Paprika Restaurant, Calle Ancha de San Antonio 9A, across from Hecho en Mexico.
Insurance: Please contact me as I have excellent resources for insurance. This includes medical and car insurance and vehicles with UCD permits.
Irrigation Systems: Aqua Smart Sprinklers professional, punctual, bilingual; excellent fees.https://www.facebook.com/aquasmartsprinklers/ Phone: 415 566 9812
Lawyer: Magda Rios bilingual cell: 415-153-3497 office: 415-150-3492 email: email@example.com http://www.prolegalsma.com/#!firm/c1n8o
Moving Company national and international moving including Canada and the United States. Mario Ortiz, Golden Bear Moving Phone: 52-415-101-3858 Email: Marioortizoffice@aol.com; Info@ranchodelsoldorado.com
Notario: Oscar Arroyo Delgado. Office is at Alondra #4, right behind Chrysler, on the corner with Calle Cardenal. 152-6333, 120-4520, 120-4521; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; web site: http://www.notariapublica14sma.com
Real Estate Sales: Please contact me for a professional realtor here in San Miguel.
Rentals: longer term rental accommodations and property management Roberto Ramirez, Trebol Properties, Cell: 415-196-8982 / 415-1035234. Email: email@example.com, Calle Hernandez Marcias #31, San Miguel de Allende.
Tire Repairs: Volca Movilwill come to your house and fix a flat there for a very reasonable fee. No English 415-125-1107 y 415-111-6441
Transportation / Shuttle / Tours
Safe Trips SMA provides professional, secure, punctual transportation to airports in Leon, Mexico City and Queretaro. In addition, tours including butterfly park, Mineral de Posos, Pacific Coast, Guanajuato, etc. Their vehicles have no identifying marks for your safety. This is the best service of it's kind in San Miguel. Phone: (044) 415-181-2514; WhatsApp: 52-1-553-901-1914; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Taxi Ejecutivo, Guanajuato City to San Miguel de Allende; Leon airport to San Miguel and Guanajuato City. English spoken. Cell: 473-597-1589. Email: email@example.com
Upholstery / Carpet Cleaning: Rug Doctor 911 cleans rugs, upholstery, curtains, car interiors including commercial cleaning in your home, business or at their clinic. Safe for babies, pet, wool, and pest repellant. www.osayicreations.jimdo.com; FACEBOOK: RugdoctorOsayi; Cell: 044-415-107-4723; Office: 415-121-2824
Dr Octavio Capitan Tovar makes house calls. Very reasonable fees. Spay / neuter / teeth cleaning 900 pesos; San Francisco #66-5; PH: 415-121-0598
Park Animal Hospital, Queretaro, Laboratory and Ultrasound are available. 442-713-2451 http://www.hospitalanimalpark.com
Yoga: Hot Yoga uses a series of 26 postures (asanas) and 2 breathing exercises (pranayama), performed in a room at 42 degrees for 90 minutes. This sequence is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Each position works, stretches, lengthens and strengthens, in turn, ligaments and joints, preparing the body for the next posture. http://hotyogasanmiguel.com/en/ 415-566-2354
24 Hour Association: A non-profit legally registered Mexican asociacion civil providing a prepaid plan of cremation and burial services that fully comply with Mexican law. The 24 Hour Assn. is the only entity which can register the death with the Mexican authorities without the involvement of a family member. No funeral home can do this. Web site: http://24assoc.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 415-185-2023