I am often asked about my favorite places in the world, and nary a conversation occurs where I don’t mention my beloved Mexico. The culture, and food, the people and varied landscapes make it a favored destination of mine year after year. Yet of all the spots I claim to conocer oh so well, San Miguel de Allende is one I have never had the pleasure of knowing. Leave it to #TigTravel contributor Amanda Blakley to knock it out of the park with an Insider’s Guide to this charming town with Mexican hospitality and endless corazon. The best part – it’s Amanda’s casa away from casa, so she shares all of its hidden gems that only locals know. Gracias Amanda!
Over the past ten years, San Miguel de Allende has become my adopted second home. After falling in love with its storied and cobbled streets as a tourist, my father retired here in the noughties. Many visits later (pre-kids), my husband and I returned after our first son was born to kick off a traveling paternity leave through South America in 2011, and returned again and again thanks to the vibrant culture, colors, sounds, tastes and the amazingly hospitable climate. It was here that our new baby cut his first teeth and where I recently tried my hand at mastering the role of mama to two boys. Here are some of my favorite spots to hang, caffeinate, eat, sleep and play.
DORMIR [to sleep]
The Rosewood - Stay at The Rosewood if you’re looking for a hotel with five star service and amenities. You can also book one of their residences if you’re coming with a large group of family or friends (or both!). You can also take a cooking class with The Rosewood’s Executive Chef, Victor Palma. He’s as charming as he is talented and you’ll love the epic view and culinary pointers you’ll pick up during the session. Of course, the best part is the memorable dining experience you’ll enjoy once all the hard work is complete.
Hotel Matilda - This gorgeous hotel offers a boutique experience set amidst art-filled walls. Plus, it features an amazing spa that has the Conde Nast stamp of approval. Be sure to dine at their award-winning restaurant, Moxi, where the Chef de Cuisine is none other than Enrique Olvera (of Michelin famed, Pujol).
Dos Casas – The original contemporary boutique property in San Miguel still remains a favorite homestead for the discerning traveler with a taste for the intimate.
COMER [to eat]
Because I love to eat and because there are so many great little places in SMA to indulge my pastime, I am breaking this down by time of day so you can schedule accordingly!
Morning - Break your fast at Buen Dia (Carlos makes the best coffee in SMA), Posada Corazon (everything comes from their organic fruit/vegetable/herb garden and hen coop – including the tea) or try a proper Mexican buffet at Mamamia (think chilaquiles and chicharon).
Morning coffee - Oso Azul (Blue Bear), run by a Dane and a Mexican coffee plantation owner from Veracruz. They take the art of growing beans, roasting them and making coffee very seriously. They also happen to make a little molten-lava muffin that is definitely worthy of the meteoric calorie splurge.
Elevensies – The pain au chocolat and traditional croissants at Mesa Grande are dense and buttery – a must for a late morning snack.
Lunch – Via Organica (also an organic grocer) for fresh and healthy fare; Café Rama’s salads are top as is the eclectic art hanging in this bright and airy space. Firenze is a lovely option if you’re craving traditional Northern Italian with great wines and a sweet setting in the courtyard of a small art gallery (opt for the prix fixe lunch special, perfect portions of mui rico cuisine including an indulgent dessert). A great new addition to the San Miguel lunch scene is Cafe Mesones & Texas Saloon. This cozy courtyard dishes up southern cookin’ at its finest to a cool country soundtrack. Try the chicken & waffles and definitely do not pass on the basket of warm cornbread served before your meal.
Sunday Brunch - If your trip falls over a weekend, be sure to try a traditional Barbacoa. It’s a Sunday feast (equivalent to our “brunch”) hosted in a temporary roadside tent. The meal consists of a succulent and extremely tender roasted lamb served with homemade tortillas, pico de gallo, fresh lime, hot sauce, onions and cilantro. It’s the Mexican version of make-your-own tacos. See local paper ‘Attention’ for address and details as locations often change.
Afternoon coffee - Geek & Coffee (located behind Fabrica Aurora, beyond the duck pond) has a peaceful patio and large lawn from which to enjoy a cappuccino and slice (or two) of fresh-baked pie.
Dinner – Don’t miss Thursday night at The Restaurant when expat chef, Donnie Masterton, dishes out some of the best burgers in town). At Casa Chiquita, there’s thin crust pizza served with a rooftop view. Head to Aperi for a world class experience dining in the elegant and inviting cocina of chef Matteo Salas. Matteo has worked in some of the best and most refined kitchens around the world, so it says a lot that he has chosen San Miguel as home for his family and his long-anticipated restaurant. Book early and opt for the tasting menu in the kitchen.
Postre - I’m going to give dessert it’s very own category as there are a few especialidades de la casa that deserve their own mention: Hecho en Mexico for their peanut butter ice cream pie, Brasserie for the chocolate tart with toasted coconut, and Aperi for their ‘Chocolate in textures’ – warm chocolate sponge cake made from cacao, dark chocolate cream, brownie, dark chocolate gelato and crumbled cacao caramel.
IR DE COMPRAS [to shop]
It’s always hard to know what to bring home after visiting a foreign country. Those brightly colored serviettes or streetscaped oil paintings can seem like a great idea at the time, but might not fit in with your decor back home. Here is a well edited list of great shops and small boutiques run by locals and expats where you’re certain to find a unique and authentic souvenir.
Arte Zapoteco - This shop on Mesones street offers a huge selection of wool rugs, traditional rebozos, bedspreads, tablecloths and more, all woven by hand or loom. It would be hard not to fall in love with something from this colorful shop, but just in case you don’t, they’re happy to take custom orders from a photo or drawing (or in my case, Spanglish descriptions and poorly executed sketches).
Mixta – whether you are seeking art (the haunting and contemporary photographs of Holly Wilmeth line their walls), jewelry, traditional handicrafts with a modern twist or gifts, I dare you to walk away empty handed from this beautifully eclectic and well edited shop.
Arte Huichol - ‘Tao Sol’ located in The Mercado de Artesanias is a tiny boîte of a shop packed to the brim with items hand crafted in the Huichol beading technique (folk art from specific regions of Mexico using colourful centuries old symbols appliquéd to various items – from skulls to jewelry). Each piece is a work of art but we fell madly in love with the skull of a vaca that had the traditional Huichol beading in bright green, blue and white.
HACER [to do]
El Tianguis – For a real taste (literally) of Mexico, the Tuesday market, El Tianguis, should be at the top of your list. If you look hard enough, you can find anything and everything here (from motorcycle parts to pirated fitness DVDs), but special mentions go to the roasted pork tortas from La Casa de Los Carnitas, the tripe or pastor tacos at Taco Torro El Buffet, Jugos Naturales from Energia Saludsod y Rico Sabor Frutal (we love the alfalfa/piña blend) and the steamed fish at a fabulous corner stall sin nombre (without a name).
Barro Clay Co. – For something a little different, register to take a few pottery classes at Barro Clay Studio. Adria Calaresu is an accomplished expat sculpture artist who will gently guide and encourage you with your chosen project.
Fabrica Aurora - A converted fabric factory that now houses countless galleries, art studios, boutiques, decor stores and one of our favorite little coffee shop’s out back (Geek Cafe). If your trip overlaps with the first Friday of the month, make a point of checking out their evening Art Walk.
Images via: Amanda's own, Destinasian, Room Reveal, Thank You For Being Sophisticated, Frugal Cafe, Travelogue, 10 and Three, Aperi, Robin Talks