Story by Norma Davidoff
Photos by Norma Davidoff, Pat Cush, Rosewood Hotel
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE
Behind Every Door Is A Place to Be.
Early in the day San Miguel de Allende is anonymous. Along its cobblestone streets, door after door of simple dark wood remains closed. It is impossible to know what is inside. But once the day gets underway, surprises unfold. My two weeks in San Miguel led to many exhilarating moments inside those doors.
I confess to being beguiled by this city of 170,000 in the Central Highlands of Mexico. Certainly, I am not alone. 10% of the population is foreign; many are expats and tourists from the U.S. and Canada.
And no wonder. San Miguel de Allende is endlessly colorful and full of things to do… and to see. For Americans, the price is right… about half of what it costs “back home.” These days San Miguel is awash in luxurious restaurants and hotels.
The Rosewood Hotel is one of the most luxurious in the city. Set high on a hill with impeccable service, it commands some of the best views in town. All of San Miguel and the far-reaching countryside are before you.
La Parrochia, the main parish church and symbol of the city, is part of that view. Locals and visitors are particularly drawn to Rosewood’s Luna Rooftop Bar. Be advised: That rooftop bar is very popular as everyone wants a chance at the view. Plan accordingly. Try the tapas here; roast suckling pig tacos topped with crisp pork skin cracklings is one winner.
Rosewood has not one but three swimming pools, artfully designed, on different sight levels in the same area. It felt so welcoming -- not big and overwhelming. There’s a children’s pool and a hot tub. Cabanas with comfy chaises complete the picture. Those not staying at the hotel can arrange for a day at the pool for a fee, which includes lunch.
Rosewood serves authentic Mexican food at those cabanas and in its gracious restaurant, 1826. My chicken enchiladas with green tomatillo sauce was nothing short of ethereal.
Several other places offer views, too, all a bit different. Restaurant La Posadita’s rooftop is right across from La Parrochia. At night, beautifully lit, the church of San Miguel reaches dreamlike and marshmallow pink into the heavens. Small lights in the cross atop look like pearls.
Inside La Parrochia is the famous statue of Jesus, made most incredibly from corn husk paste. It was fashioned in a nearby city, stolen and missing for years. Luckily it was “re-found” and brought to where it was originally intended.
The city abounds in churches. A free local tour takes you through several as well as offering valuable information on many aspects of San Miguel. You pay what you wish which helps fund education for local school children. You get an education, too, about this lovely Colonial city.
San Miguel is chock full of restaurants for such a small place. Along with Mexican, you’ll find a smattering of Italian, even Peruvian and German, plus French with a Vietnamese accent.
San Miguel was a sleepy little town when American GI’s came here on the GI Bill to study art after WWII. That launched this small city into what has become a popular destination. As a result San Miguel has received numerous tourism awards, capped off by being declared American Capital of Culture in 2019.
Another surprise in this cultural capital: Some doors are not blank and anonymous after all. They are big, bold, and unique – wide with elaborate expanses of patterns and hardware. That was especially true at Instituto Allende and Bellas Artes. Yes, San Miguel has not one but two art institutions (both with beautiful doors) that offer a myriad of classes and a few exhibits. It was the art institutes that initially brought tourists to San Miguel.
I was lucky enough to be in the city for an event in honor of Ignacio Allende, a native of San Miguel. Allende had become an officer in Spain’s army, stationed in Mexico. He switched sides and was a leader in Mexico’s fight for independence. Executed for this betrayal, he died in 1811 before Mexico achieved its freedom. San Miguel changed the city name to honor the revolutionary role of their native son.
Many ceremonies and performances are held at El Jardin, the charming Central Garden -- a local meeting point. An afternoon parade, complete with marching bands, had hundreds of citizens in its procession. Professions were proudly represented -- police, nurses, doctors, chefs, sanitation workers, students. That evening brought – as a free gift to the city — well-known musicians and singers in rousing performances… some direct from Cuba. That plus a sound and light show drove the audience wild.
If it hadn’t been that all-consuming event, it would have been another.
San Miguel likes its festivals. There is one almost every month. And don’t miss Zandunga on Sundays in the countryside, just fifteen minutes from town. In a shaded open air space guitarist Gil Guttierez and violinist Bob Stern lead musicians in jazz, flamenco and Cuban music.
They are considered by many to be the best in Mexico (Guttierez has performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall.) Zandunga lasts for hours with guest performers. I heard a Cuban pianist and singer playing along with a percussionist and bass. It was rollicking!
For a relatively modest fee, you get the music, a bountiful buffet lunch and then the finale: a chance to dance. That afternoon the music suddenly changed and the place rocked out with music by Eric Clapton and by the Eagles. It felt like something out of a dream. “La Bamba” and “Mustang Sally” tempted even more people onto the dance floor. “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” brought the house down and ended the afternoon.
The ex-pats and visitors I met were utterly enthusiastic about San Miguel. Their suggestions: December is quiet and nice; August is a great month as the high elevation keeps things cool. February brings a Writers Festival and a Chamber Music Festival. San Miguel’s Jazz Festival is in November.
During my fortnight in San Miguel I went behind many of those nondescript doors – and a few elegant ones --- into different worlds. Yet I knew only the surface had been scratched and that this place had gotten under my skin. I must come back. San Miguel, hasta luego.
IF YOU GO:
San Miguel Tourist Websitewww.visitsanmiguel.travel
Check weekly publication Attencion for events. Much is in English. It’s best to buy it at La Biblioteca, a place frequented by ex-pats and tourists.
Zandunga is a Sunday event. Buy tickets at Mixta, Pila Seca 3, downtown. The group also performs at Mi Casa Bistro in Instituto Allende two nights a week. www.zandunga.business.site/
Rosewood Hotel 55-415-152-9700 www.rosehotels.com
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