San Miguel de Allende, Mexican jewel
San Miguel de Allende was recently named the world’s number 1 city in a Conde Nast survey of its readers. That’s right, NUMBER ONE!! Paris? An also-ran. London? Chopped fish ‘n chips. New York? Forgettaboutit! No one here takes this coronation particularly seriously except the mayor, who is widely believed to have higher political goals.
The city dates from the year 1541. In the decades following the Cortez invasion, it became a significant way-station along the roads connecting Mexico’s vast silver mining operations with the capital, Mexico City. It is the birthplace of Ignacio Allende, an officer in the Spanish military who, with Father Miguel Hidalgo, led the revolution in 1810 that ultimately freed Mexico from Spanish rule. In the early 20th century, the entire “centro” historical district was designated as national monument, so little has changed and nothing has changed without approvals. A resident from 250 years ago would have no trouble recognizing it and navigating its cobblestone streets. The seductive charm of centuries old buildings, Spanish architecture, ornate wooden doors, vibrant bougainvillea, can be overpowering, as it overpowered me on my first visit over the Easter holidays in 1993.
Why would Conde Nast readers rate San Miguel the world’s number 1 city? For the same reasons that brought us here in 1993. First, the weather, which in a word (actually three), is damn near perfect. In the winter, it is cool in the morning but by 2 p.m. somewhere between 75 and 78 degrees with no humidity and clear, cloudless skies overhead. The mean average in FEBRUARY, the month Canadians begin contemplating national suicide, is 77.
Second, the culture. There are more artists, writers, and world travelers here than are found in most major cities, and this in a Mexican hill town (elevation 6200 feet) with a population a fraction of the size of those major cities. Third, the people. Mexicans are friendly, hard working, family first kind of folks. They smile a lot, whistle while they work, and enjoy life to a greater degree than many in the U.S. because they take the time to enjoy it.
A major asset is the town’s library, the Biblioteca Publica. Established by a Canadian woman to help educate local children, it is privately funded by gringos and houses the largest collection of volumes in English outside of Mexico City. A truly great resource for any writer.
With all this going for it, choosing San Miguel proved relatively easy. Adapting to Mexican ways was another matter entirely, and the subject of my next blog.