Sunday, June 5, 2016

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

There is more to Mexico than all-inclusive resorts, seaside villages and Mayan ruins (not that there is anything wrong with that).

I have been curious about the village of San Miguel de Allende for some time, even more so since I began reading On Mexican Time: A New Life In San Miguel.

So, I have been researching and learning more about this charming village.

San Miguel de Allende is in central Mexico (no seaside here), in the far eastern part of Guanajuato state. They call the macroregion Bajío. Due to its remote location, San Miguel de Allende is difficult to get to, but its remoteness is part of its charm.

The well-preserved historic town centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. The nearby Sanctuary of Atotonilco is also a World Heritage Site.

Founded by Franciscan Monk Fray Juan de San Miguel Miguel, the town was baptized as San Miguel el Grande. In 1826, during the Mexican War of Independence, the town was the first declared independent of Spanish rule, and was renamed to honour native son Ignacio Allende y Unzaga, the first Mexican soldier and a national hero. At the beginning of the 20th century, though, the town was on the verge of becoming a ghost town.

That is, until its Baroque/Neoclassical colonial structures were "discovered" by foreign artists.

The public laundry (lavaderos publicos)
The creation of the Instituto Allende and the Escuela de Bellas Artes, among others, attracted artists such as David Alfaro Siqueiros (who taught painting), writers and a large number of American WWII vets (aided by the G.I. Bill).

Ultimately, the expat-friendly town has attracted a foreign retirees, more artist types, and tourists. When combined with the wealthy Mexicans who have rediscovered San Miguel as a Malibu-like retreat from Mexico City, San Miguel today has an eclectic mix of Old World Mexican charm, American hospitality, and a relaxed party atmosphere.

Just watch your step, bring comfortable shoes, and expect a bit of workout. San Miguel was built into the side of a mountain, so it can be difficult to traverse (some inclines are 15 or 20 degrees). Many of the narrow, cobbled streets have fallen into disrepair, and curbs are often a high step away from the road.

I am intrigued by...
Another Face of Mexico Mask Museum - a private collection of 500+ Mexican ceremonial masks (by appointment only)
Public Library (Biblioteca Pública) - features 30,000 titles in English, a small gift shop, a café and free wifi (temporary memberships available)
El Charco del Ingenio Jardín Botánico (Jardín Botánico) - a unique park above the town with an enormous collection of cacti (apparently one should use beer to coax a local to use their key to let you in the back gate)
Thermal pools - just outside of town, for an afternoon of relaxation (pre-arrange return transportation or know when the last bus arrives)

Suggested resources
10 Reasons Why People Fall in Love With San Miguel de Allende - Huffington Post
San Miguel de Allende Today - Travel+Leisure
San Miguel de Allende tourist information - Visit Mexico
Country Mouse - blog post about Tony Cohan, author of On Mexican Time - David Lida
Getting there: see San Miguel de Allende on Wiki Voyage for options.

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