No one I spoke to in San Miguel de Allende knew it had been chosen as 2019’s Cultural Capital of the Americas.
Even the tourist office seemed non-plussed. ‘No we don’t have any extra events or activities going on,’ said Rodrigo with a shrug.
Actually, that says it all, for San Miguel de Allende is cultural every day of the year.
It is where the life of the town plays out; gringos sitting in the sun, Mexicans in the shade. Newspapers are read, shoes shined.
Marina took me to lunch above the Jardin, at Atrio, on a rooftop which looks directly across to the main church, a Gothic marvel called Parroquia de San Miguel.
San Miguel de Allende lies two-and-a-half hours north of Mexico City. Pictured is one of the city’s colourful streets
As I savoured my spicy black bean soup and crunched my way through squash blossom quesadillas (not to be missed), Marina explained a little of the town’s artistic history.
‘It was the first place in Mexico to gain independence from Spain,’ she told me, ‘but by the 1930s it had been hit by the Great Depression.’
Stirling Dickinson — an American writer and artist — revived it, establishing an art school which became popular with U.S. veterans after World War II. Many former GIs have retired here and support the town’s rich cultural life.
And that heritage is a beacon for others — such as Marilo Carral, a Mexican artist friend of Marina’s who joined us for lunch. Afterwards, Marina took me to Fabrica La Aurora, an old textile mill which is now San Miguel’s artistic hub, filled with galleries including hers, where her colourful, neo-impressionistic canvasses hang on the walls.
Latin serenade: A mariachi band evokes Mexico’s vibrant culture
Marilo’s equally colourful chairs can be found in Marina’s shop, Marquesa de Mancera, in among an extraordinary treasure-trove of Mexican handicrafts from dried and painted gourds topped with hummingbirds to brightly beaded cow skulls created by the indigenous Huichol people.
San Miguel de Allende swirls and shouts with colour and clamour — bougainvilleas flaunt themselves, church bells toll, turquoise doorways are sunk deep into terracotta-coloured houses, vibrant flowers are embroidered on shoes, hats and bags, and art and handicrafts are everywhere.
The only colourless thing I came across was the tequila. Casa Dragones is an independent producer, renowned for its high-quality sipping tequilas.
But I learned it’s a subject to be approached with caution. In the Casa Dragones’ obsidian-lined tasting room, the sommelier told me: ‘Talking about tequila in Mexico is like talking about religion or politics.’
By Mary Lussiana, who has travelled with Journey Latin America (journeylatinamerica.co.uk), the UK’s leading specialist in travel to Latin America.