Six senior sen̂oras in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, are enjoying lunch at a gorgeous rooftop restaurant, eating the freshest guacamole, sipping tequila drinks, and chatting about all the fun we are having. At the table next to us are two young gentlemen from Chicago, who are shopping for a house to buy in the area.  Many Americans and Canadians have homes here and after spending some time in this colonial area in Mexico’s central highlands, I get it. 

Anyway, they comment on our accents and we ask them to guess where we are from. “ Atlanta or Mobile, ” they say. Are you kidding me?! We couldn't believe they pegged Mobile. “ I would call you Southern Chic,” one said.  Bless his heart…  we are really on top of the world after his comment!  The Southern accent thing happened again and again as we encountered more Americans.

Rooftop establishments are common in San Miguel, and if we weren’t dining up high, we were sitting on the terraces of an Architectural Digest-worthy AirBnB, with a view of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. With an elevation of 6,234 feet, San Miguel is known for its baroque Spanish architecture, a thriving arts scene, and cultural festivals. 

In the city's historic cobblestoned center, lies the neo-gothic church, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, whose dramatic pink towers rise above the main plaza, El Jardin. Flowers, especially bougainvillea, and the purple Jacaranda trees in full bloom were a visual delight. 

In the historic part of the city, there are an estimated 2000 doors, behind which are 2000 courtyards of various sizes. Many of these have been restored to their former colonial state, with façades of ochre, orange, and yellow, windows, and doors framed by handcrafted ironwork. 

We loved walking the narrow streets that rise and fall over the hilly terrain and noticed the uniqueness of each door. I also enjoyed the many interesting patterns of stonework on the buildings, as each one was unique and visually pleasing. 

With six women on holiday, shopping is a profession. Fabrica la Aurora, an old textile mill converted to shops and galleries, was first on our list. Linens, jewelry, pottery, and home furnishings, all made in San Miguel, went home in our suitcases. 

The next day, we went to a more authentic Mexican market called Mercado de Artesanías where tourists and locals can find stalls selling hand-painted, traditional Mexican ceramics piled high alongside hanging lamps and Oaxacan rugs, clothing, and jewelry. With a very good exchange rate, our pesos went a long way with our purchasing power. Back in the main center of town, higher-end shops are predominant where we spend time perusing all the beautiful things. As many friends have asked, we felt perfectly safe wherever we ventured.

The restaurants were world-class, and fortunately, we made reservations ahead of time because most were extremely popular. Quince was a favorite. Both elegant and hip, the menu, music, service, and atmosphere worked together to create a high-energy culinary experience. A DJ played great music while a tightrope walker performed on a neon-lit suspended tightrope. When they took breaks, a pretty girl wandered among tables playing an electric violin; it was a feast for the senses. There are many dining options with international cuisines, so if Mexican food is not your thing, there are choices galore.

Our group visited a Tequila Distillery, Casa Dragones, and tasted and bought bottles to bring home. We took a hands-on cooking class with Chef David Jahnke where we made traditional dishes like creamy corn soup, shrimp tacos with fresh pico de gallo, tuna with mole sauce, and flan for dessert.

 Fifteen minutes outside of town, we visited the Sanctuary of Atotonilco (El Santuario de Atotonilco), dubbed the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico”. The walls and ceilings of the main nave and chapels are almost completely decorated with oil paintings, poems, sculptures, and frescoes in colors of vivid blues, reds, green, and black.  

There are mythical creatures, flowers, gilded baroque virgins, horned devils, red-robed priests, and biblical figures, mostly scenes depicting pivotal moments in the life of Christ. Because it was close to Holy Week, we learned that pilgrims will take one of the sculptures of Christ, wrapped in silk, and walk 8 miles into San Miguel carrying Him to a local church, where a piece of silk is unwrapped every day until Easter. 

As we were on our way to the airport in Leon, to catch our flight home, our driver pulled over and told us the worshippers were walking into town. Singing hymns and carrying spiritual icons, the pilgrims walked against the backdrop of cactus-filled hills. What an incredible cultural encounter to have as we departed this stunning city: it was a goosebump moment for me.

Adios San Miguel, until we meet again.

Mar 27, 2024
Day Trippin'

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