A holiday in Mexico seems synonymous with a beach getaway. And yet, San Miguel de Allende, an inland destination about a three-hours drive from Mexico City is just as compelling (if not more) than many stretches of the postcard-perfect coastline. Its blend of baroque Spanish architecture, intimate and walkable cobblestone streets, and innovative cuisine give San Miguel an allure unmatched by most sandy spots. Should you find yourself in this magical Mexican town any time soon, here’s where to stay and what to do…
Where to Stay
Contemporary and ultrachic, Hotel Matilda stands out among the area’s yellow, orange and red colonial facades. Filled with ever-changing homegrown art, fresh air, and sublime beds made with Egyptian cotton sheets, the boutique hotel makes indoor-outdoor living a priority. Don’t miss the infinity pool and upstairs bar (San Miguel is famous for a near year-round springtime feel). Another option is L’Otel, which has four guest rooms in a revamped colonial mansion, plus a standout rooftop patio.
What to Do
San Miguel is the kind of place that begs to be viewed from above. Book a hot-air balloon ride with a trusted company like Globo San Miguel and soar over the bucolic landscape at sunrise. Just outside the city, the sculptural array of cacti and succulents at El Charco del Ingenio nature preserve is truly spectacular. In the fall, the surrounding areas have gained a reputation for fragrant olive, grape and lavender fields. If you like tequila, the concierge at Hotel Matilda can arrange a private tasting and tour at Casa Dragones (try to get a sip of the $300-a-bottle Joven blend). Additionally, the streets of San Miguel are so magical that it’s worth at least an afternoon of wandering and photographing the city’s pink church, main square and surrounding architecture.
Where to Eat
If you eat one meal in San Miguel it should be at Moxi, chef Enrique Olvera’s restaurant inside Hotel Matilda. The decor is as fantastic as the food, which evolves seasonally and, depending on when you visit, may include melt-in-your-mouth confit suckling pig, perfectly seasoned roasted carrots, and inconceivably light pumpkin-and-squash-blossom risotto. Also at Matilda, don’t miss the fabulous, ultra-local breakfast spread.
La Sirena Gorda is a must for atmosphere (paintings of comically corpulent mermaids dot the walls), as well as for ginger margaritas. Then there’s De Temporada for farm-to-table fare (it actually sits on an organic farm), and no Mexican trip is complete without al pastor tacos after dark – La Brasilla makes the best in town.
Where to Shop
Calling all art collectors: San Miguel is chockablock with galleries. Fabrica la Aurora, a remodeled textile factory that’s now a compound for dozens of artists’ workshops and galleries, requires at least a couple of hours to fully explore. Nearby, there’s a pedestrian alleyway that houses local crafts and goods, including embroidered blouses, beaded bracelets and hand-painted tiles. Kingsley Market is the place for cool accessories like Japanese cotton shawls, locally made lizard-skin bags and African beaded necklaces. For luxurious serapes and ponchos, shop at Recreo San Miguel.
Where to Spa
Twenty minutes from San Miguel de Allende, you’ll find several hot springs complexes, including La Gruta, which is popular with locals and offers a multitude of pools in different temperatures (the hottest is in a grotto). The Mayan Baths are another option, and Spa Matilda is a paradise for even the most well-travelled spa-goers. Pick from massage, specialty bodywork, and skin therapies that use local ingredients and custom-blended products from the spa’s apothecary.