A guest post by Billie Frank.
Have you ever arrived somewhere you’ve never been before and felt like you’d come home? [Keith: yes, I have! Cape Town is one of them. :)] It’s happened to me three times: Santa Fe, where we now live, the west of Ireland, and most recently, San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico.
We arrived in San Miguel at the unlikely hour of 4:15am. As our driver navigated the narrow pre-dawn streets still alive with people, I fell in love. There’s something magnetic about this city that draws a lot of expats from both the USA and Canada.
When we began exploring the city five hours later I felt no different. Why does San Miguel call to me? I think it’s the quality of the high desert light, much like my beloved Santa Fe, the European feel of the Spanish Colonial architecture, and the feeling of vitality in the streets. For us San Miguel was a Velvet Escape. Here are a few suggestions for things to do in San Miguel de Allende so that you can have one too.
San Miguel is a walking city. The narrow, often hilly streets in El Centro, the oldest district in this over 400-year-old city are paved in cobblestones. As you walk, pay attention to the uneven surfaces to avoid mishaps. San Miguel has been dubbed “The City of the Fallen Woman,” by some. But, occasionally stop and look at the wonderful old Colonial era buildings and then look up.. Elegant wrought iron balconies often dressed with colorful flowers in terra cotta pots greet your eyes. Look higher and you’ll see lush rooftop terraces. As you walk by the massive, often antique, doors on the attached buildings you’ll wonder what secrets they hide. Sometimes, one will be open and you’ll get a view into the lush courtyard beyond. Pocket parks with elegant espaliered trees are tucked here and there.
Explore Spanish Colonial churches as well as some of the numerous historic public buildings you’ll encounter. The Instituto Allende, the Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez “El Nigromante” part of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes is in a former convent circa 1765, and the Biblioteca are all worth a visit. Take a walk in the lush Parque Benito Juarez with its romantic wrought iron benches and ponds. Tired? Treat yourself to a rich cup of coffee or espresso in one of the city’s many cafes. San Augustin Chocolates & Churros in El Centro, owned by a Mexican movie star is a popular stop.
As you walk, stop in the shops that call to you. Mexico is known for its handcrafts including folk art. Some of the most popular items to take home with you include hand woven rugs; Talevera and other pottery; silken Santa Rosa candles; morbidly whimsical muerto figures and tableaus, especially popular for Dia de los Muertos in early November; mirrors handmade from tile or tin; tin and iron candle sticks; hand blown glass hurricane lamps as well as and hand carved wooden furniture and accessories. Women will love San Miguel Shoes. The locally-made shoes were designed to make walking on the cobbles easier.
San Miguel is a gourmand’s dream. Walking through the city, you’ll catch the occasional aroma of street food cooking at a stand. Treat yourself to a barbacoa taco or other inexpensive treat as you stroll. Mexican food is not just tacos and enchiladas. Try the complicated flavors of a mole, a velvety guacamole, or melt in your mouth cochinita pibil, a dish redolent with the tang of citrus and the pungency of anise. You can find restaurants in all price ranges from moderate at around 100 pesos (about $8 USD) to more elegant options where entrees are in the 200 peso range and higher. We enjoyed food in the entire price spectrum while we were there. Our meals ran from street food to creative, upscale Mexican cuisine at Moxi, where Mexican uber chef, Enrique Olvera of Mexico City’s celebrated Pujol has been wowing diners for years.
San Miguel offers a plethora of lodgings that offer local charm. If you are more of a modernist, the chic trendy Hotel Matilda is the city’s only contemporary upscale hotel. Guests at this upscale hostelry are totally pampered by the accommodating staff. Rooms are comfortable and bathrooms are sumptuous. Want a sensuous private patio? Opt for Suite J. Lying on one of the chaise lounges after luxuriating in the soaking is priceless. The hotel is renowned for its contemporary art collection and it’s unique spa with an apothecary concierge who formulates individualized patients for clients.
If you want to get farther afield, there are hot springs within a half-hour of the city as well as an archeological remains and an ancient pyramid to explore.
San Miguel is a velvet city and I left part of my soul there. It’s calling me back.
Do you have any velvet places that call to your soul?
Search for hotels in San Miguel de Allende.
About the guest writer
Billie Frank is a freelance food and travel writer based in Santa Fe New Mexico. She is the Santa Fe Local Expert for USA Today Travel Media’s 10best.com and is co-founder of Santa Fe Travelers.
Author’s note: We were guests of the Hotel Matilda. Their generous hospitality did not affect this post in any way.
This post is part of the “My velvet escape travel tip” guest series about what the name ‘Velvet Escape’ evokes in places around the world. Read more Velvet Escape travel tips from guest contributors.