The perfect destination for a rejuvenating vacation, San Miguel de Allende (SMA) can easily turn into your new home if you are looking to relocate. This is the story of how I found my personal Shangri-La at the very heart of Mexico after wandering through Asia and North America for a year.
Brooklyn adopted me during the summer of 2011, after a year traveling around the planet with my backpack in search of a new life under the sun. New York is a magnet for every European and my first visit served to fulfill a long foregone wish. Although I knew I didn’t want to stay, I felt stuck and lacking the vitality to make the move I was cherishing in private. It was a rainy August afternoon at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Union Square that I took the decision to move to Mexico and try my luck in a town by the name of San Miguel de Allende, while reading testimonials of many American women who had settled there successfully. Let´s be honest : now that I had made it to 40 in one piece, all I wanted was personal space, sunshine and authenticity, and New York didn’t seem the ideal place for any of them.
A couple of weeks later, on the first day of fall, I arrived in San Miguel de Allende. I have made contact with a couchsurfer from California who was living there and who hosted me for a week. Only her garden was bigger than her generosity, while doubling the size of the 3 bedroom house where she lived with her daughter. This place was full of exotic tropical plants and orange trees heavy with fruit. I had died and gone to Heaven!
On our first night we went to the classic Angela Peralta Theatre to listen to a guitar performance. Later I found more contemporary theatres such as El Sindicato and Shelter, where one could attend all kinds of international and fringe shows. Next day, we visited one of the hot springs San Miguel de Allende is famous for, La Gruta. Well, this Mexican town had a couple of tricks to show off indeed. There’s more than cobblestone streets and colonial buildings to San Miguel! Life flows smoothly and the slow pace sucks you into a snug rabbit hole filled with the many wonders of the leisurely life. Is this really Mexico, you wonder? Is this really the XXI century?
Daily life gravitates around El Jardín, the canopied square in front of the parish church of San Miguel, an impressive hallmark from the 1600’s that got a new facade built in an eclectic, Neo-gothic style, under the auspices of a Europe-inspired Mexican bricklayer during the XIX century. The whole valley lies on a bed of rose quartz, the most healing of stones, and that’s the reason behind the cathedral’s pinkish hue. Library-cafés, fancy bakeries, Mexican and international restaurants, design bars and imports grocery stores
gather around this meeting point par excellence.
Walking about in search of an Internet café, I could only find art galleries in every corner. In San Miguel de Allende I made friends with Mexican artists who actually make a living by their paintings. Artsy bars and restaurants make improvised showrooms for some of them, but Fabrica La Aurora is indeed the place to go for anything artistic, from paintings and sculptures and contemporary crafts to jewelers and interior designers for all tastes and budgets. The housing boom of the past decades has created a demand for local and international art and now San Miguel de Allende is one of the artistic hubs in this part of the world. Fabrica La Aurora celebrates monthly Art Walks on the first Friday of every month, a who’s who of the upscale expat community consisting mainly of American, Canadian and European retirees who have found their Shangri-La in the ideal climate of the highlands of San Miguel.
I learnt there are 29 festivals in SMA every year. That makes an average of one every other week. The celebration of Mexico independence from Spanish rule, popularized as “El Grito” on September 15th , and the “Alborada” on Archangel Michael’s day Sep 29th are together with the “Day of the Dead” on November 1st the festivals with the biggest attendance. The relative closeness to Mexico City (a 4 hour bus drive) makes SMA a favorite destination for city dwellers that are attracted by the always festive air of this magical town.
Spiritual seekers from all corners find a welcoming committee that is not so easy to find in other Mexican towns. Open spaces such as Life Path and Wellness Center offer all kinds of holistic therapies, yoga and Pilates classes, and Buddhist meditation courses for beginners or experienced practitioners. The Mayan culture has its presence here through the figure of Ac Tah, “the Mayan Wanderer”, and his crew, that I had the honor to meet during my first month. They organize monthly meditations in a public outdoor site where they have laid a labyrinth made of stones they call the Mayan-Orion mirror.
After a year of transformation on that bedrock of quartz, I felt itchy for adventure again and I decided to move to Puerto Vallarta. I dare to say that San Miguel is one of the most healing places in this world. As it happens with other magical towns, they either take you in or they expel you out, so I feel enormous gratitude for the experience I had in this place out of time, seemingly so different from the rest of Mexico. After a year, I was ready to move into the unknown, once again full of the magic that creates life wherever you go. And that’s what makes of San Miguel de Allende the Shangri-La of Mexico.