Falling in . . . love with San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel De Allende is a small dusty hillside town in the middle of Mexico—a town without an airport or a casino—a town that has no beaches or blue waters, and yet it was voted the best city in the world according to Travel + Leisure’s World Best Awards for 2017. The awards are based on a survey that includes responses from thousands of experienced travelers, and San Miguel beat out major travel destinations like Florence and Cape Town. What is the appeal of this small town? I spent a week in San Miguel and came up with 10 reasons why travelers ranked the city so high.
Thinking about whisking away to Mexico to tie the knot? You’ll want to check out San Miguel for your tropical wedding destination. Every weekend there are six to eight weddings in this charming town—it helps that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site where free-flowing tequila, vivid flowers and mariachi music also happen to be in plentiful supply.
Located near Mexico’s geographic center, 200 miles north of Mexico City and 600 miles from the Texas border, San Miguel enjoys a nearly flawless climate with cool summers and moderate winters. If there’s one uncontrollable thing that stresses brides its the weather, so a place where it’s eternally spring is obviously a desirable proposition for a destination wedding.
San Miguel’s population has grown tremendously in the last two decades (more than 140, 000) but the historic center of the town, with its wonderful collection of Spanish Colonial architecture and vibrant square remains unspoiled, and the town still feels like a picturesque village. There are more than a hundred restaurants and nearly four dozen hotels and B&Bs, but there are no traffic lights, no fast-food franchises. Walking its hilly cobblestone streets is the best way to move around San Miguel—ladies, just be sure to pack flat shoes!
Happening Restaurant Scene
Mexicans, like Americans, love to eat, and cuisine abounds here. There is no shortage of international dining, and standards are high and the fare is delicious. At all the five rooftop eateries listed below, you will score great food, inventive drinks and Insta-worthy City views:
Lunas Rooftop Tapas Bar (on the rooftop of the beautiful Rosewood Hotel);
La Posadita (great margaritas and world-class Mexican food);
Quince (one of the best upscale bars in Centro with 360° views of the city);
Mamma Mia (often has live music downstairs);
Trazo 1810 (gorgeous rooftop patio with exceptional Mediterranean cuisine.)
In 1926 the Mexican government declared San Miguel a “Historic and Protected Town,” and established architectural guidelines restricting changes in exteriors and the building of new structures. The tallest building in the City, with a facade of pink limestone, is the Parroquia de San Miguel Archangel, a huge goddess of a church. The gothic facade for this parish church was inspired by Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. According to legend, its architect, Zeferino Gutierrez used a picture postcard for inspiration.
The shops in San Miguel are a mix of souvenir shops, art galleries, and modern boutiques. If shopping is on your list, Fabrica La Aurora is the place to go. It is a high-end collection of artisans selling linens, jewelry, artwork, sculptures, furniture, and one-of-a-kind designer goods, all under one roof. Ranked as #3 in Best Things To Do in San Miguel, it is a vibrant working center in which everyone seems to meet up sooner or later.
The Art Scene
After World War II, many soldiers took advantage of the GI bill and enrolled in art school sin San Miguel, and thus began the city’s rise to its’ current status as one of Mexico’s cultural hot spots. There is still a lively arts community with many studios and galleries with working artists and here, you will find live music almost any day of the week. When I asked him about the popularity of San Miguel over Cabo, Jose Gabriel, owner of The Art Shop stated, “In Cabo, there is only hotels, a marina, and a shopping mall. You can get that anywhere. Here, you have an exposition of art everywhere. You have theatre; you have artists who moved to the town, set down roots and stayed.”
Even though it continues to feel like a small town, recent investors from Monterrey and Mexico City have brought a new focus to the area. Many young people from other parts of Mexico come to the city to party, and the nightlife is popping with clubs like Duke and El Grito.
It may be 40 miles from the nearest beach but because of the lights and changing colors of the foothills of the Sierra Madre, sunrises and sunsets in San Miguel can be quite dramatic.
We spent so many magical hours in this historic town, and it turns out there’s a special reason for it: San Miguel is Pueblo Magic or Magic Town. While the name might conjure up ghosts or ghouls, these towns don’t have to rely on anything so tacky to exude their power. Instead, the nation’s Secretary of Tourism has determined that each of the 111 towns so designated in Mexico contains a special blend of cultural, architectural, and artistic significance that lends it a bit of magic.
There you have it! When our five-day visit ended, my heart was singing with the memory of San Miguel—its art, its music, its friendship, and its magic!