Suburban San Louis Missouri based newspaper, Ladue News, recently published an article featuring San Miguel de Allende’s vibrant Expat life, that attracts people from all over the United States, and how many of them end up becoming residents.
Ladue News author Arthur Hoffman documents four different cases of foreigners that have decided to acquire real estate in San Miguel while on vacation.
We asked a friend from New York City to join us in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for a week. She had a few questions, then agreed.
She emailed a few days later. A Life Master in bridge, she’d mentioned to fellow players that she was going to San Miguel. Other members of her bridge club said they’d be in San Miguel at the same time. Perhaps they could play there?
There’s also a very serious croquet club, following British rules, with its own facility. There are arts groups for any medium imaginable, as well as groups devoted to yoga, poker, birding, hiking, tennis, cooking, equestrian pursuits, writing, golf, languages (Spanish and others), dance, music and so on.
San Miguel has it all for expat residents and visitors.
That might be why our New York friend returned there within the year with three other New York-based women she travels with each year. They all found San Miguel “absolutely charming, a special place.”
Our friend returned a third time in March for an Art Students League weeklong plein air painting workshop. San Miguel was chosen because of its special light and colors – and because it’s San Miguel, of course.
Part of the magnetic quality of San Miguel is its colonial architecture. The city’s historico centro, about 70 square blocks, is protected and can’t be changed. Mountains around San Miguel produced about three-fourths of the silver that enriched Spain, and it all went through San Miguel. Some must have fallen off the wagons, helping to finance fabulous architecture.
San Miguel also has “benign” weather. The highest average temperature is 87 degrees in May; the lowest, 43 degrees in January. Why? San Miguel sits at 6,300 feet above sea level in central Mexico, about 170 miles from Mexico City.
Another happy fact: Long after the silver was gone, Mexican artists “discovered” San Miguel’s charms, settled and established art schools in the city. In the 1950s, American PR man Stirling Dickinson entered the picture. He helped found Instituto Allende to teach language and art, and publicized the city’s charms. Word spread, and soon Mexican and U.S. celebrities bought and renovated colonial mansions here.
It was a genius move. Dickinson made sure to earn certification for GI Bill students. GIs with a global or bohemian view discovered their money went a very long way in San Miguel. And the place was cool – so cool that many stayed permanently.
More recently, in 2008, San Miguel was named a United Nations World Heritage of Humanity site. In 2013, Condé Nast Traveler readers voted San Miguel the world’s top city. And this July, Travel + Leisure readers also named San Miguel the world’s No. 1 city.
We’ve gone to San Miguel five times in the past 30 years. It never fails to delight. On the last visit, we stayed a month and found even that time inadequate.
During our stay, we met resident expats from Canada, France and the U.S. We also met other visitors, many regulars, from all over the States, Canada and Spain.
This influx has bid up San Miguel real estate and restaurant prices compared to most Mexican cities. However, both remain relative bargains.
We’ve met many Americans who own homes in San Miguel and defray their cost by renting to visitors when they’re not in residence. As Airbnb and VRBO sites prove, rental units are not only numerous but also diverse.
Laurie Sperling and Larry White of University City have owned a home in San Miguel since 2012. It started in 2009, when Sperling went to San Miguel for the first time to help a friend renovate her kitchen. She loved the city and resolved to share it with her husband, Larry. They had traveled all over the world for 35 years, but she thought White would agree that San Miguel was special. They both returned in 2011, and White did indeed agree. They both loved feeling that they were part of the local culture rather than tourists. And they considered the city’s “light, architecture and people extraordinary.”
The next year, Sperling and White returned to buy a house. Today, they spend a few weeks a year in San Miguel and rent their home weekly for the rest of the year; in 2016, the property was rented about 35 weeks.
Another friend, a writer from San Francisco, tells roughly the same story. She was in San Miguel working on a story and grew smitten. She found a falling-down house, bought it and hired an architect. Today, she rents the contemporary house except for the four to six weeks she herself spends there.
One final example: A woman from France now divides her time between Connecticut and San Miguel. An artist and designer, she bought and renovated a large home only steps from the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, San Miguel’s iconic church in the town center. She says “some magical power comes over one” that often leads to a home purchase.