Many must-visit destinations in Mexico are poised on fine white sands just feet from the ocean. For another type of vacationing, head to the mountains three and a half hours north of Mexico City for a getaway in the village of San Miguel de Allende.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site has welcomed visitors since the end of World War II, when U.S. veterans first began venturing around its cobblestone streets and ochre city walls while studying art on the G.I. Bill. Now, those in the know can discover a blissful retreat rife with upscale restaurants, luxury accommodations and plenty of opportunities for exploring the city’s boutiques, galleries and spas.
San Miguel de Allende doesn’t have its own airport, but is easily accessible by short flights from the U.S. into Del Bajío International Airport (70 miles from SMA) or the slightly closer but smaller Querétaro Intercontinental Airport (45 miles). While car rentals are available, they aren’t necessary in the easily walkable city, so prearranging a private or shared shuttle via BajioGO is safe and reliable.
Although the city is brimming with quaint bed and breakfasts, luxury travelers will feel at home in one of the 67 masterfully appointed guest rooms and suites at the Rosewood San Miguel de Allende. Each unit boasts spacious living areas, wood-beamed ceilings, Rivolta Carmignani linens and either a balcony or private terrace. The high-end touches only continue at the Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada’s 15 rooms and 22 suites, spread over a cluster of historic mansions in the center of town. Bask in an afternoon siesta on exquisite natural linens in a room accented with locally crafted furnishings in between taking dips in the garden pool. Those who fancy a more contemporary design will delight in the avant-garde aesthetics of Hotel Matilda. The posh boutique property offers 32 rooms artfully designed by respected U.S. firm McAlpine Booth & Ferrier Interiors.
Once all of that is worked out, get your journey going with lunch at Cumpanio, a relaxed gourmet bakery-restaurant-lounge mash-up in the town’s center where you can ogle tables of decadent pastries, pan dulce (sweet bread) and even some glutton-free delicacies, before sitting down in the dining room to explore a menu of modern Mexican and French-inspired specialties such as chilaquiles served with eggs, fresh cheese and salsa verde (green sauce), a seared tuna sandwich and a decadent croque-madame.
From Cumpanio it’s a quick walk to the center of town, easily identified by the soaring, rose-colored spires of La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. Indulge your inner photographer from every angle beneath the church’s breathtaking gothic façade. The landmark sits at the top of the town’s square, Jardín Principal (or simply el Jardin), an area mottled by numerous cafés and restaurants that encircles a public park of laurel trees and wrought iron benches. If you’ve met new friends on your visit, it’s likely you’ll run into them again while passing through el Jardin.
The myriad shops on the streets surrounding el Jardin will easily fill up an afternoon. Cerámica López is a must stop for hand painted, intricately detailed ceramic dish sets from a variety of master craftsmen. You can also explore local fare at the open-air Mercado de Artesanías at Plaza Lanatón and find even more traditional Mexican handicrafts. For more sophisticated shopping, stroll or hail a cab to the sprawling Fabrica La Aurora, a former textile factory, where you’ll encounter working artists studios and everything from locally made designer jewelry to contemporary art and colonial antiques.
As the sun begins to set, ease into your evening at one of SMA’s many rooftop bars. La Azotea is a hip lounge that slings tasty cucumber martinis and light bites, and is conveniently situated just off el Jardin. The Rosewood’s Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar is not to be outdone with its cozy cushioned seating, unparalleled panoramic views of the city and expansive tequila selection.
When dinner calls, head back into the center of town for a meal at The Restaurant. San Miguel’s buzzed-about establishment is helmed by Donnie Masterton, a chef who cut his culinary teeth in the elite kitchens of Manhattan’s Montrachet and Tavern on the Green before bringing his global comfort food to Mexico. The menu changes with the season; recent mouthwatering selections included chilled cauliflower and lemongrass soup with shrimp and cilantro; herb-roasted rack of lamb with butter-whipped potatoes; and yakitori grilled pork belly and duck liver skewers.
Satisfy your early morning caffeine cravings at Café La Ventana, a jewel box of a café with a takeaway window that serves a potent organic brew from Chiapas. You’ll know you’ve found the right place from the line of people patiently waiting outside.
Once you are sufficiently caffeinated, don your bathing suit and hail a cab to the hot springs at Escondido Place, an address about 20 minutes outside the city. Slip into any of the 10 outdoor and indoor thermal pools and you’ll feel as if you’ve been swept away to a Turkish bath. And let’s not get started on how your muscles will thank you further if you nab one of the coveted spots under the cascading waterfalls.
If you’re in the mood for more refined pampering, head to Sense, A Rosewood Spa to tame your toes from all the walking you’ve done over the past 36 hours. The spa’s cobblestones pedicure incorporates a sugar scrub, hydrating mask and hot stone massage.
But just as you’ve found new ways to exhale, being in this unique part of Mexico also affords you the chance to discover fresh takes on Peruvian fare. La Parada delivers contemporary indoor-outdoor ambience while serving vibrant ceviche selections and more robust dishes such as arroz afrodisiaco (ancho chile and tomato jasmine rice, tossed with a variety of seafood and topped with Parmesan cheese). Once you top the evening with a traditional pisco sour, your all-too-brief visit to SMA can finally come to a delicious conclusion.