DOWN JACKET. Thick wooly socks. Cashmere and corduroy. Hat, gloves. If you’re thinking of coming to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in mid-winter, put those on your list.
They’re on my list for next time — and the good news is, there might be a next time, despite the unseasonable chill.
This place is pretty great. Church bells tolling constantly, for what I don’t know. Friendly people, both Mexican (buenos dias, buenos tardes, buenos noches, got that down pat) and American (hi, hey, how are ya).
I love walking the stone-paved streets in the early morning on my way to Antonio’s yoga class at Lifepath, admiring the local habit of sweeping and washing down the sidewalks to start the day off right.
A 3-hour-long historical walking tour, mostly of churches and the haciendas built around the central park, or Jardín, in the late 17th and early 18th century, was great orientation. We ended at Bellas Artes, a cultural center in a historic convent, admiring social-realist and abstract murals by David Siqueros, one of the great Mexican muralists (along with Diego Rivera).
I had my boots shined in a park by an old-school shoeshine man, after a morning of walking the dusty paths of El Charco, the 200+-acre botanical garden on a dramatic site atop a canyon outside of town, where native plants remain untouched and cacti and other plants from elsewhere in Mexico are brought to be ‘rescued’ when sprawl or construction threaten their habitat.
Eating out three times a day is entirely possible here on a budget of $25 (including margaritas). We’ve discovered some good restaurants and numerous casual cafes, almost all of which have courtyards for alfresco dining and some of which have fireplaces for warming our frozen hands.
The best for classic Mexican food so far: Hecho in Mexico, with Toller Cranston’s circus-like paintings and Chihuly-like glass chandeliers in five gilded rooms. The most sophisticated: Aperi, owned by Mexico’s Top Chef winner, where we sampled sensational Mexican wines that deserve to be better known in the U.S., and I had glazed tomatoes with vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Other local spots where I could happily become a regular: Cafe de la Parroquia for breakfast and Lavanda for lunch.
As I type this, I’m sitting at Cafe Santa Ana in the open courtyard of La Biblioteca (the sun is shining and it’s warmed up a bit), a bi-lingual library that serves as a de facto gathering spot for the huge expat community. A guitarist is strumming unobtrusively, joined occasionally by a floating flute; the only other sounds are the stone fountain burbling and voices speaking American-accented English on all sides.
San Miguel de Allende is a bubble, as my travel companion put it. Though to outward appearances, it hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, it was adopted by arty Americans after WWII, helped along by the fact that the Instituto de Allende, the town’s well-known art school, was accredited to accept the GI Bill, and both Esquire and Life magazines ran big spreads in the late 1940s (one featuring a nude female sunbather) that served as advertisements for the town.
And the weather, so they say, is warm and sunny.