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Our hearts and thoughts are with you, Mexico — sending love and support to our neighbors affected by the earthquakes. As we have seen homes and communities destroyed, we have also witnessed incredible unity, a coming together to recover and rebuild. In this time of emergency, resources like food, water, and shelter are critical for survivors. If you’d like to help, please consider donating to GlobalGiving. The crowdfunding organization is highly-rated by Charity Navigator. We stand in solidarity.

Located in the highlands of central Mexico, far away from the coastline many of us imagine when we picture the country, is a cobblestone-lined, artist-haven jewel of a city—San Miguel de Allende. With its hot-but-not-scorching climate, Spanish Colonial architecture, steep hills, elegant buildings, and colorful façades in a palette of golden yellows and ruby hues, it’s a storybook-like setting.

Add to this scene San Miguel’s striking light and you have a city that can cast its spell over you and capture your heart. This artistic enclave and food-focused haven is not easy to get to, which has helped the area remain insulated and authentically Mexican. The culture and surroundings are enough to seduce visitors, eliciting dreams of moving to the city. And many do—permanently! Twenty percent of the San Miguel’s population is expats from the U.S., Canada, and Europe; the region became an expat hub for American and Canadian artists in the 1950s.

Of course, it isn’t just expats who adore the city. San Miguel is of great significance to Mexicans, too. It was the first town to declare independence from Spain during the Mexican War of Independence in the early 1800s. The city is the birthplace of Ignacio Allende (for whom the city was named), an officer in the Spanish army who switched sides and fought for Mexico.

You can still feel that romantic, unspoiled charm of yesteryear as you traverse the narrow streets—the preserved, old-time feel is part of the area’s allure. In 1926, San Miguel was declared a historic monument city and laws were passed to safeguard it from modernism, meaning no traffic lights and no neon signage to this day.

I spent about 48 hours in San Miguel de Allende and while there is so much to see, I wanted to share my most swoon-worthy, not-to-be-missed highlights.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

  • Stay

    Rosewood San Miguel is just steps from the city center and yet it feels like a hidden oasis. From the rooms to the food to the views to the amenities, every aspect of the hotel is exceptional. The rooftop tapas bar, Luna, boasts 360-degree views of the San Miguel skyline. For breakfast each morning, thanks to Executive Chef Carlos Hannon, I feasted on modern interpretations of traditional Mexican fare, made entirely from locally-sourced ingredients. The hotel’s amenities are plentiful — there is a Jacuzzi, a family pool, an adults-only lap pool, and a spa. And finally, the accommodations themselves are similarly indulgent. Like the hotel as a whole, each room is designed to provide a fine hacienda experience. They’re filled with colonial details like rich hues, carved wood furnishings, and local artwork.

  • Shop

    One of my favorite and most authentic experiences was visiting local and lively Mercado Ignacio Ramírez. Mercados are not where the tourists visit but where the locals gather produce and Mexican delights. There are rows and rows of orderly displays of fruits and vegetables piled high, more types of peppers and grains than you ever knew existed, and butchers and floral vendors. In a side annex of the market, you will find traditional home-cooked, ready-to-eat foods. Here, women are making tortillas and gorditas, shucking and grilling corn over an open fire, and slicing mango and jicama and dusting them with chili and fresh lime, which they’ll scoop into a plastic bag for you to take. And if artisan crafts are what you are after, just behind Ignacio Ramírez you can visit the Mercado de Artesanías.

  • Explore

    Government-funded art school Centro Culturál Ignacio Ramírez “El Nigromante”, or Bellas Artes for short, is an oasis of peace, quiet, learning, and artistry in the midst of the busy town. It is free to enter and to explore. Have lunch or meander through the archways, which make way to galleries and classrooms. They’re filled with both young students learning ceramics, drawing, painting, photography, and printmaking, and older expats learning age-old weaving techniques for making Mexican blankets on a loom. The building was originally constructed from 1755 to 1765 as the cloister area of the Convent of the Immaculate Conception (Las Monjas). Yup, it’s a convent turned art school, rich in history and representative of the two core traditions of San Miguel, art and Catholicism.

  • Drink

    Casa Dragones Tequila, the independently produced, small-batch liquor created by Bob Pittman and Bertha González Nieves in San Miguel de Allende, is the smoothest sipping tequila I have ever encountered. Just a few short months ago, the brand opened its first tasting room. It is inside Dôce 18, a historic building home to luxury boutiques, design shops, and restaurants. The intimate, elegant six-seater space, designed by acclaimed interiors firm Meyer Davis and Mexican interior designer Gloria Cortina, is clad in a grid of 4,000 custom obsidian black tiles that were collected from Casa Dragones’ own agave fields. The space is soothing and meditative, and it sets the scene for what’s to come; the tasting room offers a rotating residency for respected mixologists from around the world.

  • Eat

    If you only eat at one local restaurant, make it the city’s beloved, high-end treasure Aperi. Chef Matteo Salas, who is of both Mexican and Italian heritage, is lauded as one of Mexico’s rising stars, and as one of the top three chefs in the country. My meal was full of flavor bombs that opened my senses. A mouthful might include vibrant citrus, sweet agave nectar, heat from various chilies, a crunch of crispy lentil, or the unexpected texture of frozen and shaved foie gras. Aperi, by the way, means “to open” in Latin. How apropos! I encourage you to indulge in the four-course tasting menu with wine and tequila parings at the chef’s table. It’s open to the kitchen, where you can see the chef working his magic.

  • Wander

    As I wandered the red and yellow streets of the historic center of San Miguel, I took in the colonial haciendas, adorned with bougainvillea, and soaked up the golden sunlight casting its spell over me during magic hour. The golden yellow and blushy red palette that colors the city’s architecture comes from the stone. I just love this. The city was built from the ground up, and it will remain that way forever. You see, San Miguel’s zoning laws not only govern the building sizes and ban English-language signs, but they also regulate the paint colors. And that’s a huge part of what makes this quaint artist community so damn charming. I love myself a controlled palette!

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