Friday, March 7, 2014

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel is the city that everyone falls in love with. Maybe it has something to do with its fine architectural details mixed with a stunning landscape of valleys and mountains. Or maybe its because you can live in the art that thrives in every street and square of the city. But without a doubt, there is something special about San Miguel de Allende.

san miguel de allende header church

We arrived in San Miguel two days ago, and were warned before arriving that this is where all the English speaking expats in Mexico flock to retire. As such, life here is made very easy for English speakers to find services catered to them. As we drove through the streets searching for our hotel I noticed all the buildings were painted only in deep earthy colours, such as red, brown, orange and yellow.

san miguel de allende shopfront earthy colours

The first thing you need to know about San Miguel is that it is a small city. With a population hovering below 150,000 it's not a big place. But don't let its size deter you from its appeal. Like Guanajuato, this city has an electrifying appeal, a striking nature that draws people from all over the world to not only come as tourists, but spend their retirement here.

TRAMMING IT


Since we arrived pretty early in the morning on our first day, we decided to do the tram tour of the city. As we ventured into the main square of the city, the first thing we saw was the pastel pink Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. We were informed by our tour guide that this church was inspired by the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. Like most Mexican cities, the architecture is heavily influenced by European architecture.

parroquia de san miguel de allende pink church

The tram took us to all the main streets of the city in less than 2 hours. Everything important to see is within walking distance from the main square. San Miguel isn't a city like Paris or Rome where you must spend considerable time covering large distances within the city to see all the landmarks. San Miguel is made to be walked to experience the thriving art and culture that exists in every street, alleyway, square and garden. You don't need a car. You probably could even do without the tram. All you need is a map and you can spend every moment living the unique character of San Miguel. We were told by our tour guide that the unique design of the city made it a popular location for filming movies. Apparently the film "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" was even filmed here! (is it true?)

san miguel de allende street at sunset beautiful
san miguel de allende street at sunset beautiful

As our tram made its way through the city we could see the streets getting steeper and steeper. The houses in the higher region of the city were larger and more akin to mansions. This is where many of the American and European expats live. Many of the luxury homes in this area are upwards of $1 million USD, so it can get pretty pricey depending on what community you want to immerse yourself in.

 san miguel de allende mansions for rich people

Finally, we reached the mirador, which is at the highest point of the city. We were let off the tram and left to explore for half an hour. The view up here has to be the best you can get of the entire city, plus there is a telescope if you don't have a zoom in camera like me. Like every other high traffic tourist spot there are a few cafes, souvenir shops and a crafts market.

 san miguel de allende panorama with pink church view


DID SOMEONE SAY... GRASSHOPPERS?


I consider myself a pretty open minded foodie but insects aren't exactly something I would ever seek out on my own. Before our guide let us explore the mirador by ourselves we were ushered into a shop and offered a few Mexican delicacies. Mexican wine was flowing freely with dips and treats before the chapulines (aka GRASSHOPPERS) were offered to us on a platter. Skeptical at first, I was going give it a pass, but when I heard they were mole flavoured grasshoppers, I decided to take the plunge. Crispy and lightly seasoned, they were actually quite tasty. Almost akin to a nutty snack. I guess it was probably the mole that made it bearable (for those who have never heard of mole, it is a popular Mexican sauce made from 30 individual ingredients).

 san miguel de allende grasshoppers for lunch


EL JARDIN / ZOCALO


El Jardin aka Zocalo aka The Main Square is a beautiful tree filled square surrounded by the main amenities of the city. On one side is the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel (the big pink church we passed on our tram ride), on the opposite end is a conveniently located tourist desk, and on the other two opposite sides are a selection of great food, drinks and shopping establishments. Buzzing day and night, this became our regular meeting place because there was always something going on here.

 san miguel de allende main square el jardin

Taken from atop the roof of my hotel is the immaculately kept lush canopy that sits in the middle of the Main Square. Underneath the perfectly manicured trees are benches that are perfect for people watching. Every single main event of the city can be observed right here. Somehow we found ourselves here almost every single day because there was always something happening and we could hear the bustle from our hotel rooms. Actually during the few day stay we had here we learnt it was the anniversary of the birth of one of the heroes of the nation, Ignacio Allende, and many celebrations would be held in his honour. On one night we saw many dancers in elaborate native costumes dancing in the middle of the square.

 san miguel de allende el jardin main square
 san miguel de allende el jardin festival costumes

Of course there is plenty to see outside the main square too. The entire city is overflowing in history, art and architecture. I did not take a tour myself (I prefer to wander and soak myself in the city's unique atmosphere), but I was told by other travellers that the walking tour was a must-do (next time....)

 san miguel de allende street square


DID I FALL IN LOVE WITH SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE?


YES! I thought it was a pretty bold claim at first, but this former art colony, rich in culture, had an eclectic appeal to me. From the ease of walkability to culture that thrives in every corner, it is obvious why this little city has drawn expats from all over the world to call this place home.

 san miguel de allende street beautiful red and yellow wall

Image attribution:
"San Miguel de Allende" by Jiuguang Wang // CC BY-SA 2.0 *
* changes were made to the original materials

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