This week I have the pleasure to share with you the trip that I did the last week-end. I went to San Miguel de Allende at the particular moment of the Mexican Independence Day. Technically the Independence is celebrated on the 16th of September but the 15th is the day of “el grito” which is the calling to the Independence. But since in Mexico, everything is an excuse to go party, celebrations continue the entire week-end. So, more than a day, I lived a complete week-end of festivities on the colors of Mexico.
First of all, let’s start by a bit of history (don’t worry not too much neither!). San Miguel de Allende is a city located in the state of Guanajuato (in central Mexico) and has been declared World Heritage Site by United Nations since 2008. The town was the birthplace of Ignacio Allende (1769-1811) who was a Captain of the Spanish Army. He actually sympathized with the Mexican Independence movement, act of treason which led him to his capture and execution by Spanish Colonial authorities in the state of Chihuahua.
San Miguel de Allende has received different names along the time. Indigenous were first calling it “Izcuinapan” (which means “Place of dogs” and I still don’t know why!). Then, the Spanish gave it the name of San Miguel el Grande who refers to the founder of the city. But the name was changed in 1826 to San Miguel de Allende in honor of Ignacio Allende.
After the Independence War the city was in danger to turn into a ghost town. But foreign artists discovered its colonial architecture both baroque and neoclassical built by Spanish and decided to move in. They actually started to work there, developing artistic and cultural institutions such as the Instituto Allende and the Escuela de Bellas Artes. Rapidly, San Miguel de Allende gained an “artistic” reputation and today art galleries are prolific.
The town attracted foreign art students and for the anecdote US soldiers studying through the G.I. Bill after the Second World War. The G.I. Bill (or Servicemen’s Readjustment Act) of 1944 was a law that provided a range of benefits for returning World War II veterans such as low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business, living expenses to attend university and others.
Today we find in San Miguel de Allende a lot of foreign retirees (American and European), artists, writers and tourists.
But what about experiencing a trip to San Miguel?
First, who says trip says preparing your bag, waking up early when everybody is still sleeping and the sky still dark, taking the road, stopping in gasoline station to have a coffee and grabbing a cereal bar. Even if you are tired because it’s early and that you have to drive, even if the coffee is not good (we all know that coffees from gasoline stations are not good!) it’s always a time that I enjoy. Trips are exciting. For 7 hours I saw the Mexican landscape zoom by in front of my eyes with its mountains and its cactus (no no it’s not a “cliché”). It’s beautiful and at the same time it’s hard to ignore the holes all along the road (highways are not always that practicable in Mexico) and the Mexican driving style which is pretty free of any rules, but this is part of the adventure.
We have to count 7 hours from Monterrey (9 to go back when the road is even less practicable and that you have to pass by different military controls) but if you leave early enough you can manage to arrive around 2 pm in San Miguel, that gives you the opportunity to enjoy your day. The fact is that San Miguel is way closer to Mexico City than to Monterrey. At 30 min you also can encounter the city of Queretaro where there’s an airport and where different buses make the liaison with San Miguel.
I have to admit that I didn’t have a rigid plan for this week-end. I am usually pretty organized but in this case I just noted few places that I wanted to see because my main goal was to take my time and breathe. So I won’t propose here the typical list of a touristic guide. Instead of this, I will propose you my list:
1 – Hacienda Las Amantes
This is THE hotel where to stay. I would say that it’s pretty hard to have a bad experience with hotels in San Miguel because a lot are “boutique” hotels located in old typical houses with a central patio and it’s of course generally really nice.
The fact is that finding a hotel still available for the week-end of the Independence was a real challenge. After many callings, it seemed that all the hotels were already booked. We finally we found on booking.com the Hacienda Las Amantes which revealed it to be an amazing surprise.
Actually this Antique house from the 18th century is registered as World Heritage Site. It is owned by Gabriela Enríquez, the youngest hotelier of San Miguel de Allende (she is 35). Approximately 2 years ago she bought the house with her mother (who is also her associate) which is something not than common: indeed, this type of old traditional house is usually bought by foreigners. But those are the words of Gabriela Enríquez: “Creo que regresar a la elegancia que es nuestro México, con su artesanía, sus frescos, todos sus sabores y colores, es muy importante. Estamos reeducando a una generación que ha perdido México de su visión y se va a rendir sus respetos a Estados Unidos y otros lados, cuando realmente nuestro país no tiene nada que envidiar a cualquier otro”. She states, and this is what I observed a lot, that Mexico has the tendency to forget its traditional roots mainly due to the American influence. Her goal was to resurrect the essence of her country.
The investment to acquire and to rehabilitate the place exceeded 3 million dollars and…this is a jewel. 6 lovely bedrooms, all different, a living room, an antique kitchen, a wonderful inside garden with a small pool, terraces at different level, climbing plants on the walls and the best point of view on the city from the top.
I particularly appreciated the hospitality of Cesar and David and the courtesy to make us chose a bottle of wine for our last night.
Dear lectors, what will you think about me? “But what is this posh girl going to posh places?” To be honest I am an all-rounder! I have been in beautiful places, simpler places, maybe more basic and more affordable, and I have been in places not nice at all (even if I have to admit that for vacation, I never faced any situation of insalubrity neither).
I think that trips have different purposes and this one was not to go camping!
At the end, it was a magical place.
Hacienda Las Amantes
Salida Real a Queretaro, #3, 37700 San Miguel de Allende
Cel. (415) 114 89 62
2 – Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel
This is the “must” of the city. This emblematic church from the 17th century is unique in Mexico.
First of all, this church is made in a pink stone (“cantera rosa”), which actually reminds me the Cathedral of Strasbourg in France made in pink sandstone. Originally the façade was a typical Mexican but in 1880, Zeferino Gutierrez (an indigenous bricklayer and self-taught architect), transformed it in a neo-gothic style, inspired by postcards and lithographs of Gothic churches in Europe. Even if the interior has the original 17th century layout and interior design, the church had been looted so many times through Mexico’s history that only one significant image remains today: the “Señor de la Conquista” made of cornstalk paste by Indigenous in Michoacán.
From my own experience, I simply have been enchanted. The church is definitely atypical with its pink tone and its gothic accents because this is not common in Mexico. And the interior is really elegant, without opulence: it’s actually pretty colonial.
In front of the Parroquia you are on the central place of the city, the Plaza Allende, popularly known as Jardín Principal. The place is really designed in a French style with iron benches and laurel trees (this is also the case of the central place of Queretaro).
3 – Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez
This center is part of the INBA (Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes) and is simply known in San Miguel as “Bellas Artes”. The building from 1755 was originally a convent but this is in 1948 that it turned into a Fine Art School. The famous Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros taught there and you can admire a majestic mural painting from him. The place was refreshed in 2011.
Go there just to relax in the inside garden and admire the architecture: it seems a timeless place.
Dr. Hernández Macías 75, Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto. 01 415 152 0289
4 – Mercado de Artesanías
This is a traditional market in the heat of the city which is divided into 3 branches: food, then what I would call “bazar” (there’s a bit of everything) and handicraft in the back part. It reminded me the “Mercado de la Ciudadela” in Mexico City which is of course way bigger than the one of San Miguel. I had to go back there because the third part is so hidden that I simply didn’t see the access.
I was surprised by prices for textiles. Everything is negotiable but I was pretty shocked that a carpet costs on average (in the low scale) 4000 MXN (180€). Prices change according to the size and the design of course. But people who make those carpets are simply always poor so I was quite baffled by the fact that a seller had hundreds and hundreds of carpets. It means that he had millions of pesos in stock which is something unbelievable. They simply practice really high prices, way higher than the production cost and ethically it disturbs me.
At the end, no carpet for me. I still have to explore the country. I heard that the state of Oaxaca in the South is specialized in textiles.
But the Mercado is for sure a place to see, just to have the pleasure of a fresh grapefruit juice.
Lucas Balderas S/N, Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, GTO
044 415 112 8138
5 – Fabrica Aurora
This is by chance that I noticed this place on Internet few days before going to San Miguel. I already spent one day in the city the last year and I didn’t hear about it. When I read an article with the words “art” and “galleries” it made “click” in my brain.
This place is actually an old textile fabric. It was even the most important textile manufacturing of the country during the 20th century. Built on 1902 by an English company the structure counts 12 stone arches and wrought iron gates that practically remained the same. Today the Fabrica Aurora is an artistic center with numerous art galleries (a paradise for me) and handicraft stores.
It is located a part of the historic center but San Miguel is not that big and for the lovers of walking it’s a really nice promenade. This is definitely the place that I liked the most in San Miguel: a wonderful surprise.
Calz de La Aurora, Aurora, 37710 San Miguel de Allende, Gto.
01 415 152 1312
6 – The colonial architecture and the churches
San Miguel de Allende is worth for the architecture itself. You can go there only to walk through the streets. Houses are colorful and all organized around a patio. All the city is like this. Anywhere you go (hotels, restaurants, stores…) you will be enchanted by the inside gardens and the terraces.
You will also meet a lot of churches along the streets. I thus visited the “Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud”, the “Templo de San Fransisco” and the “Templo y Convento de la Purísima Concepción”. And there are a lot of others. I have to admit that I have never really been attracted to look for a lot of information about churches, I simply like visiting them randomly through my walks.
7 – And the Mexican Independence!
As I mentioned it at the beginning of this article I went to San Miguel de Allende during the week-end of the Mexican Independence. This is priceless. Mariachis in the streets, colors of Mexico everywhere (red and green),wreath of flowers in the hair, endless fireworks, joy of life and energy from people…This is strong, this is colorful, this is Mexico.
Ultimately San Miguel de Allende is a city of art, design, handicraft and also gourmet products such as olive oil. We find a lot of dedicated stores of tea, chocolate, soap, which remind me Europe. It has a lot of charm and I feel close to the living style. This is probably why I felt in love with San Miguel.
I propose you hear some restaurants and stores that I particularly liked:
Tío Lucas: I was starving when we arrived and they give you a “chorro” (understand “a lot of food”). It’s really agreeable to eat outside and we had the pleasure to have a typical Mexican music band. It’s more a restaurant of meat.
Mesones 103, Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto.
01 415 152 4996
La Mezcalería: really unexpected surprise just besides the hotel. It’s actually a small restaurant of tapas (which are simply delicious) which proposes a great choice of mezcal, a strong alcohol agave based like the tequila, typical from Mexico (I will dedicate an article to its fabrication). I definitely appreciated my Margarita with mezcal instead of tequila. Nice service.
Correo 47, Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
01 415 121 5354
El Tres Restaurante Cantina: a Mexican restaurant revisited in a contemporary style with a beautiful design patio. It’s fresh and the Mojito is really good.
Mesones, Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto.
01 415 152 0580
There’s also another place that I really appreciated in the calle Mesones but impossible to remember its name and to find information about it on internet. I went after the firework and they had live music, simple but nice cooking and an amazing margarita. This is before El Tres Restaurante Cantina!
And don’t forget to taste a small tumbagón. This is a typical “dulce” from the city covered of glass sugar. The story tells that the recipe is French!
Fina Catrina: this a new Mexican brand of handbags hand-painted with typical Mexican designs. They opened the last year and they are growing. I spent one day in San Miguel during the last Christmas vacation and they only had few models at this time. I really like their work which is amazing but you need to count 3000 MXN (135€) for a bag.
Mesones 74, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto
01 415 154 7214
Olio Fino: this gourmet store is specialized in a wide range of olive oil and balsamic vinegars. They also have a store in Queretaro and in Mexico City.
Zacateros 83, Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto.
01 415 152 3946
Mente Cacao: a chocolate store with original flavors such as Chocolate/Chile or Chocolate/Basil.
Zacateros 17, Zona Centro, San Miguel de Allende, Gto.
Camino Silvestre: a store dedicated to articles for birds; well yes it could appear a bit strange but they also have home decoration and a nice garden where you can have a tea. The concept is interesting.
Zacateros 46, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto.
01 415 121 3359
Zatta: this is the stand of a brand located in the Fabrica Aurora specialized in handbags; this Mexican brand was born in Leon, city known for its know-how of leather. Models are both original and elegant.
Calz de La Aurora, Aurora, 37710 San Miguel de Allende, Gto.
01 415 152 1312
My TO DO LIST for the next trip:
Museo Casa de Ignacio Allende
La Cucaracha: it is supposed to be a traditional “cantina Mexicana” where famous artists came (such as the actress Rita Hayworth) but it was closed when I tried to go.
Instituto Allende: different from the house, this is an artistic place (another one!) where I couldn’t enter because of a wedding.
Hank's New Orleans Cafe & Oyster Bar: a restaurant of Cajun cooking; definitely not Mexican but I am curious!
Mercado Centro: a market with different food stands for the experience.
13 Cielos: the restaurant was almost in front of the hotel but they were closing when we tried to go. This charming place serves an international and quite gastronomic cooking.