San Miguel de Allende, a rather little known colonial-era city in Mexico’s central highlands mostly known for its baroque Spanish architecture, just recently received the prestigious accolade of #1 city in the world by Travel + Leisure. So what is so special about San Miguel de Allende? T+L cites the authenticity, cost effectiveness and great restaurants among the many draws, all while—according to one reader—“maintaining its Mexican heritage, culture and charm.”
Here’s a quick review of San Miguel de Allende; where to stay, what to do and, according to our own John Newton, why a certain cooking school might be the biggest attraction of all.
Casa de Sierra Nevada
The grand dame of San Miguel de Allende, Casa de Sierra Nevada is a cluster of historic buildings at the centre of the city. With cool, leafy gardens, stone arches and traditional wooden doors surrounding pretty courtyards lit by lanterns at night, this charming luxury hotel offers the ultimate Mexican experience. While the interior, like many San Miguel hotels, is all about carved headboards and bathrooms in traditional blue-and-white Talavera tiles, their are also more contemporary options that shake up this hill town.
The 32-room Hotel Matilda celebrates the arts scene of San Miguel with a gallery like atmosphere that is focused on the works of three emerging Mexican artists: Aldo Chaparro, Nacho Rodriguez Bach, and Bosco Sodi. Photographs by Mexico City’s Eduardo Zaylan hang on the walls of the guest rooms. Don’t worry, however: the scene is chic and celebratory, not studious, from the hopping Bar Matilda to the 4,700-square-foot spa. In celebration of its opening, all rooms are $195 per night, including breakfast, through the end of the year.
Rosewood San Miguel de Allende
Meanwhile, newcomer, luxury boutique hotel Rosewood San Miguel de Allende reflects the artistic traditions of an enchanting historic town, while still providing the amenities you would expect from the Rosewood brand. Surrounded by natural beauty and history, Rosewood San Miguel de Allende is ideally placed for experiencing this fascinating colonial town. Guests are invited to explore local vibrant fiestas or the town’s colorful streets lined with churches, gardens and galleries at their own pace. Guests can appreciate the art of craftsmanship at galleries such as Fábrica La Aurora to discover stonework, papier maché and hand-blown glass masterpieces.
Wine Cellar at Rosewood San Miguel de Allende
Bathroom at Rosewood San Miguel de Allende
If you have ever wanted to master a mole or be able to prepare pitchers of agua fresca for your next holiday party, the chefs at the Sazón Cooking School at Casa de Sierra Nevada can guide you through the process.
Students of the day-long Market Tour and Class program begin with a guided visit to the markets of San Miguel de Allende, a postcard perfect 500-year-old colonial town outside Mexico City. The hotel’s chef, the charismatic and engaging Paco Cardenas (who, thankfully, speaks flawless English) explains the differences between habaneros, poblanos, and other chiles of the Mexican kitchen as well as basic shopping Spanish with opportunities to sample cheeses and other ingredients.
Students then return to the Sazón school, located in an 18th-century home near the hotel, and don their aprons. Hands-on lessons in preparing traditional Mexican dishes follow, with the results consumed at the end of class. During our visit, the favorite dish of most students was a nopal salad, made from the cactus plant of the same name, but what is on each class’s menu is determined by the ingredients at their peak of ripeness and available at the market. Other classes (which cost 600 pesos) focus on the country’s regional cuisines and signature dishes.
While classes are open to visitors who aren’t guests at the hotel, a stay at Casa de Sierra Nevada is a highlight of any visit to San Miguel. The Orient-Express property has 15 rooms and 22 suites, decorated with Spanish colonial–inspired furnishings, and distributed among four different colonial mansions and the larger Casa del Parque, a few minutes walk from the hotel. If you pay a month in advance and stay at least two nights, you’ll receive a 10 percent discount on any stay at Casa de Sierra Nevada, including the Sazón Culinary Package, which includes one market tour and one cooking class.
Not to be outdone Rosewood San Miguel de Allende has launched it’s own cooking school. At Los Pirules, a new, immersive outdoor cooking venue overlooking the city of San Miguel de Allende, guests use local Manchego cheese, fresh salsa and herbs picked from the hotel’s garden to create a sizzling queso fundido prepared in a traditional, heated stone bowl or molcajete, a technique that can be traced back to the Aztecs.
While San Miguel de Allende might have something for every type of traveler we’re pretty sure foodies—especially traditional Mexican food aficionados—will enjoy themselves thoroughly in this quaint, authentic and now famous, Mexican city in Mexico’s rustic central highlands.