No One Comes to San Miguel de Allende Just Once
The photo above was taken at a lovely little restaurant (Paprika Restaurante) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, located on a very busy boulevard, Ancha de San Antonio. An especially talented trio of young musicians were playing some pretty fabulous Latin music. Earlier in the day, we had visited the Organica Marketplace where I purchased, with great bargaining finesse, two gorgeous Mexican rugs hand-loomed nearby.
(I am now trying to figure out how I will be able to get them home along with the numerous napkins I purchased…I am already over the airline weight limit.)
Dinner was shared with my friends Baldo and Carol Kelsey Bozovic who had rented a comfortable three story home on the hill overlooking this magical city and dramatic sunsets.
They usually make their home in Dubrovnik, Croatia, but Baldo, an artist of varied talents, finds San Miguel the perfect place for expanding his artistic acumen. I am fortunate to share a San Miguel experience for the second year with my delightfully fun, loving and creative friends.
Almost 20 percent of the people living in San Miguel de Allende are expatriates who have found a friendly enclave of writers, artists, locals and busy entrepreneurs who find the WiFi more than adequate to conduct business from this remote location.
San Miguel de Allende is located in the far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico. It’s slightly challenging to get here and I learned my lesson last year by not traveling alone and risking a scary taxi drive experience by myself. This time, the owners of the spectacular casa I rented took care of the trusted transportation.
Flying into Leon sets you down in a typical Mexican town with a variance of wealth and poverty and unkempt streets coupled with pleasant, colorful homes. But following a ride of about two hours east, you settle into a beautiful village of around 90,000 people. Not a street—all cobblestoned—is untidy, not a house is unfinished unless currently under construction.
The homes and storefronts of thick stone and brick meet the narrow sidewalks and one way streets. The buildings are all painted in various terra-cotta colors, many with bougainvillea vines cascading down and the occasional iron-grated window. Many of the larger structures have impressive front doors opening to beautiful courtyards, which were once used by horses and carriages in this ancient city. The city’s rich history dates back to 1542 when it served as a hub in the silver trade.
It’s a surprising little oasis of art, music, theatre and literary treasurers (Gloria Steinem was here for a writing festival). Last year I was introduced to the stunning works of Toller Cranston who died last year and had lived in San Miguel for many years. On this visit I stumbled on the abstracts and portraits by David Banegas. Much to my delight, he was holding an exhibit of Marilyn Monroe works that included a live painting exposition of Frida Kahlo.
San Miguel has attracted a large number of foreign retirees and tourists, which is shifting the area’s economy from agriculture and industry to commerce catering to outside visitors and residents. Fortunately there are no parking meters, no traffic signals and no fast food restaurants.
The main attraction of the town is its well-preserved historic center, filled with lovely colonial homes and churches from the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s a gathering place on weekends for locals and at the end of everyday by visitors.
At the entrance of the city are statues of Ignacio Allende, Juan Aldama, Miguel Hidalgo and Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, with one of the Archangel Michael in the center.
The pace is slow here, no one is in a hurry to get anywhere and yet each day is filled with a different experience from an art auction, jewelry market to a blues bar, live theatre (in English) to literary festival. The numerous art galleries, boutiques, a hot springs, appealing swimming pools and ethnic cuisine fill the days. A favored spot has been the Moxy Restaurant at Hotel Matilda where well-known Chef Enrique Olvera creates a masterpiece of inventive dishes with indigenous ingredients.
We spent many hours at The Fabrica La Aurora, an art and design center of galleries, shops and working artisans created in a former textile factory. I couldn’t resist a beautiful multi-colored turquoise hand-stitched bedspread.
Toller Cranston gave his gift to the world in his skating abilities and then his art, but his legacy lies in why he thought San Miguel was the “best place in Mexico.”
Its unique historical charm is replete with Spanish-Colonial architecture with perfect weather all the time, full of flowers, full of trees, full of beauty; so the beauty permeates everywhere you look.
And, he says, it’s all about re-invention of self; discovering things you’ve always wanted to do and the things to do here are virtually unlimited, but most pertain to some sort of stimulus of the brain. It could be a lecture, a film, an exhibition. It could be some historical tour, some visiting writer or musician.
I’ve uncovered some old friends from Oregon who have packed up, reinvented their lives and moved to San Miguel permanently…the beauty of renewing these friendships gives me an insight into what is behind those charming street side doors.
So intriguing and pleasant to be here….but of course there’s no place like Central Oregon…and home.