all about san miguel de allende

San Miguel has so much to offer. A not-so-sleepy colonial town in central Mexico, it has become a world-renowned tourist destination, artist colony, and real estate hot spot. Visitors flock to the town for its beautiful colonial architecture, friendly people, lively fiestas, and mild climate. Many have caught the “San Miguel Bug” and stayed on, joining our large community of foreign residents, mostly Americans and Canadians. A relatively small city with a booming housing market, San Miguel still retains its relaxed, small town pace, successfully combining old world charm with modern-day cosmopolitan lifestyle.

Founded by a Franciscan monk in 1542, San Miguel de Allende is one of a group of historic colonial cities in central Mexico—an important stop for traders on the Antiguo Camino Real to the silver mining cities of Guanajuato, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, and Mineral de Pozos. Located in the center of colonial Mexico, San Miguel is also known as the birthplace of Mexican independence. In 1926, the Mexican Government declared the town a national historic monument. In order to preserve San Miguel’s beautiful, authentic colonial character, development in the historic town center, or centro, is restricted. San Miguel recently earned Unesco World Heritage Site status.

In the 1950′s, this quaint town, with its vibrant colors, cobblestone streets and golden light, began to attract artists. Two major art schools were founded—the Bellas Artes and the Instituto Allende. For many, a visit is not enough and they decide to move to, or retire in Mexico. Today San Miguel de Allende itself is a quaint, cobblestone-street lined town that attracts tourists from all over North America as well as people from Mexico City, artists, craftspeople and expatriates who have moved to San Miguel. The town square, or jardin, is the heart of the town and the center of much of its social activity, as well as a peaceful place to sit in the shade and watch the world go by.

You won’t be bored in San Miguel Apart from the joy of just wandering around this beautiful colonial town, there scores of weekly art openings, lectures, readings, concerts, an impressive restaurant scene and hopping nightlife. There are many special yearly offerings, including a chamber music festival, a guitar festival, and a film festival. Art galleries, antique shops, art and Spanish classes, nearby natural hot springs, horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, and other diversions lure thousands of tourists each year, many of whom decide to stay and call San Miguel home. The town is also known for its fine hotels, B&Bs, Spas, and great shopping (including the famous San Miguel Shoe). Atención San Miguel, the local English language newspaper, includes an extensive events calendar. You can also consult the local Tourist Information Office.

San Miguel is a must-see destination if you’re planning on touring Mexico. The city has a unique, appealing charm that reflects all that is best about Mexico. It’s a great place to spend a few days, but even better if you stay a few weeks or years. Be careful, you may get hooked—a large percentage of local residents came down for 2 weeks 5, 15 or 20 years ago and never left.

local attractions

The Town Center (el centro) — is packed with stunning colonial architecture. The town square is the focus of the city. La Parroquia, which faces the Jardin is one of the main architectural attractions here.

Casa Allende — Be sure to visit the birthplace and home of revolutionary Ignacio Allende, the famous patriot. This beautiful colonial home is located on the southeast corner of the Jardin.

La Casa del Conde Canal — Another colonial gem, now home of the famous Instituto Allende, founded by Sterling Dickenson and popularized by GI’s coming back from Vietnam. An accredited school that offers degrees and college credit, it hosts long- and short-term students from around the world. The art and language school is open to visitors—tour the building and extensive gardens and enjoy a treat at one of the cafes inside. Don’t miss their frequent weekend arts and crafts fairs.

Benito Juarez Park — The local park a few blocks south of the Centro is a lovely spot to sit and people watch. In early February, the park blossoms as the site of the annual Candelaria spring festival of plants.

the escuela de las bellas artes- A school of the arts that offers courses in painting, drawing, sculpture, music, dance, and more. A former convent, thebeautiful colonial building is located next to Las Monjas, San Miguel’s current convent. The large beautiful courtyard and colonial fountain are a must-see—enjoy a coffee or glass of wine at the small café nestled in the arches. Check inside the office on Hernandez Macias for information on concerts and lectures.

MM cinemas — Eight screens. Located in the new mall up the hill from town. Watch out for dubbed movies (an unpleasant surprise, if you’re not expecting it…)

Botanical Gardens (El Jardin Botanico) — Gorgeous, peaceful place for leisurely walking, serious hiking, even a bit of rock climbing. Don’t miss the conservatory.

Tuesday Market (La Placita) — A raucous and wonderful weekly festival…produce, fresh fish, antiques, traditional medicines, bootlegCD’s, mountains of used clothing, & even lunch for the brave!

The Artisan’s Market — Located behind the big central market on the north side of town, the Artisan’s Market meanders down two blocks to exit on Relox Street. Hundreds of stands display traditional and innovative Mexican handicrafts and decorative items. You’ll find many of the same items in the Centro stores, but at much better prices.

other great stuff

Music, Art, & Literature — San Miguel is internationally known for its literary and artistic community, and the town is full of galleries, art schools, artists, designers, and writers.

musica en san miguel— San Miguel is a very musical place. If the chamber music or guitar festivals are months away, don’t despair—live concerts are very frequent, in the local theatres, at restaurants and bars, and in the jardin (main square).

art schools and classes—Aside from the two art big schools, smaller art classes are available in just about every medium—often in the artist’s studio. Drawing, painting, ceramics, collage, sculpture, papier-mache, jewelry making, silver smithing, and many more. Art galleries are in abundance, and frequent art openings provide artistic inspiration and social interaction to the community. Check the Atención newspaper for weekly art events.

Literary San Miguel

Over the years, many famous (and infamous) writers have called San Miguel home (or a home away from home), drawing inspiration, sustenance, and scenes, pages, or even entire books from the town’s way of life, colors, residents, and teachers.

Among past resident writers are Gary Jennings, author of Aztec, Charles Portis, author of True Grit, Beat writer Neal Cassady (friend to Willliam S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, as well as the muse/model for Jack Kerouac’s main character in On the Road), who died near the San Miguel railroad tracks, and Clifford Irving, a successful author who went to prison for an elaborate literary hoax—a faked, plagiarized autobiography of Howard Hughes that very nearly got published, one of the biggest scandals in the 1970′s.

Though less notorious, by far, San Miguel’s writing community is burgeoning. Recent resident authors include Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.D. Snodgrass, and his wife, writer Kathleen Snodgrass, Beverly Donofrio, author of Riding in Cars with Boys and Looking for Mary, or the Blessed Mother and Me, award-winning author Wayne Greenhaw, acclaimed children’s writers Linda Lowery Keep and Richard Keep, and best-selling spiritual and inspirational writer Joseph Dispenza.

Activities for writers abound in San Miguel. Community groups such as the San Miguel Authors Sala and The San Miguel P.E.N. Centre hold lectures, readings, and book signings with celebrated authors on a regular basis. The San Miguel Workshops and several independent writers offer writing courses throughout the year, and in February each year, the town hosts the San Miguel Writers’ Conference.

San Miguel Fiestas

There’s always a party or a parade in San Miguel. January 21 marks Historical figure and town namesake Ignacio Allende’s birthday celebration. Fiestas include the Candelaria, or plant and flower sale, that begins Feb 2, marking the first day of spring. Then comes the Carnaval in March. There are the traditional Easter Week (Semana Santa) celebrations and processions, and even our own Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, presided over by a queen elected from among the town’s young women. The September Fiestas Patrias celebrate Mexican national independence, culminating in El Grito, a midnight fireworks spectacle in the main plaza or Jardin. The last weekend is Semptember is generally the fiesta de San Miguel Arcángel, honoring St. Michael, our patron saint, and the Alborada, an early morning fireworks display symbolizing the conflict between church and state. As the year wanes, San Miguel celebrates Day of the Dead and the traditional Christmas posadas.

Consult the Atención San Miguel Calendar for details.

hot springs and such — exploring the surrounding area

About 20 minutes away on the way to Dolores Hidalgo, you’ll find the many hot springs complexes, with different pools of natural warm and hot mineral waters. The most popular are La Gruta, which has large grassy areas, millions of flowers, and a full restaurant; Escondido Place, whose natural setting is stunning; and Taboada, which boasts an Olympic size pool.

Around the corner from La Grutta Hot Springs is Atotonilco, a very rustic, picturesque little village with a historic, World Heritage Site church. Day Trips are available to nearby cities and towns such as Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Mineral de Pozos, and Querétaro

See our store, http://casitadelasflores.com/tiendita.html, for lots of books on San Miguel, maps, guides, and other goodies you might need on your trip.