San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Hearing the alluring call of the travel sirens once again, we decided to go to San Miguel de Allende for a weekend escape from the -30oC weather, shovel-sore backs and searing sciatica due to a slip, slide and crash. It was the Call, not of the Wild, but of the Margherita.

Bougainvillea: Better than snow!
Bougainvillea: Better than snow!

Using a mere 80K Aeroplan points, which we obtained with our annual SPG American Express (two regular and two business) churn, we booked round trip flights from YOW (Ottawa) – YYZ (Toronto) – IAH (Houston) – BJX (Leon). The no-frill flights were non-eventful, and we landed in Leon, Mexico’s most environmentally friendly city. Leon is known for its high quality leather and shoe industry. Like most tourists we did not stay, taking a taxi from the airport straight to our hotel in San Miguel de Allende.

Nestled in the high sierra, this Spanish-Colonial gem has no airport, no beach, and no casino, yet expats and tourists have been flocking here ever since it was “discovered” by American artists and writers after WWII, who fell in love with it’s breathtaking charm, idyllic lifestyle, mild weather, and technicolor sunrises and sunsets.

San Miguel de Allende, with the pink spires of the Parroquia to the right of the centro.
San Miguel de Allende, with the pink spires of the Parroquia to the right of the centro.

SMA is an artistic, cultural, and foodie paradise. Travel magazines keep ranking it among the best cities in the world. It is no wonder that it has become a second home to many Canadian and American Boomer expats.

Jacinto 1930 is an amazing restaurant, reminiscent of Ottawa's Atelier, with a Mexican twist. Foodies beware: you will want to go back!
Jacinto 1930 is an amazing restaurant, reminiscent of Ottawa’s Atelier, with a Mexican twist. Foodies beware: you will want to go back!

For two glorious days we walked away our winter chills in this former ghost town that has morphed through time into an uber upscale utopian ideal.

The streets of SMA are cobbled, hilly, and lined in colourful buildings.
The streets of SMA are cobbled, hilly, and lined in colourful buildings.

Once a major stop on the silver trail from Guanajuato to the coast and hence on to Spain, it is now a town of nearly continuous festivals.

There are always vendors in the central squares, lending the town an air of permanent festival.
There are always vendors in the central squares, lending the town an air of permanent festival.

The main attraction of SMA is the achingly beautiful historic centre, which became a UNESCO world heritage site in 2008. The most unique building in SMA is the pink Parroquia de San Miguel Archangel church, with a facade built in 1880, reminiscent of a Disney confectionary palace.

Detail f the Parroquia and its confectionary facade.
Detail of the Parroquia and its confectionary facade.

The centro is surrounded by magnificent carved wood doors, behind which lie exotic courtyards and hidden gardens, cobble stone lanes, shops, upscale restaurants and art… Lots of art. Since the 1950s, when Diego Rivera worked there, SMA has attracted artists from around the world to try their hand at capturing the light.

The doors of SMA are famous.
The doors of SMA are famous.
El Grito is one of SMA's many trendy nightclubs.
El Grito is one of SMA’s many trendy nightclubs.

SMA is also a mecca for musicians and writers, and hosts the largest annual Latin American writers conference.

Not the Beatles
Definitely Not the Beatles

A few pieces of advice. A two day visit was simply not enough. Bring very sturdy walking shoes/sandals – the cobblestones in the centro are quite uneven and can twist an unwary ankle. The altitude and the hilly streets may leave you breathless faster than you are used to. DO NOT drink tap water or eat anything that has been washed in it. Talk to people SMA may be one of the most friendly places in the world.

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