For years now, I’ve written blogs about my love for the city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I’ve written about the food, culture, restaurants, chefs, places to visit, as well as some of the faces and people that make San Miguel the magical city that it is. Now I’m thrilled to announce that in April of 2020, I will have the opportunity and great honor of showing off the city, which I refer to as “the place that makes my heart smile” on a food and wine cultural tour, sponsored by The Chopping Block and arranged by Onward Travel.
Blooming cactus flower at the Botanical Gardens
First, a little back story about my infatuation with San Miguel. Years ago, my partner Fernando and I decided to take a 6-week long bus trip through Mexico to visit several of its magnificent colonial cities. We were winging it for the most part, but there were a few cities that we definitely had set our sights on, namely Morelia, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas and Guanajuato. San Miguel wasn't on our list at the time. But after talking to several friends about our plans, a couple suggested the city of San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato.
We had heard stories about San Miguel, about how magical the city is, which is seriously how so many people who visit San Miguel for the first time always describe it… magical! It sounded too good to be true! Our friends kept insisting that we give the city a try. So, we did.
I did a bit of research for a place to stay and found a charming bed and breakfast in the neighborhood of Atascadero. The neighborhood of Atascadero is located on a hillside, overlooking the city. We arrived into the San Miguel bus station from Morelia and hopped in a cab and were dropped off at one of the most adorable B&B’s ever! The owners greeted us and talked about the restaurants, people and the center of town, referred to as “el centro”. They suggested that after we settled in, we head into town to explore the city and eat. We ended up walking 20 minutes downhill into the center of town and with each and every block we walked, both of our reactions were exactly the same. We oohed and aahed and over the city’s beauty with practically every step. By the time we arrived to the center of town, we were smitten with the city and that very quickly blossomed into full-fledged love.
We knew that we had to visit the city again, but first we needed to act quickly and make the necessary arrangements with the B&B to increase our stay. Three days later and after meeting several people and enjoying fantastic food at some remarkable restaurants and street stalls, we began to contemplate buying a home there. This is a story you hear so often from people after their first time visiting the city who now have homes there. Again, it's magical!
Although we never purchased a home, we found a rental home that we’ve been renting for the past 11 years now. Originally, our stay would be an annual one, for a month at a time. We quickly realized that wasn’t enough and now vacation there, twice a year, for an entire month each time.
Me enjoying my favorite helado flavor Mantecado
San Miguel de Allende, is located in the mountains of central Mexico. It has an elevation of close to 6,500 feet, which can take a day to get acclimated to after first arriving. It has a population of close to 140,000 with about 10-15% of that being American and Canadian expats. The city is built on several hills that overlook the city giving breathtakingly beautiful views.
It’s a great adventure when you take a cab ride throughout some of the steep hills of the city. But for me the real adventure is to always challenge myself to walk some of those hills and take in all the sites that the city has to offer. San Miguel being such a walkable city is another reason why it’s one of my favorite places to visit. It’s full of charming cobblestoned streets that invite you to explore them. Just make sure to wear a pair of sensible shoes when doing so.
Cobblestone streets that line the street of the house we rent
San Miguel is a tranquil town, unless there happens to be a festival going on! Then you will experience the fireworks, church bells ringing, Mariachis playing in the square, parade participants dancing, Mojigangas (tall puppets) frolicking and roaming the square, or other small celebrations that might happen throughout the city. San Miguel has been named the number one city in the world to travel to by Travel and Leisure Magazine. Of course, with that distinction, it’s bound to lose a touch of tranquility, but not by much.
One of the many Mojigangas that stroll the Jardin
Me with a Mojiganga outside of Mercado Sano
One of the faces that you might see peering out from the Mojiganga he’s carrying
San Miguel is also very well known for its historic central district, also referred to as ‘el Centro’. In the city’s main plaza also lies the central garden, or the ‘jardin’, where across from it is the historic church, ‘la Parroquia’. The church is formally known as, “La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel”. The church has beautiful and dramatic pink towers that rise above the main plaza of the city.
The Parroquia lit up at night
Church enchiladas being prepared on Sunday outside of the Parroquia
A trip to San Miguel will most certainly be a culinary adventure along with the opportunity to explore some of San Miguel’s history, archeology, cultural traditions and its vibrant art scene that has been a huge part of the city for several decades now. The group will stay at the charming, quaint and comfortable B&B, Casa Calderoni. It is conveniently located as it is a short walk to the main plaza of the city. The group will have exclusive use of their 9 room facilities.
The tour will entail three hands on cooking classes, one led by myself, one led by one of my favorite chefs in the city, Chef Gaby, formerly of Aguamiel Restaurant and the other by the very talented Chef Ruben at the Sazon Cooking School. The Sazon Cooking School is located in an 18th century mansion that houses the luxury hotel Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada, a stunning property, filled with tons of colonial charm.
The tour will also introduce the group to some of my favorite restaurants. The first night the group will dine at La Posadita. La Posadita is always the first restaurant that we eat at on our very first night in the city. Having dinner at La Posadita gives us the opportunity to wander around El Centro, sit in the Jardin for a while and gaze at the Parroquia. It’s the perfect spot to decompress after a long day of traveling, enjoy a great margarita, some fantastic guacamole and feast on any of their amazing entrees. By the way, they have a delicious mole!
Me and Fernando enjoying a margarita on the rooftop terrace at La Posadita
After dinner, it’s always nice to take a stroll around the Jardin and listen to one of the many Mariachi bands that might be playing along the square. And being in the square after dinner also gives you the opportunity to go and enjoy a plate of delicious churros with some Mexican hot chocolate at San Agustin, a couple of blocks off the square.
Churros y Chocolate at San Agustin
Another one of my favorite restaurants in San Miguel has the distinction of having the most perfect name, “The Restaurant”. At the helm of the restaurant is the brilliant and talented Chef/Owner, Donnie Masterson. Donnie has also been at the helm of a couple of other successful restaurants in town: Birdies Burgers, Taco Lab, El Vergel and his most recent one, Fatima.
Me with Chef Donnie Masterson and kitchen staff at The Restaurant
One of the things I love most about San Miguel is the people. In the 12 years that we’ve been vacationing to San Miguel, we’ve met some of the greatest people and have developed several long-lasting friendships. It’s a town where once someone enters your life, it seems that they’re forever a part of it, like the person whose house we rent. We met Walt 12 years ago while sitting with other friends at a table, taking in some of the Mexican Independence Day festivities. We struck up a conversation with him and his partner Pat, and the rest is history and a great friendship was formed. He’s more than the person who rents us his amazing house, we’ve become family. This is a typical San Miguel story for us.
Walt on a visit to San Miguel at Mare Nostrum with Chef Guilio, Fernando and Guilio's wife Brenda
That leads me back to one of the highlights of the tour that I’m most excited about! On day four of the tour, the group will get a chance to have cocktails, wine and hors d’oeuvres at the home of two of our greatest friends in San Miguel, Marty, (aka Marta), and Jeff. They were the first people that we met on our first visit to San Miguel, and they’ve become not only amazing friends, they have also become our San Miguel family. I’m so excited to introduce the tour group to them and have the group enjoy wine and cocktails in their beautiful hillside home that overlooks all of San Miguel. I’m so thankful to them for opening up their home to the group and allowing the group the opportunity to experience true San Miguel hospitality.
Jeff and Marty at The Restaurant for Hamburger Thursday’s
Here are some of my recommendations when it comes to visiting San Miguel:
Just relax and enjoy the calm, relaxed pace of the city whether you’re dining in a restaurant, shopping in the market place, visiting an art gallery or just walking through town. Savor the greetings of “Buenos dias”, Buenos tardes”, or Buenos noches”, good morning, good afternoon and good night, as you walk throughout the town.
Young boy selling gardenias on the street outside of the Jardin
Bring a pair of very sensible walking shoes. San Miguel is a walkable city, and it really is the best way to explore the city, exactly the way the locals do.
If you like margaritas, enjoy the bounty of delicious margaritas that San Miguel restaurants and bars offer. With only a few exceptions, practically every margarita that I’ve had in the city has been exceptional. I don’t know if it’s in the water, all I know is that there is magic in those margaritas!
My absolute favorite time to visit San Miguel: Dia de Los muerto (Day of the Dead)
Explore out-of-the-way hidden gems, like tiny little craft stores, the food stalls in the market place, the many art galleries and surprise concerts that might pop up and festivities of any kind. A lot of suggestions can be found on the website San Miguel Events or by picking up a free copy of the San Miguel Walking and Shopping Guide, available at many of the shops in town, also available online. Take the opportunity to have your photo taken with one of the giant Mojigangas, (puppets), you might see roaming around the Jardin and make sure to tip them a couple of pesos.
One of the many charming doors you’ll see while wandering round the city
There are times when your heavy meal of the day will be late in the afternoon, that’s referred to as “comida.” In the Mexican culture, that’s typically when the heaviest meal of the day is eaten. The meal that is later in the evening is referred to as “cena.” It’s akin to “supper”, which is typically a light or informal meal.
One of my favorite market finds, wild plums
One of my absolute favorite things about eating at the restaurants in San Miguel or in Mexico in general is, when a table of diners are leaving, who happened to be dining close to you, they will leave you with the greeting, “buen provecho.” In the Mexican culture it’s their version of “bon appetit”, or enjoy your meal. Saying “buen provecho” to other people in Mexico is very polite, because you are saying many things with those two simple words, such as I hope you have a great meal, I hope it benefits you well, have a nice meal, have a good appetite, and something as simple as enjoy your meal. To this day it still surprises me when someone turns to our table to greet us with this phrase while we’re eating. It’s something so kind and polite to experience. And a simple “gracias” from you afterward is all that’s needed.
Mexican Pan Dulce from panaderia Maple
I know I keep mentioning the word “magic” when it comes to San Miguel, but allow me this last thought and make my last recommendation. If you take the time to allow it to happen the magic of San Miguel will capture you too. Gracias!