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San Miguel de Allende: The Heart of Mexico

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They call it “the Heart of Mexico.”

But San Miguel de Allende, a postcard-perfect colour-filled colonial city with cobblestone streets located about a three-hour drive north of Mexico City in the mountains, has a lot to offer for the eyes, ears and brain too.

A recent four-night stay offered up plenty of sights and sounds — like both mariachi bands and hip-hop dancers in the main square — and every kind of upscale cafe, bar, restaurant, shop and boutique hotel imaginable, often contained behind the same beautifully carved door.

A beautifully carved door in San Miguel. (Jane Stevenson/Toronto Sun)

An old section of San Miguel was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, and that combined with a major expat population of Canadians and Americans (believed to be around 10% of the 80,000 in the city proper) who began coming here in the 1940s and ’50s to study art, and you have a very popular inland destination for those who can survive the Mexican heat and altitude — it’s 1,860 metres above sea level — without an ocean nearby.

The winter is actually the ideal time to visit with daytime highs of 23C, as you’ll be walking up and down hills often.

Here are the highlights of my first trip:

La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel can be seen from the terrace at Casa 1810 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. (Jane Stevenson/Toronto Sun)


Casa 1810 (casa1810.com), a six-year-old, 14-room boutique hotel, is conveniently located about a block away from the city’s principal plaza, El Jardin, and the towering neo-Gothic pink 17th century church, La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, with a Starbucks (believe it or not) right on the corner. You enter the hotel via an art gallery, Exim, and there’s a beautiful courtyard below on the first floor, and a tiny shallow pool (like the size of an oversized bathtub), restaurant, bar and terrace on the third floor. Rooms have air conditioning and flat-screen televisions, and the staff is attentive and will help you get oriented in this walking city (bring comfortable shoes for the hilly cobblestone streets). Plus there is a popular shuttle service to and from the airport.


Ruta de la Milpa offers a very special modern take on fine Mexican dining with an emphasis on corn, beans and squash.

On our second day we ventured about a half hour out of town to Nirvana (hotelnirvana.mx) for a poolside lunch that included tortilla soup at the hot springs pool. They have a US$80 deal for lunch, soak and a massage. You can also stay overnight in one of nine rooms on the nine-hectare property, and I definitely would next visit.

The patio at Luna at Rosewood hotel in San Miguel de Allende. (Jane Stevenson/Toronto Sun)

Our final lunch we rose to venture about 15 minutes outside the city to hit the farm Rancho La Trinidad, which supplies food to Los Pirules, the reserved outdoor lunch area for special groups at the grand 67-room Hotel Rosewood, a pink palace back in town with gorgeous public areas and grounds, a pool, orange clay tennis courts and the beautiful Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar on the second floor. After we pick fresh vegetables on the farm with Luna Chef Victor Martinez, we head over to Los Pirules to each prepare our assigned dishes served family style on a beautifully set long wooden table with stunning city views.

Luna Chef Victor Martinez holds some of the freshly picked vegetables at farm Rancho La Trinidad. (Jane Stevenson/Toronto Sun)


The Restaurant, serving “global comfort food,” has a truly romantic setting with a water fountain in its outdoor courtyard full of roses on the night we dined while tiny white lights twinkled overhead.

Los Milagros offers up shared volcanic bowls brimming with cheese, chicken, beef and peppers in a traditional Mexican setting.

A shared volcanic bowl at Los Milagros brims with cheese, chicken, beef and peppers. (Jane Stevenson/Toronto Sun)

Our final night we ate at our hotel’s dining room Trazo, offering modern cuisine with an European influence, where the rooftop setting is spectacular.


We went to a tequila tasting for Casa Dragones at “the smallest tequila bar on earth,” whose shiny metal grey walls are made of volcanic rock. The place can hold between four to seven people and our tequila sommelier reminded us to sip the small-batch independent tequila — established in 2009 and offering both Joven and Blanco blends — and not pound it back with salt and lime as you see in so many other bars. A bottle can go for up to US$200 each.


The 100-year-old Benito Juarez Park is a nice stroll through the centre of the city with benches, fountains, a gazebo and plenty of trees.

Panio Bakery is a great place to stop for a coffee and a pastry.

Hotel Matilda, another boutique hotel, has a beautiful lobby and sitting area.

Mercado Collective and Mixtas are hip shops where you’ll want to snap up both locally made (and beyond) clothes, bags and jewelry.

Fabrica la Aurora Art District has both boutiques and art galleries that you could spend a half day exploring.


About 15 km out of town is the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Sanctuary of Jesus Nazareno de Atotonilco, which we visit en route to a glorious day for lunch and a soak in the hot springs at Nirvana followed by a visit to the impressively grand Tres Raices Vineyards, where we sample red, white and rose.

Source: The Toronto Sun

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