on San Miguel de Allende
By Robert Ross
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a magical village nestled in the foothills, far from freeways, international airports, smog and congestion. A village that hasn’t changed its colonial architecture for centuries. A place where neon lights and billboards are forbidden and cobblestone streets stretch out from a central plaza. The central plaza is adorned with lush green Indian Laurel trees, where children laugh and play in the day and musicians serenade lovers in the evening.
This village is magical indeed, and . . . it does exist. It is located in the
mountainous region of central Mexico and is called
San Miguel de Allende.
San Miguel was founded in 1542, as a stopover for the silver trade, by a Franciscan monk named Juan de San Miguel. It was renamed San Miguel de Allende in 1826, for Ignacio Allende, a hero in the war for independence.
Because of its unique charm — colonial-style architecture and churches dating back to its founding, Mexico declared San Miguel a national monument in 1926, thus restricting architectural changes to its original colonial heritage.
Today, San Miguel is a mecca for artists from all over the world, attracted by the climate, the schools, the reasonable prices and the beauty of the city and surrounding area.
For the artist, painter, sculpture or musician, the Instituto Allende is a focal point for classes and information about activities in the area. The town also has a myriad of art galleries and art schools available for artists of all levels.
Because of the moderate climate, great restaurants, music, unique shops and host of things to do from theater to Spanish language schools, San Miguel has attracted a large American community. Many have chosen to retire in San Miguel and others own a second home in the area. It is estimated that between eight thousand and twelve thousand Americans make their home in San Miguel.
The center of the American community is the Biblioteca Publica (library) located just a few blocks from the main plaza. Here you will find a large selection of books in English, computers to check your e-mail and a bulletin board for announcements of upcoming activities. There is also a charming quasi open-air restaurant where one can enjoy delicious meals at reasonable prices. While you are there, don’t forget to book a “Homes of San Miguel” tour. The price, about $10, will allow you to tour three magnificently-decorated homes in the area.
We spent a week in San Miguel. During the day, we walked. There was a walking tour of the city, walks to the library to check our e-mail, walks to the local grocery stores, and walks to Juarez Park with its beautiful green vegetation and walnut, mulberry and cherimoya trees. We also walked to some charming restaurants, many with lush garden-like atmospheres — potted plants and the sound of water trickling from fountains. We also took a day trip/tour to the city of Guanajuato, about an hour drive from San Miguel. Guanajuato has a large college population, and quite an interesting history.
The Jardin Principal (center garden) is the focal point of San Miguel. If it’s soaking up atmosphere, people watching or having a leisurely lunch, the Jardin is a good place to just let go and enjoy. While you’re there, pick up a copy of the “Attencion” newspaper. It’s written in English and will give you a good idea of what’s happening in town.
Music is everywhere in San Miguel, from guitarists in local restaurants, to strolling mariachi-type bands. The city also plays host to a jazz festival held the last week of November and to a chamber music festival held in August.
If you like outdoor activities, San Miguel offers hiking, golf, tennis, camping and hot air ballooning. There are also spas, spa resorts and thermal hot springs available to the public.
San Miguel is in the state of Guanajuato and can be reached by plane, flying into the city of Leon, Mexico. From Leon, it is best to have prearranged a shuttle (about $25 per person) from the Leon airport to your hotel in San Miguel. The shuttle takes about an hour to make the drive through the scenic countryside. Make sure to prearrange with your driver a pick-up point and time for your journey back to the airport.
Hotel accommodations should also be prearranged before embarking on your trip. Rooms range from moderate — about $500 for a week, to very pricey, $250 a night and up. Through the Internet, we rented a one-bedroom apartment (attached to a home) with kitchen for $500 a week. It was on a quiet street and about a 10-minute walk to the central plaza.
Bring sturdy walking shoes as the sidewalks are high and narrow, so you will find yourself walking on cobblestones in the street quite a bit. Bring an umbrella — the rainy season is from June to September, but expect downpours throughout the year. Dress is casual in San Miguel, but if you are planning on attending the theater or perhaps a fine restaurant, dress accordingly.
Cabs are plentiful and inexpensive — charging $2.00 for a ride anywhere within the city limits. Public buses are also available for transportation within the city and to the outer areas.
The people of San Miguel are friendly, realizing that tourism is a large part of the city’s economy.
If you are looking for charm, beauty, great food, a colonial atmosphere, all
tucked away, safe and secure from the negative aspects of large cities and
“civilization,” consider San Miguel. You won’t regret it.
Robert Ross can be reached by e-mail at: SanDiegoRoss@Yahoo.com
Copyright 2007 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved
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