San Miguel de Allende: Mexican Gem

by Keith langston
San Miguel Cathedral

As we headed into the countryside, I felt transported into a Western. Dry creek beds filled with smoothed boulders, farmers herding their cattle down the road, small ranches dotting the hillsides, and horses trotting in the distance.

Keith Langston

Escamoles taste like a buttery risotto and were served with corn tortillas, guacamole, tomatoes, and chipotles. The grasshoppers were served similarly, but added a distinct a nutty flavor and a good crunch to each bite. At one
point I got a grasshopper leg stuck in my teeth, but such is life when one feasts upon insects.

After lunch we had a free afternoon, so I decided to roam the town’s famed streets. In San Miguel, hours, even days, can be spent just walking along the colonial streets. Brightly painted homes reside shoulder-to-shoulder along narrow stone roads. The houses are deep burgundies, hearty yellows, and bright pinks. They all have large wooden doors with intricately engraved patterns and decorative iron door knockers. It’s the kind of place where every turn has you saying “I’m definitely not in Ohio anymore.”

The town’s main cathedral, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, is a can’t-miss. Literally. With its coral pink steeples rising high above the rest of the town, it’s impossible not to see this beautiful structure. Designer Zeferino Gutiérrez constructed the cathedral based upon images of European churches. He purposefully wanted it to look different from the surrounding
buildings. The result is a gorgeous church that resembles Antoni Gaudí’s famous architecture in Barcelona. The cathedral is a fully-operational parish and is open daily.

San Miguel de Allende, Door Knocker

San Miguel de Allende, Door Knocker
Photo: Juan Salvador

Later that night I was exhausted. I walked up to my room at the La Morada for the first time. As I entered, I was greeted by a lovely king-sized bed, and a lofted brick ceiling with a massive skylight at its center. I walked into the bathroom and saw a glass shower big enough to fit 6 people inside. That night I enjoyed one of the longest showers of my life, slipped into bed,
and drifted off for a solid 10 hours of sleep.

The next morning I awoke to the sun shining through my skylight, showcasing the room’s crisp white walls and dark wood furnishings. There’s nothing quite like awaking to glistening natural light, and I felt ready to tackle whatever the day had in store.

We started with breakfast at the Hotel Casa Nare (Calle del Dr Ignacio Hernandez Macias 18, Centro, Tel: +52-415-126-2477. www.casanare.com.mx), which isn’t so much a hotel as it is a bed and breakfast. With only 10 rooms, this charming space is homey, warm, and welcoming. It’s adults only, but owner Tais González assures us it’s not a nude resort. She just wants to give visitors a relaxing space away from children. Tais is a total firecracker and speaks her mind. She’s the kind
of host that you’ll definitely want to grab a drink with. She demanded that she prepare us her favorite breakfast, chilaquiles, which is a dish made up of eggs atop a bed of fried tortilla pieces covered in red salsa, crema, queso fresco, and spices. Alongside our chilaquiles, Tais sliced papaya, watermelon, and strawberries, and drizzled them with honey and yogurt. It was the perfect “dessert” to my breakfast.

Afterwards, we drove just outside of town to the celebrated La Gruta hot springs (spalagruta.com). La Gruta (the grotto) is a natural spring that’s warmed by the volcanic activity beneath the San Miguel region and is known for its healing mineral waters. La Gruta has multiple pools, a spa, restaurant, and lounging patios, but the most impressive is the grotto. We stepped down into the warm waters shaded beneath swaying palm trees. As we waded our way down the pool, we soon noticed water flowing into a small opening dug into the side of a hill. As we peeked in, all we could see was blackness, but curiosity got the best of us and we decided to swim inside. The heat and steam grew thick as we made our way through the narrow tunnel, until suddenly, it opened up into a cave—the legendary grotto. Beams of sunlight dappled through small openings in the grotto’s ceiling, illuminating the tranquil space. La Gruta is the kind of place where you can spend an entire day, and that’s exactly what we did.

One of the guys in our group had told us that he had heard of a nearby church that is famous for its fresco paintings. I’m not much a religious person, and like other gay men I’ve learned to dislike the Catholic Church for its historically anti-gay positions and complete refusal to act during the AIDS crisis. However, I also understand that my beliefs shouldn’t diminish
that of those around me. So, in an act of team spirit, I agreed to leave the grotto and go explore the nearby church.

When we arrived, I immediately discovered that this was no ordinary church. This was a completely stunning work of art. Hailed as the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico,” the Sanctuary of Atotonilco (Calle Principal 31, Atotonilco, Tel: +52-415-185-2014) is adorned with Mexican Baroque mural work everywhere. The walls, the arched cathedral ceilings, and even the window trimmings are all fully covered in paintings that took a total of 30 years to finish.

Grasshopper Lunch in San Miguel

Grasshopper Lunch

By complete coincidence (or, perhaps not) I received a text message from my mom that very moment. She messaged me saying that she had just read that today was El Dia de la Madre (Mother’s Day) in Mexico. She knew how un-religious I was, but as a Mother’s Day gift she wanted me to find one of those beautiful churches in San Miguel she had been seeing pictures of, and go inside and say a prayer. Seeing as I was already in a church, and had just received this very serendipitous text message, I figured it was my “divine” duty to fulfill my mom’s Mother’s Day wish.

I knelt in one of the pews and looked up at the intricately painted ceiling. “Dear God,” I said. “I don’t believe in you, but my mom does, and she told me to say a prayer. So, I guess this is it. Please keep her healthy and safe because we both know how clumsy she is. Amen.”

As the group left the chapel, I stayed behind for a brief moment to feel what I had abandoned so long ago. The silence of a church, the peppery smell of incense, the flickers of tiny candles lit as prayers. Memories of growing up in Catholic school came flooding back to me, as did the constant fights with my mom on Sundays, trying everything I could to get out of going to mass. Though Mexico is a different country, so much of it felt extremely familiar.

That night for dinner, we visited L’Otel (De Los Chiquitos 1A, Centro, Tel: +52-415-154-9850. www.l-otelgroup.com), a posh new space in the heart of San Miguel de Allende featuring a boutique hotel, restaurants, bars, and locals shops. We shared sampling plates overflowing with ceviche and cilantro on flatbread, smoked salmon with radish and avocado aioli, and crisps topped with local cheese and homemade strawberry preserves. To drink, the bar prepared a pitcher of sparkling water muddled with slices of lemon, lime, and sprigs of fresh mint grown right on their roof. After our meal, we went out to the patio that’s shared by hotel guests and restaurant patrons and lounged poolside as we watched the sun set over the mountains.

My short visit to San Miguel de Allende was proving to be so enjoyable and rejuvenating that I didn’t want it to end. Our
breakfast that morning further cemented my love for the city to an eternal status.

After we arrived at El Petit Four (Mesones 99-1, Centro, Tel: +52-415-154-4010. www.elpetitfour.com) chef Francisco Cárdenas came out from the kitchen to assist us in choosing our selection. I think he noticed the group of foreigners standing in front of his counter, gawking wildly at all the delicious pastries, cakes, and breads.

Francisco gave us a rundown of almost every item in his shop, describingthe story behind his famous fig cake, the amount of time he spends kneading the dough for his scones, and the baking process of his almond croissants. This is a man who truly loves food.

I ordered the homemade French baguette topped with tomatoes and local cheese, along with a Mexican hot chocolate because, really, there’s nothing more delicious on this planet. Cocoa is ground and blended with fresh milk and cinnamon to create a velvety drink satisfying enough to soften even the hardest of souls. I enjoyed this life of having desert with breakfast. Why should dinner have all the fun?

Before biting into my baguette, Francisco brought a dish of homemade chipotle peppers to the table. Drizzled with olive oil, his chipotles are spicy, smoky, and a little sweet. I added a few to my baguette and changed the course of my life forever. I’ll never be able to eat anything ever again without craving the addition of those incredible peppers.

After breakfast we were scheduled to spend the day at a nearby art gallery and vineyard. It turns out that the art gallery Fabrica La Aurora (Calz de La Aurora S/N, Aurora, Tel: +52-415-152-1312. www.fabricalaaurora.com) is not an art gallery at all, but rather a massive art city. La Aurora is an abandoned textile factory that was turned into an artist space. It’s filled with dozens of artists working with various mediums like paint, clay, and iron.

El Petit Four Owner San Miguel Restaurant

El Petit Four Owner

La Aurora is also home to Mexico’s hottest artist, Mario Oliva. And when I say hot, I mean hot. When I walked into his gallery, I saw Mario painting a giant picture of a lion. I watched as his triceps flexed with each stroke of his paintbrush. I asked him what the meaning behind his painting was and he told me about the extinction of animals around the world, and
how he hoped this painting would raise awareness. I stared into his deep brown eyes as he talked to me about saving animals from extinction. I then looked over and saw that he had also painted a portrait of the Rolling Stones and my heart almost exploded. A sexy buff Mexican artist who loved animals and the Rolling Stones? Come hell or high water, I refuse to
ever leave Mexico. If Trump wants to build a wall, I want to be on Mario’s side when it gets erected. Oh my god…erected. My hormones were raging like a 16-year-old on summer break.

My group had to pull me out of Mario’s studio and throw me into the van so we wouldn’t miss our scheduled visit to the winery. I pressed my face into the window as we pulled away, and watched La Aurora drift off into the distance.

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