We recently spent a week in the unbelievably beautiful Mexican city, San Miguel de Allende - a place that just overflows with inspiration. Located in the state of Guanjuato, San Miguel de Allende was a stop along the silver trade route in Mexico centuries ago. Settled in the 16th century by Spanish colonialists, the European settlers mixed with the indigenous people creating a community rich with cultural exchange - this merging of cultures manifests in the unique aesthetic of the city itself. The architecture is breathtaking - rows of polychrome buildings are stacked alongside cobblestone streets - saffron yellow, red ochre, lavender, turquoise and coppery pink facades are punctuated by papel picado banners strewn from rooftop to rooftop. Multicolored ribbons are tied to wrought iron windows and buildings have intricately carved wood doors, often with ornate bronze doorknockers - my favorite was shaped like a human hand holding an orb.
The city centers around a cathedral named La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. A fantastic neo-gothic structure that is an other-worldly rose pink. Built in the 17th century, the traditional Mexican facade was replaced in 1880 by Zeferino Gutierrez, an indigenous bricklayer and self taught architect, who, legend has it, based the facade on postcards of European cathedrals that he had collected in his archive. However, the cathedral is so whimsical and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, I have to believe that Mr. Gutierrez used his imagination more than any reference photos!
My other favorite structure was the Nuestra Señora de la Salud church, just a few blocks from the main square. The main portal is shaped like a giant seashell and is carved in the Churrigueresque style - elaborately ornamented and fabulously beautiful. Pink and blue tinsel flower garlands were strung from the facade across the square which only enhanced the magical quality of the building. Street vendors set up in the square outside the church, while musicians play and local kids run around playing after school - the place vibrates with energy!
The Mercado de Artesanias was one of the highlights of the trip - a long arcade filled to the brim with Mexican made objects - painted tin lanterns, ornaments & mirrors, beautiful hand woven textiles, papier mache, piñatas, carved wooden toys, silver jewelry and folk art. The Mercado is a sensory delight! In addition to artisanal objects, there was also a bevy of fresh produce, aqua frescas, and candy - I only wish that we had more time to comb through all of the things the Mercado had to offer.
Riding in cabs was a really fun way to see the city. There are no stop signs and mostly one way streets in San Miguel, so you have no choice other than to sit back and let the world come at you. The rhythm of the city is very different from Los Angeles - everything is a bit more laid-back, drivers are considerate and everyone takes their time. Perfect for a looky-loo like myself! My favorite zone to drive through was outside of La Aurora - the gallery/arts district a few blocks away from the main square. It was great for people watching and architecture-admiring. The flower scene in San Miguel is unbelievable - I’ve never seen so many luscious bougainvillea vines in my life! The vivid fuchsia of the paper-like flowers spilling over the painted walls was so amazing. Many of the homes and restaurants in San Miguel have terraces where you can sit and eat and admire the spectacular view - yet another way that the city helps you slow down and enjoy the experience. You could often catch a glimpse of someone’s spectacular rooftop succulent garden while enjoying dinner and a cocktail. Not to mention the epic views of majestic cathedrals from every angle!
It would take a whole book to express all of my happy feelings towards the enchanting San Miguel de Allende…I’ll leave you with this for now. We returned from the trip feeling relaxed and enriched - and with some great ideas for the next collection :) :) :) Stay tuned!!!