This is a city of fallen women. It’s also a city of fallen men. There are more ways to stub your toe and take a tumble on the cobblestone streets of this magnificent little town than there are art galleries – and there are an incredible number of art galleries in this town. More per square feet in San Miguel, it seems, than in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Like most of the thousands of ex-pats who flock down here to live the good life, we’re old. We sent a prayer heavenward every morning to keep us vertical as we set off to explore. (Not that we’re unfamiliar with bumpy sidewalks and potholed streets in Boston, but San Miguel’s cobblestones are Beacon Hill’s on steroids.)
For years we have been hearing what a special destination San Miguel is. So, just before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down virtually all foreign travel, we decided to buy a plane ticket and find out. Note, St. Miguel’s magic certainly doesn’t have to do with how quickly you can get there from Boston, at least in our experience. Thanks to Delta’s exasperatingly late take-off from Boston it took us 15 hours to get from Logan to our B&B in San Miguel, arriving late at night. We could have gotten to Tokyo in about the same time.
It didn’t take long to find the answer, however. When the sun arose the next morning and we looked out the third-floor window of our cozy little B&B, we were greeted by a stunning tableau of old colonial buildings anchored by a splendid cathedral: Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, which looks like the winner of a serious sand-castle competition, towering over this UNESCO World Heritage town. It was framed from our window by a huge red bougainvillea in full flower, gleaming in the sun.
San Miguel was voted the Best City in the World in 2015 by Travel & Leisure Magazine’s readers. Now we know why. We fell instantly in love with it.
An estimated 10,000 first-time American and Canadian visitors have been similarly smitten and are ex-pat homeowners living in San Miquel. And why not, when it is filled all winter with flowers, quality restaurants, world-class art and art galleries, numerous festivals of all kinds, happy people . . . and sunshine. It virtually never rains in San Miguel from January to April, and again in November and December. July is the wettest month, and it’s also extremely warm then.
Part of the joy in walking the streets of the historic old central zone is the surprises you find behind the big wooden doors. The narrow streets, lined with high stucco walls, reveal nothing of the color and beauty that you find behind the mysterious doorways. When opened, each door reveals a surprise similar to an Advent calendar: a colorfully decorated shop or restaurant, or an enormous and beautiful home complete with multiple bedrooms, patios, interior courtyards, fountains, swimming pools and exquisitely landscaped gardens. The roof decks all feature stunning vistas of the city and the valleys stretching beyond. It seems as if creative decorators from all over the world have settled here and put their best design ideas into these private homes, using the Mexican mentality of color, indigenous collectibles, and love of the culture. If you are not lucky enough to have received an invitation to stay at a friend’s private home, you can sign up at the public library (which itself is a gem with its hand painted ceiling) to take a house-and-garden tour every Sunday through the winter season, to see for yourself what makes these homes so extraordinary.
Speaking of art, is it possible to have too much of it in one town? If you want to immerse yourself in art of all kinds for a full day — or a week — walk to Fabrica la Aurora, a restored textile mill that has been turned into a complex of 60 galleries under one roof, all showing the sculpture and paintings and other mediums of local artists. It’s opened every day and also offers two excellent cafes for restoring one’s energy as you tour the seemingly endless exhibits of art. On the first Saturday of every month, if you haven’t overdosed already, it hosts an Art Walk from 5 to 8 p.m. with music and more food.
Some 6,000 feet above sea level, the town itself is hilly. No need to find a health club for exercise. You can get a good cardio workout daily just by walking around and exploring; friends with Fitbits found their 10,000 steps came quickly.
This physical activity (even if you don’t augment it with a horseback ride, golf, or hot-springs swim outside the city limits) requires nourishment. And there’s no shortage of incredible restaurants in San Miguel.
We expected to have our fill of the usual burritos, tostados, enchiladas, and tacos on this trip, and of course they were there in plenty. But in this town of fewer than 200,000, you can find Italian, Asian, Creole-Cajun, French, seafood, sushi and anything else in the way of international menus, the cuisine exquisitely prepared and presented. One lunchtime, we craved a simple Caesar salad, so we walked into the three-story El Pegaso Restaurant near the church and ordered one. Out came the waiter with an enormous bowl and all the ingredients for a Caesar, which he proceeded to create at our tableside, just like waiters at the old Ritz Carlton in Boston used to do — a made-to-order Caesar salad complete with crushed anchovies, garlic, soft boiled egg, Worcestershire sauce, Romaine lettuce and all the trimmings. Our simple salad was anything but simple, and we returned three times for the same lunch.
Oh, and meal prices in San Miguel? The price for the salad was slightly over $5 (plus the standard Mexican tip of ten percent). Eating out there is a delightful bargain.
San Miguel de Allende was every bit as enchanting as advertised. It should be on every traveler’s bucket list. And the two of us navigated all the cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks without ever taking a fall. That’s the good news.
The bad news was that the day after we returned to Boston, one of us tripped on the corner of a rug in our condo and fell flat on our face on the living room floor.