Magical Mexico

With a thriving arts scene and glorious architecture, San Miguel de Allende charms

With an eye toward the future and traditions deeply rooted in the past, San Miguel de Allende is a cosmopolitan city of contrasts. 

Its colorful Spanish architecture, charming cobblestone streets and authentic Mexican culture coupled with a thriving art and food scene and first-class hotels make it one of the most distinctive cities in the world. What it lacks in sandy beaches and turquoise waters, it makes up for in charm. San Miguel is one city that needs to be on your bucket list. 

A favorite of tourists and expats alike, San Francisco designers Jeffry Weisman and Andrew Fisher of Fisher Weisman call it their second home. Weisman notes, “San Miguel de Allende is a magical 16th-century Spanish Colonial village. As it has drawn increasingly affluent visitors, the shopping, hotel and dining options have expanded dramatically. We have an ideal climate and an unbeatable vibe. The town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is picture-postcard pretty.” 

Dallas-based interior designer Michelle Nussbaumer feels the draw as well and has been coming to San Miguel for over 30 years. “I lived a long time in Rome and the sensibility of the city feels like Europe. I love the churches and cathedrals and the Mexican culture and cooking,” she says.

Founded in the 16th-century, the tiny mountain town is known for its well-preserved buildings and history is at every turn. The Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, the city’s best-known church and tallest building, provides a focal point with its towering pink spires. Located in the Plaza Principal, the neo-Gothic, 17th-century parish church is a popular landmark and you can expect to see a number of weddings there on any given weekend. Weisman also recommends adding the Sanctuary of Atotonilco to your itinerary as it is “a hidden gem of a church often called the Sistine Chapel of Mexico.” 

The city offers an equal mix of culinary delights, shopping and arts and cultural events. A foodie’s paradise, be sure to sample mole, gorditas, pozole (Mexican stew), and of course, mezcal. (There are a surprising number of Italian restaurants as well). Favorites include the farm-to-table menu at The Restaurant, Hotel Matilda’s Moxi, Bovine and Fatima 7 on the rooftop of Hotel Casa Blanca 7 (designed by Fisher Weisman). For a quick Cal-Mex taco on the go, try Taco Lab located in the Doce 18 Concept House, a mix of curated shops that feature art, fashion, design and home. 

Speaking of shopping, design aficionados will love Fabrica La Aurora. Housed in a former textile factory, artisans, artists and designers create a cultural center for those in search of something unique. Weisman also recommends La Calaca as it has the “best inventory of vintage Mexican textiles, ceramics and other objets,” along with Sollano 16 and the minimalist-centric shop Wabi. Nussbaumer favors the eclectic store Mixta for its local artisan collection and the boutique Talula de la Lune for their “amazing handmade boots and bags.” (It’s also a popular spot for cotton Souleiado-style tops and shirtdresses as well). 

The city also boasts a pair of charming hotels, each unique in their own right. The first,  the 67-room Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, is located on a 13-acre property in the Centro and is reminiscent of a hacienda. Go for the stunning views from the Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar that are the best in the city. The hotel features tiered swimming pools, courtyards tailor-made for wedding receptions and Instagram-worthy architecture—think Colonial arches, colonnades, stucco and ironwork that reflect the work of the city’s artisans.  

If it’s a quiet, more laid-back experience you are looking for, the Hotel Amparo does not disappoint. Close to the heart of the city’s El Jardin, the Colonial-era building was once the mayor’s 18th-century residence. With only five luxury, one-of-a-kind period suites, the hotel feels more like a home as well as a haven from the hustle and bustle of the city. The husband and wife owners, Taylor and Mariana Barran de Goodall (they also own Hibiscus Linens), worked with Texas-based designer Aaron Rambo to create period-perfect rooms with an “edgy elegance” that are filled with the perfect blend of modern art and antiques. And best of all, you can unwind at the rooftop terrace and watch the sun set on the world’s most intriguing city.