People love San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They love San Miguel so much that when you tell them you're making your first visit, their love annoys you. San Miguel will change your life, they say. Yeah, right, you think. The architecture, the culture. I've seen old buildings, you mutter, I've seen lots of old buildings.
So you make the flight to Leon, in central Mexico, and the hourlong taxi ride, and you're in San Miguel. And just as all the annoying people warned you, you're in love. Here, on the slopes of the Mexican altiplano, is a city that reminds you of parts ― the best parts ― of Santa Fe, of Siena, of Seville.
SEEING SAN MIGUEL
San Miguel is in Guanajuato state, about 170 miles northwest of Mexico City. There are frequent flights from the U.S. to León-El Bajio Airport, about an 80-minute drive from San Miguel via taxi, hotel van, or shuttle service (reserve a shuttle at viajessanmiguel.com).
The website portalsanmiguel.com will help you plan your visit and, once you're in town, tell you what's going on. The weekly English-Spanish newspaper, Atención San Miguel, is good for event listings.
In April and May, expect warm days and cooler nights. Pack nice clothes too: This is a fairly dressy city. Prices below are listed in U.S. dollars; visit xe.com/ucc for conversion rates to Mexican pesos.
Use the international prefix 011-52 when dialing from the U.S., except with numbers for the lodgings Casa de Sierra Nevada, Casa Schuck, and Oasis.
WHAT TO SEE
Walking tour Local charity Patronato Pro Niños conducts excellent walking tours of the centro that start at El Jardín--the ideal way of introducing yourself to most of San Miguel's major sites, including La Parroquia. INFO: 10 a.m. Mon, Wed, Fri; $10; El Jardín in front of La Parroquia; 415/152-7796.
Next: Courtyards we love
COURTYARDS WE LOVE
The courtyard is the essence of San Miguel. Below are three favorites, regularly open to the public. But some of the most beautiful belong to private homes; these you can glimpse just strolling around the city or, even better, on the Sunday House & Garden Tour. Houses on the tour change weekly.
Biblioteca Pública Not the prettiest of the city's courtyards, but one of the liveliest -- the library is command central for expats, plus there are frequent concerts and a good cafe. INFO: Café Santa Ana ( $) open daily; library closed Sun; Reloj 50A; 415/152-0293.
Escuela de Bellas Artes This former monastery is now an art school: It hosts art exhibits and an impressive (if unfinished) David Siqueiros mural. But the best thing about it is the courtyard: verdant, lovely. INFO: Calle Hernández Macías 75.
Villa Jacaranda San Miguel has gorgeous jacaranda trees; one of the best is in the courtyard of this hotel--worth a meal here just to enjoy. INFO: Closed in Apr for renovation; Calle Aldama 53; 415/152-1015.
House & Garden Tour Starts at the Biblioteca Pública at noon every Sunday. INFO: $15; tickets go on sale at 11 a.m.; Avenida Insurgentes 25; 415/152-0293.
Fábrica La Aurora A former textile factory that has become 40 shops and galleries offering contemporary works as well as Spanish Colonial antiques. INFO: Calzada de la Aurora.
Libros El Tecolote A great little bookstore with a good stock of mostly English language books. INFO: Closed Mon; Calle Jesús 11; 415/152-7395.
Mercado de Artesanías Leatherware, pottery, jewelry--they're all here, somewhere, in this sprawling crafts market. INFO: Between Loreto and Colegio, north of El Jardín.
Next: Where to eat
WHERE TO EAT
La Azotea The stylish bar upstairs at Pueblo Viejo restaurant boasts a killer city view. INFO: $$; Calle Umarán 6.
La Capilla A splurge, but the food is good and its setting -- on a rooftop just beneath the glowing spires of La Parroquia -- may just be the most romantic in the world. INFO: $$$$; closed Mon-Wed; Cuna de Allende 10; 415/152-0698.
Rincón de Don Tomás Over breakfast here, watch El Jardín waking up. INFO: $; Calle Portal de Guadalupe 2; 415/152-3780.
WHERE TO STAY
Casa de Liza Owned by American Liza Kisber, this attractive inn has a good location near Parque Juárez. INFO: 9 rooms and casitas from $170, including breakfast; 415/152-0352.
Casa de Sierra Nevada Now an Orient Express Hotel, this high-end property is a collection of five beautifully restored Spanish colonial mansions. INFO: 32 rooms from $280; no children under 16; 800/701-1561.Casa Schuck Boutique Hotel
Oasis Lawrence of Arabia comes to San Miguel with this new boutique hotel. Suites bear names like Berber and Bedouin. INFO: 4 suites from $285, including breakfast; 210/745-1457.
More: Great winter escapes