Before I retired and Covid happened, I thought it might be nice to finish up our 9 month trip to Europe with a couple of months in San Miguel de Allende during the months of January and February. I’d heard that the climate is perfect, the cost of living cheap, the crime rate low, and lots of expats (people that live here who hold citizenship in other countries like the United States, Ireland, Germany and Israel) make this their home. Cal, in his usual style, was noncommittal, and definitely not sure about being in Mexico that long. Of course, as life goes, those plans didn’t happen exactly that way. When I saw that this tour included a stop here, then, it was the frosting on the cake.
We rode for hours and hours from the butterfly sanctuary of El Rosario. The Mexican countryside flew by out my window. There were farms and ranches, people riding horses or bicycles and people driving trucks or out in the middle of nowhere, walking. Then there were strawberry fields, miles and miles of them. Perhaps you’ve eaten strawberries that come from this area. Usually if there was one house, there were several nearby in a little compound. We saw some very nice homes. But homes like this one in the town near El Rosario were most typical:
We stopped only once at a convenience store for a rest and snacks. Our arrival in San Miguel de Allende was very late in the evening and the hotel looked good. It was, in fact, the best one of the whole trip. Omelets made to order greeted us the next morning, and then we were off on a city bus to see the sights of San Miguel de Allende.
There is a maze of many beautiful streets to get lost in.
Our guide Juan sat us down in a quiet church courtyard when we arrived off the bus to deliver an impressive history of the founding of the town, before Allende’s time. He used peso coins on the cobble stones to demonstrate to us where the cities of Mexico were located in the 1500’s and gave us a good sense of time and place. If he wasn’t an archaeologist, he would have made a great actor!
The town was founded by the Franciscan monk Juan de San Miguel in 1542, who with his dogs found a natural springs in the area. He was a great friend to the natives here, and the town became a market center and waystation for the Spaniards from Mexico City to the silver mines in the west. Tin is also mined here. The entire city became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.
Besides the beautiful colonial architecture, the town is home to no less than 16 Catholic churches. Juan explained that if there were something special to be grateful to God for, the Spaniards built a church. Sometimes one church is right next to another. The churches dot the town and are their spires are a pretty part of its skyline.
The most beautiful of them all, however, is the pink confection below. It is the magnificent Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, or simply the Parroquia. It was built in the late 17th century in colonial design. In the late 1800’s a local self-taught architect, who was inspired by pictures he’d seen of the Gothic cathedrals of Europe, decided it needed some sprucing up. He reworked the towers and the facade, and the result is now an icon of this town.
In colonial-era times, it was compulsory to attend mass four times a day. I don’t know how anyone got any work done. Old traditions die hard. Looking at the mass times during the week, there are still four daily opportunities to attend.
One of the heros of the fight for independence from Spain was Ignacio Allende, a Spaniard himself who grew to sympathize with the cause. A statue here honors him.
Ignacio Allende’s birthplace is in one of the main squares in the town, near the Parroquia:
As our group walked through town, we came upon a little fair by a local school of the things the children were learning. I’m sure we all embarrassed these two little boys with their display of body parts in English but I think they were excited too. There was a good discussion of the English and Spanish words for these terms. We drew the attention of the headmaster and their teacher, and it was a big moment for them.
Like I’d seen elsewhere, many of the churches had parks in front of them, big and small.
These women were headed to the Parroquia.
After a delicious multi-course lunch, Cal and I were on our own. We explored the artisan market and it went on for several blocks.
I caught a glimpse of an artist at work with her partner “minding” the shop.
I truly would have loved to have given this town more of my time but we were done in after a schedule-packed week. We had been given three options for getting back to the hotel: cab, bus, or walking the two miles. The distance was not a big deal to us so we walked, enjoying more of the scenic streets and the beautiful day. In the historic center there are no stoplights, parking meters, or fast food restaurants. There are plenty of restaurants and small shops. The cobblestone streets are narrow.
Fun fact: there are about two thousand doors with about two thousand courtyards of various sizes in this town. A detour into one little courtyard revealed this painting, titled “The Washerwomen”.
And then, there was this startling doorknob:
After a week of Mexican food and not being real hungry for dinner, we set out for an evening pizza just down the street from our hotel. The manager of the small restaurant, in a fedora, was probably an expat himself. He asked us how long we were staying in San Miguel de Allende, and was incredulous that it was only one day: “What!! That is not enough to see the whole city!” he exclaimed. Come to think of it, so am I incredulous!
Next time – back to our winter in Texas