I'm floating peacefully in an orange sky at sunrise above the clouds in the central Mexican city of San Miguel de Allende. Enchanting, magical, heavenly...San Miguel is an adventure for all the senses and this is certainly a divine way to begin a girlfriends' getaway to celebrate my birthday. A mix of Baroque, Gothic, and Spanish-colonial architecture, the buildings throughout this charming city, like the sunlit sky, are also multiple shades of warm tones -- red earth, burnt orange, salmon pink, ochre yellow -- accented by colorful wooden doorways leading to sublime private courtyards.
The city is centered around the iconic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel built in 1683 - whose dramatic pink towers rise above the main plaza, El Jardín, adding to the spiritual feeling. La Parroquia is the symbol around which the entire town revolves. It is one of the most-photographed churches in Mexico and the two tall towers of its neo-Gothic façade can be seen from most parts of town. The church was built in the 17th century with a traditional Mexican façade and the current Gothic façade was constructed in 1880 by Zeferino Gutierrez, an indigenous bricklayer and self-taught architect. It is said Gutierrez's inspiration came from postcards and lithographs of Gothic churches in Europe. The spirituality is palpable as you wander the city's plazas and churches. Although the city is quite walkable in terms of distances, the uneven and sometimes steep cobblestone streets can be treacherous, especially if you're wearing the wrong shoes.
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, the city's iconic landmark, points upward to heaven
In the city center we pass several picturesque plazas with pretty park benches and shady trees where we see people relaxing and talking with each other, grandparents playing with their grandchildren, men having their shoes shined, vendors selling various food and colorful merchandise -- it all seems like a perfect dream world.
We checked into the stunningly designed and superbly located, Live Aqua Urban Resort San Miguel de Allende which beautifully captures the artistic spirit for which the historic city is known.
From the moment you arrive, your senses are captivated – from the extraordinary architecture and unique artwork around every corner, to the many different textures in the rooms and suites, to the aromas in the dazzling restaurants and bars.
The resort's privileged location is just a short walk away from some of the city’s main attractions and is the perfect place for travelers to experience chic and stylish accommodations after a day of exploring the charming colonial town.
Rooms are a unique mix of modern and traditional. Retro elements like a record player and leather trunk intermingle with a glass-walled modern bathroom and massive flat panel TV with sliding, mirrored door. There are also many natural elements like the wood beamed ceiling, natural cut wooden headboard, and outdoor hot tub surrounded by a lush garden.
After relaxing in our rooms for a bit (we were all eager to soak in our inviting bathtubs or Jacuzzis), we met at the hotel's Casa Dragones Cigar Bar - a sophisticated space with outdoor terrace overlooking the scenic Obraje Dam. Here we were introduced to Casa Dragones tequila and learned that the secret to recognizing a premium tequila over a cheap one is that every good tequila should be sippable. We first tried the Blanco over ice with a lemon twist and it was incredibly refreshing. Then we tried the Anejo (aged) straight up and it was like drinking a smooth whisky, giving me a warm fuzzy feeling. So the Blanco is perfect as a summer drink and the Anejo is a warm-you-up winter drink. The tequilas are produced by hand and are made with the finest blue agave plants, thanks to this they have an incomparable flavor, body and aroma. Each bottle preserves the aesthetics of the brand -- they are numbered, signed and dated by hand. MTV founder Bob Pittman bought a house in San Miguel days after his first visit, and launched Casa Dragones in 2009 with partner and Mexican tequila entrepreneur Bertha González Nieves, the first woman tequila master.
Casa Dragones tequilas - Anejo and Blanco
Afterward, we had a glorious dinner at the hotel's "Garden Table" with haute cuisine prepared by the property's Zibu Allende restaurant. This was great fun with a group of friends but the private botanical garden with views of the Obraje Dam is also an amazing place for a romantic dinner to celebrate a special occasion.
The next morning we started our indulgent day with a hearty breakfast at Zibu.
The tasting room at Viñedos San Lucas.
The hotel recommended a visit to San Lucas Vineyard less than a half hour away and it turned out to be a great suggestion! We had a personalized tour and wine tasting in their fabulous wine cave and learned about Mexican wines. You may not normally think of ordering a wine from Mexico, but surprisingly Mexico began cultivating wine in the early 1500s, making it the first nation in the Americas to do so. Unfortunately, this negatively impacted the Spanish, so Spain decided to ban the production of Mexican wine in the 1700s. It has just recently picked back up in the late 1990s.
Over the past two decades, more than 30 wineries have opened in this area and today they form stopping points on Guanajuato's Ruta de Vino, which stretches across 65 miles of land rich in resources and numerous international prizes have been awarded to the region.
Later we wandered around the cobblestone streets and the Mercado de Artesanías (artisan market) where we saw small shops selling colorful folk art on nearly every block. The shops in San Miguel de Allende are a mix of art and sculpture galleries, artisanal souvenir emporiums, chic clothing and shoe boutiques, furniture shops, and even very old stores like the Botica De Santa Teresita pharmacy that has provided homeopathic remedies for over 160 years. Centuries-old buildings here have seen the passing of time for generations and it’s fascinating to explore them all.
These angels and colorful blown-glass hearts are perfect souvenirs to remember such a heavenly place. Due to its rich cultural legacy, San Miguel de Allende has become the ideal destination in Mexico for art lovers and enjoy all its artistic splendor with experiences and activities that will enrich the stay of visitors who wish to immerse themselves in the local culture and put into practice their creative side.
San Miguel de Allende enjoys an enduring relationship with the arts. From the city’s founding as part of Mexico’s Silver Route, artisans and artists alike have found inspiration here, as have a steady flow of art enthusiasts who look go beyond popular souvenirs for more tasteful works to add to their collections.
One of San Miguel de Allende’s most popular artworks are the oversized puppets that take part in every celebration in the city and have become popular in weddings. At the Casa Mojigangas shop, you’ll find the local master of the artform, Hermes Arroyo, who is credited for rebirthing the giant papier-maché figures that sit atop people’s shoulders in local parades and festivals. The store features a packed assortment of unique Mexican handicrafts, but make sure to schedule a class with Arroyo to create your own mini-Mojigangas — a unique souvenir you will not find anywhere else in the world.
As we were wandering around town, we came across Cumpanio restaurant -- just a three minute walk from the Parroquia and main square. It is a perfect stop for any time of the day, whether you're looking for breakfast, lunch, coffee or cocktails. They offer an onsite bakery, bar, and restaurant with plenty of atmosphere and great food.
It certainly seems like we're eating a lot! Later we try the exotic Spice Market restaurant in our hotel. India, China, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam are just some of the countries on the Asian continent that have given life to an ancient cuisine that is recognized throughout the world. These distant lands become close thanks to Spice Market's incomparable gastronomy, a mixture of flavors, aromas, textures and a use of spices and condiments in dishes that are also a spectacle for your eyes.
The dilemma of a stay at the Live Aqua Urban Resort San Miguel de Allende is your simultaneous desire to explore the city around you and to relax at the stunning resort by the infinity pool, in the spa, or in one of the many tranquil courtyards. Be sure to book enough days to enjoy both! Sitting by the pool, enjoying a cocktail and ceviche from the tropical-themed Mario Canario bar, I felt like I was at a beach resort.
Later I indulged in a "Feel Massage" at the spa — 90 minutes of restoring inner balance with a fusion of holistic techniques: shiatsu and lomi-lomi, applying pressure suited to your needs. During the massage I had the sensation that I was floating away -- another heavenly experience in San Miguel de Allende.
The Spa relaxation area
San Miguel, in addition to being center for arts and culture, has also blossomed as a gastronomic hub. With mild weather and wonderful sunsets, many of San Miguel de Allende’s restaurants and bars are located on rooftops, offering beautiful city views, especially at night, where you can enjoy al fresco drinks and dining. We feasted on some amazing pizzas and pastas at Cent'anni Ristorante's terrazza rooftop with views of illuminated church steeples.
San Miguel offers an incredible variety of street festivals, events, concerts and theatrical productions that are held every year. Our stay happened to coincide with the annual Alborada and Celebration of San Miguel Archangel Patron Saint of San Miguel. This is the main religious festivity where the residents celebrate their own patron saint with a huge 3-day party each year on the weekend following September 29th.
This festivity kicks off with La Alborada -- a Friday night full of music and fireworks in the main square. On Saturday many communities bring offerings to the Saint called “Xuchiles” made with flowers, and these communities are accompanied by traditional conchero dancers up to the main square. On Sunday there is a parade of dancers from several other surrounding cities. During these three days, you can enjoy partying in the streets and fireworks in the main plaza in the evenings.
A heavenly end to a heavenly stay! In ancient mythology, the goddess of the rainbow connected people to the gods. In San Miguel de Allende you definitely feel the connection!
All images ©Christine Gray/LuxuryTravelMagazine.com except header photo (Pixabay)
It's best to spend at least four nights to fully enjoy all the town's many pleasures. San Miguel, is located roughly 165 miles from Mexico City, a 3.5 hour drive, and can be a great part of a larger central Mexico itinerary which can include a Mexico City stay combined with a stop in the countryside at a historic hacienda located about half way between Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende. We recommend the Grand Fiesta Americana Chapultapec overlooking Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City and Hacienda Galindo Resort & Spa in San Juan del Río. The hotels can arrange transportation between them.
The nearest airport is Querétaro (QRO), about 90km away/1:15 hour drive. Mexico City International Airport (MEX) is 3.5 hours drive.
When To Go
San Miguel de Allende is situated around the Sierra Central Mountains and is considered to have a temperate and slightly arid climate. March, April and May are the hottest months with high temperatures averaging in the mid-80s. The coolest months are December and January when lows at night can dip into the low-40s. The rainiest months are June through September. During these four months, the area receives 70% of its average annual rainfall.