29 MAR 2017: Looking for the ideal place to introduce novice or nervous travellers to Mexico? This is it! For years Mexican aficionados have been extoling the virtues of San Miguel de Allende (SMA for short). So, I finally decided to hit Mexico’s heartland and check out SMA’s colonial architecture, cobblestoned streets, fantastic eateries, colourful galleries and busy cultural scene. Now I get it.

SMA is a magical place where North American expats thrive side by side with their Mexican amigos in a city so full of charms that was named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2008.  Your pesos go a long way here so I found plenty of bargains plus a few fun splurges. Note: all prices are approximated in Canadian dollars.

The “Cheap Thrills” Save List

Casa Sweet Casa
Casa Calderoni B&B, located on a quiet street (Callejon del Pueblito 4A) three flat blocks from the Jardin has 9 rooms decorated with artist’s themes. I slept with Picasso prints in a large bedroom with a balcony overlooking a leafy central courtyard. Breakfast is cooked to order along with fresh fruit, juice and cereals. There’s a rooftop terrace with panoramic views, 24-hour front-desk service, free Internet and long distance calls to the US and Canada. www.casacalderoni.com

Meet me in the Jardin.
SMA’s most iconic landmark is the multi-spired pink Parroquia church that overlooks the town’s heart, the Jardin. Here locals, tourists and ex-pats come to sit on a shaded bench, have their shoes shined, read the paper, relax and gossip among the manicured trees and fountains. Often there’s a dance presentation, fireworks or live music.

Long Live the Fat Mermaid
Normally SMA’s cantinas (rustic versions of gentlemen’s clubs) don’t allow women or police officers, but at La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid) everyone’s welcome for a signature ginger margarita and tasty fish taco at down-and-dirty prices (Barranca 78).

No need to negotiate. All yellow cabs in the central SMA area charge 30 pesos (about $2.50). If you phone for a taxi, add a dollar to the fee.

No Mas Tortillas?
Cumpanio (Correo 29) serves artisanal breads and croissants as flaky and buttery as you’d find in Paris. Tasty lunches and dinners too. www.cumpanio.com

More than Books
The Biblioteca Publica (Insurgentes 25) is a great gathering spot. Grab a snack in the courtyard café and check out the stacks of English books. This also the place to get a copy of Atencion San Miguel, the weekly English newspaper that lists all (and I do mean all) of the cultural events. They also show movies here and organize house and garden tours on Sundays. In SMA you could attend a concert, art lecture, play or poetry reading almost every day and night of the week.

The “You Only Live Once” Splurge List

Nectar of the Mayan Gods
Take a break at Johfrej (Jesus 24) where they will serve you a pottery jug full of hot chocolate from Chiapas and Tabasco spiked with chilies (about $2.50). Consider yourself lucky because back in the Mayan times this drink was reserved only for kings and deities. www.johfrej.com

Sweet and Sour
La Parada (Recreo 94) serves authentic Peruvian cuisine, specializing in creative ceviches and zesty Pisco sour cocktails in an alfresco patio setting. Consider their Pisco Sour Catedral—”twice the size of a Pisco Sour; it gets big when you get excited.” www.laparadasma.weebly.com

Shops Galore
Previously a textile factory, Fabrica La Aurora, about a 10-minute walk from the centre of town, has been smartly renovated into a series of art galleries, interior design and jewelry shops. Need a break? Refuel at Café de la Aurora.

Through Rosewood Coloured Glasses
Opened in January 2011, the Rosewood San Miguel de Allende is an oasis of calm and luxury in the centre of town. Relax by the pool or head up to the Sense Spa for an exfoliation treatment made with mole spices and cocoa, followed by blissful massage. The rooftop Luna bar offers breathtaking views of the iconic La Parroquia, spires, bell towers and rooftops across town. Go at sunset and order a selection of tapas. www.rosewoodhotels.com

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Anita Draycott

Quite aside from being an award winning writer, whose travel articles and photography regularly appear in golf and lifestyle publications and websites, Anita Draycott is a self confessed golf fanatic, who has chased dimpled white balls over five continents.  

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