My trip to San Miguel de Allende this April with my sister MJ and sister-in-law Virginia was not a month long Shirleyfest. It was only a five day trip, but I am compelled to write a trip report on this amazing town. This place has been on my mind ever since I read a NYT magazine article many years ago with pictures of the abundant flowers, beautiful markets and sunny skies. For a while it seemed at every turn it was being mentioned–people would say with disbelief–“You haven’t been there? Oh you must go.” When Top Chef did their finale there a few years ago and I could see even more of the beauty of the place, I put it at the top of my list for a quick visit. So glad I did. Great weather, extremely nice people, beautiful architecture, important history and…the food…….you can eat at all of San Miguel’s top incredible restaurants for prices that are too low to be believed. This 500 year old Unesco World Heritage Site has got it all!
I booked a junior suite at the Casa Sierra Nevada, Hospicio #35. My room had it’s own private terrace and soaking pool and was steps away from the lovely main pool.
The hotel houses guests in several buildings on its property and all are different. The location is perfect and I would pick this hotel again. You can walk everywhere you want to go. The staff is really helpful in making arrangements for dining, cooking classes, and side trips. We each took responsibility for a different part of the trip and emailed the hotel who arranged dining, a cooking class and a day trip in advance of our arrival. Other hotels which looked interesting, but would need more research, as I only saw the outside, were the Matilda, Aldana #53 and the Clandestine Hotel, Recreo #31. While the luxurious Rosewood Hotel, Nemesio Diez #11, enjoys a good reputation, in San Miguel I wouldn’t choose it as it is too far from the city center. Keep in mind you will be walking exclusively on narrow cobblestone roads and sidewalks. The extra distance to your hotel will not be a trivial factor. Bring only the most comfortable walking shoes that can bear the often large protruding cobblestones. You will be walking to dinner and everywhere else so leave the heels at home ladies.
Flying to San Miguel is tricky. We flew down SFO to LAX to León (airport code BJX) and back León to Mexico City to SFO. There is also an airport at Queretaro (QRO) which is slightly closer to San Miguel. ( I was told by a nice bay area couple at my pool that Volaris, a low cost Mexican airline, now is flying nonstop from Oakland to QRO, but when I recently went to the website I could not find a single flight. ) Getting to and from the airport at León to San Miguel involves a 90 minute car ride. We had our hotel arrange a car ($110 one way for up to 3 people). Be prepared for a bit of winding roads. The flight down was fine, but I would return on a routing that takes me first to the US (LAX or Dallas for us west-coasters). Going through Mexico City seems to always result in significant delays , plus having the first leg terminate in the US mean you can probably get done with customs on your layover instead of at SFO. (By the way, if you have not already joined Global Entry, it really is a reasonable thing to do. For $100 you get 5 years worth of skipping the custom lines in favor of a kiosk and pre-TSA on domestic flights. Start here Global Entry Application.)
The Restaurant, Solano #16, (our favorite dinner spot–just go),
La Parada, Recreo 94, (Peruvian and wonderful–also just go), Nectar, Correo #43, (lunch), Los Milagros, Relox #17, (breakfast), La Posidita, Cuna de Allende #13, ( on the roof), Pueblo Viejo, Umaran #6, ( our first night dinner–casual perfect-open late). On the last day MJ and I were steered towards Doce-18 Concept House, Relox #18, a casual place which we loved for lunch. Tacolicious has a Taco Lab there where they experiment with tacos to be released by the restaurant, plus there was a burger place that had bourbon milkshakes and a wonderful salad spot. It also has a wine tasting room, tequila bar and a champagne bar plus many cute shops and a boutique hotel. We were sorry were had not found it sooner.
Missed the mark:
I would skip Moxi Restaurant which is at the Matilda Hotel. So pretentious and nothing special in the food category to make up for it. It did add a laugh to the trip in that our waiters could not explain any of the dishes to us. When asked how a certain starter was prepared, the explanation was “It is tuna–it comes out of the sea. We also call it salmon.” Also a glass of wine (which is a healthy pour) is 130 pesos, but if you want the bottle it is 700 pesos. What? It was all I could do to not say, “Please bring me 4 glasses.”
Worthwhile activities besides eating and drinking:
Seeing the churches–The main church in San Miguel is the multispired pink Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. It is amazing to stand outside and look up at it or to sit at a rooftop bar as the sun is setting and look over at it. You will pass it a lot during your stay, but take the time to go inside (with the walking tour described below is best). In addition to Parraquia there are beautiful large and small churches every few blocks. Oratorio de San Felipe Neri, Insurgentes #12, was one of our favorites. We really loved the 250 year old former convent turned art college called Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramirez on Hernandez Macias. So peaceful and lovely.
Cooking Class– a school associated with Casa Sierra Nevada. I signed us up for this ahead of time and it was really fun. It was from 11 am to 3 pm and in addition to the three of us, 4 people from other hotels had also signed up. Ruben, the pastry chef at our hotel’s restaurant led the class. He took us to the Mercado Artesenia where we sampled many new foods, including roasted corn on the cob that was prepared simply but deliciously (they dunk it in salt water bath after it is grilled and then add butter). After we tasted cactus tacos from a lovely group of grandmas, we came back and prepared lunch with what we had bought. Loads of fun. Cost 1000 pesos per person.
Mercado Artesenia (Plaza Lanatón) – covered market open every day with produce, prepared food, crafts, candy–anything you want. It is a great place to sample new food items, buy some things to take home like the local candy and to observe the hard working people. Also if you want to buy linens this is the place to buy as they have virtually the same things as the shops near the main square (Jardin) but at half the price.
Walking Tours–go to the Biblioteca de San Miguel Allende on Insurgentes (#25), which is the center of ex-pat life in San Miguel and in the gift shop you will find a list of tours offered that week in English. We took the Friday 9:45 am walking tour of San Miguel and really enjoyed seeing the important churches and buildings and learning about the history. It is 200 pesos and led by ex-pats who live there. At different times there is a home tour , an architecture tour, a churches tour and more. If you can manage to go on a Sunday that is the day of the home tours and I think that would be great to see.
Shopping–In addition to the Mercado Artesenia, there are many wonderful shops in San Miguel. As you crisscross the streets around the Jardin, many little shops will catch your eye. My favorite shop which was more near our hotel than the Jardin, was Tao Studio Gallery,Solano #28, which has gorgeous furniture and jewelry. The above mentioned Doce-18 has some cool shops as well. Also a bit outside of town (but walkable in 15 minutes) is a complex of art galleries that is worth going to see. It is called Fabrica la Aurora,Calzada de la Aurora S/N, and is a beautifully restored century old cotton mill and textile factory. Sophisticated and unique art.
Day trip-Guanajuato–We hired a driver/guide from our hotel and left for Guanajuato at 9 am and returned around 4 pm. The drive is a little over an hour away and is quite close to the airport we came into (León). It is a World heritage state capital and full of interesting historical buildings, museums, shops and restaurants. It is much larger than San Miguel. We first drove to a look-out spot so we could see the city below us. Then we drove through a series of underground tunnels before we parked outside the city centre and were taken around to the churches, opera house, covered market, university and Diego Rivera Museum. We would have also liked to see the Don Quixote museum but that alas was not part of our guide’s plan. We had a delicious lunch at Casa Valdez, Jardin Union #3, right on the main square. This is a pretty city to visit, but I am wondering if you could avoid the extra 2 hours in the car by combining this with your departure (or arrival) day since it is so close to León.
San Miguel de Allende–I hope to see you again soon!