A Walking Tour of San Miguel de Allende- Mexico
Cobblestones, colors, church bells ringing, and a chirpy ‘buenos dias signora’ from a diminutive aproned signora delivering fresh tortillas. I’m back in San Miguel de Allende walking along Calle Recreo with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. Houses in shades of rose, mustard yellow, and turquoise, flank the narrow cobblestone street.
A rose seller walks towards me, his arms laden with a rainbow of sweet-smelling roses. The Cathedral of San Francisco frames his silhouette. A caballero( gentleman) rounds the corner leading two doe-eyed donkeys, who carry sacks of flour strapped to their backs.
I turn up steep Calle Huertos to buy a bottle of water from the miniscule family owned grocery store that I have frequented for years. The elderly owner’s weathered face and warm smile welcome me back to San Miguel. I’ve been coming here for twenty-five years and always make a detour to this little tienda (shop) to buy odds and ends.
On my way to the Jardin – San Miguel’s main plaza – I pop in and out of the little stores that line Recreo. The shoe shop; the art galleries; the little store stocked to the rafters with tablecloths, napkins, and embroidered Oaxacan fabric; the jewelry store shining with silver rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces; and the upscale interior design store. Around the Jardin, people enjoy a leisurely breakfast, socialize, and read the morning newspapers. The spectacular Parroquia – a soaring cathedral of pinkish stone with a myriad of spires – dominates the plaza.
As I head down Calle Relox, the delectable aroma of bread and cookies fresh out of the oven wafts towards me. I stop to buy my daily supply of cookies for my afternoon tea-treat.
At Mesones, I make a left and wend my way to the Instituto de Bellas Artes. A former cloister that once housed nuns, today it functions both as an art school and art exhibition center. It’s an oasis of greenery and peace in the heart of the town, where colonnaded walkways surround a tranquil garden courtyard in which palm trees and fragrant orange trees thrive. It’s always worthwhile checking out the art and photography exhibits on display, which feature both established and up-and-coming Mexican artists.
Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes wets my appetite for the treat I always savor. A walk down vibrant Calle Hidalgo all the way across the bridge to Aurora, a converted historic textile factory, which is now home to an extensive array of artist’s studios, galleries, handcrafted one of a kind designer furniture, jewelry, and interior design studios. I spend hours walking from gallery to gallery taking it all in then head for the outdoor covered café for a long lunchbreak.
San Miguel has an abundance of excellent restaurants and cafés. Each time I visit there are new ones that beckon me while I can’t pass up on my old favorites. (See my list at the end of this article).
An early morning visit to Juarez Park is always on my agenda. I start my walk heading along Calle Chiquitos to the little stone church which in March is covered in purple jacaranda blossoms. If I’m in luck, I arrive when morning services are in progress.
From there I stroll downhill through the gardens of the majestic red and yellow historic old building where students are engrossed in music, literature, art, and dance classes.
When I reach Recreo, I pause to watch the local women doing their laundry in the outdoor laundry pens. It’s here that I enter Parco Juarez where white egrets busy themselves tending their nests and ferrying food to their chicks high up in the jacaranda trees; while locals participate in an early morning aerobics class; and here and there an artist sets out his paintings and readies his easel, canvas, and brushes for a morning of painting.
A short walk from the park brings me to Rama café, my breakfast spot, which serves good wholesome food in a space decorated with an electric mix of interesting art.
From Rama Café I take Calle Zaccateros towards the center of town. Zaccateros always has an interesting ever changing collection of art galleries, clothing, copper, pottery, and jewelry stores interspersed with coffee shops and restaurants.
I head toward the Jardin and make my way to the local fruit, flower, and vegetable market located behind Plaza Civica. The fruits are fragrant, ripe, and sweet and there’s always a good selection of fresh flowers for sale. Mostly, I love the fact that it’s so local and off the tourist route. In the main hall women in traditional dress sit on the floor surrounded by piles of herbs, cactus leaves, or their baskets of freshly prepared tortillas. If one keeps walking through the hall and down the steps, one reaches Calle Loreto and the Mercato de Artesanias. It’s a treasure trove of stalls spilling over with Mexican pewter platters, picture frames, mirrors, and bowls; woven tablecloths (that wash like rags and always look new); and the most amazing selection of multicolored leather Huarachi sandals.
Evenings and early mornings when the sun is low, and the light is soft and golden, is the best time to visit the natural botanical gardens surrounding a lake high above San Miguel. I walk the trail passing joggers and other strollers, do some bird watching and admire the variety of cacti. A taxi is the best way to reach the gardens as it’s a steep climb from the town, but I enjoy the walk back to town and the views of San Miguel. Its cathedrals, blooming jacaranda trees, multicolored houses, and the web of cobblestone streets spread out before me.
Chamonix –Calle Sollano 17 – Upscale Courtyard Restaurant
Olé Olé -Calle Loreto – For fajitas
Solano 16 –Calle Solano 16 – Great for lunch or dinner
Buenos Aires Bistro –Calle Mesones 62 – Outstanding steak, fish, and superb vegetables
Restaurante Nectar – Calle Correo 43 – Healthy fresh vegetarian food in a courtyard full of hummingbirds. Does serve eggs and cheeses and has a wonderful selection of teas.
Rama Café – Nemesio Diez #7 – Great for breakfast and lunch.
Hank’s new Orleans Café and Oyster Bar – Calle Hidalgo 12 – Good food, good bar.
Bakery and Restaurant – Upscale bakery and casual dining, good ambience. On the corner of Recreo and Correo.
El Meson – Calle meson 80 – Trendy, bright, vibey courtyard dining. Varied menu.
Disclosure: the photo of the cacti in the botanical gardens was not taken by me.