When borders closed two years ago, there were a handful of places I longed to return. San Miguel de Allende was one of them. During my first visit in 2017, I was instantly enamored with its cobblestone streets dotted with cafés and craft stores, coral and turquoise splashed buildings, and lively rooftop bars. It’s a city that somehow feels both slow paced and energetic all at once, where less congested streets allow for roaming that can lead to a craft cocktail in a trendy bar or a seat on a bench to people watch for hours.
I made my return finally a few months ago, ready to see what this city in Mexico’s Guanajuato region had up its sleeve this time. After a weekend of exploring, it once again did not disappoint. Here’s where I ate, stayed, and explored.
A check-in to a contemporary art haven
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Step off the cobblestone street that leads to Hotel Matilda’s open-air lobby and you’ll enter a sleek hideaway that feels more like a private home than a hotel. Colorful modern art hangs from the walls, including a portrait of the hotel owner’s mother, Matilda, painted by Diego Rivera that is now on permanent display in the Library Lounge. The hotel’s modern aesthetic is an obvious contrast from the colonial style buildings just outside its doors, making Hotel Matilda the perfect portal between New and Old World charm.
There are 32 rooms, including 9 suites, all of which feature muted tones of graphite and white, with pops of turquoise to liven the space, and photography from Mexico City photographer Eduardo Zaylan. My favorite part of my accommodation, called Owner’s Suite A, was the spacious private balcony with covered sunbeds, where I often reclined and enjoyed a mezcal margarita from the bar by the infinity-edge swimming pool. Dining options include a ramen bar called Mui, and the main restaurant Moxi, which offers everything from roasted chicken to a grilled zarandeado fish served with tortillas. For relaxation, the 4,700 square-foot spa offers a number of treatments and an “apothecary concierge” who creates handmade beauty products personalized for each treatment.
A visit to the world’s smallest tequila tasting room
My first visit to San Miguel de Allende included an introduction to what quickly became my favorite tequila: Casa Dragones. This was in part because I’ve never had a smoother tequila, but also because of Bertha González Nieves, the mastermind behind the brand who spent 10 years in an executive role at Jose Cuervo International before starting this venture.
After being selected to represent Mexico as an ambassador to the Japanese government early in her career, Nieves continued her passion for tequila with Casa Dragones and her love for San Miguel de Allende by partnering with various chefs around the city for culinary experiences, as well as launching the jewel-box Casa Dragones Tasting Room. Between the obsidian tiled walls in the tiny six-seat room during this visit, I enjoyed a taste of its Joven, Casa Blanco, and Añejo tequilas, as well as a history from the in-house mixologist on the blue agave fields in the Valley of Tequila, Jalisco, where they are procured.
To book a tasting appointment at Casa Dragones, visit the website.
A whirlwind of eating and drinking
San Miguel’s culinary offerings range from sushi to classic Mexican fare. Some of my favorites during my most recent visit included Bovine, a brasserie located in a renovated postal building with a kitchen led by Australian chef Paul Bentley. Start with a mezcal-based cocktail at the spacious U-shaped bar, and, for dinner, don’t miss the oysters or pork belly with pea purée, mint, and coriander. For alfresco dining with panoramic views and the most enviable sunsets in the city, head to Luna, located on the rooftop of the Rosewood Hotel. Here, standout tapas include the rib-eye tacos, chickpea and beetroot hummus, and a burrata salad with macadamia, basil, and Serrano ham. I will never grow tired of sipping a cocktail here while watching a fiery burnt orange sun sink into the skyline in the distance.
Another rooftop stunner, Bekeb is located on the terrace of the new Casa Hoyos hotel. Here, master mixologist Fabiola Padilla makes cocktails come to life. Plants, flowers, and roots serve as the foundation to concoctions like the Lavender Sour, which mixes gin, aromatized wine, lavender flowers, liqueur de violette, and lemon. There’s also a full tapas menu and DJ spinning, two great accompaniments to the city cool that Bekeb exudes without trying too hard.
A perfect people watching spot, plus shopping
To feel the heartbeat of the city, head to El Jardin. This main plaza sits in front of the city’s iconic neo-Gothic Parroquia church, often photographed for its towering size and pink spires. Find a bench to sit and in minutes you’ll witness children playing tag, men selling bouquets of colorful balloons that nearly cover their entire bodies, and vendors selling ice cream.
For shopping, I headed to the north side of town to Fabrica La Aurora, a former textile factory that now houses a number of restaurants, art galleries, and shops selling furniture, textiles, jewelry, and other goods. I also discovered Camino Silvestre, an ecological enterprise that sells a selection of bird and nature themed items alongside other home furnishings. Here, it’s easy to get lost in the number of decorative objects for house and garden, often from recycled materials created by Mexican artisans.
How to get there: San Miguel de Allende is approximately 3.5 hours away from Mexico City via car. To arrive by plane, the two major airports are the Benito Juárez International Airport in Mexico City, where there are daily connecting flights that arrive in San Miguel in an hour, and the León/Guanajuato airport, which is 1.5 hours from the city center via car.