These days, unfortunately, when you mention Mexico, some people just think of all the bad news: political instability, drug wars... But there are plenty of places that are removed from the turmoil that has come to characterize much of our South of the Border neighbor.
One of our favorite places is San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico, about 170 miles northwest of Mexico City. The 16th-century city attracts devoted visitors who continue to come every year and wouldn’t have it any way. They’re attracted to San Miguel de Allende for the same reasons so many artistic greats (such as author Graham Greene and British director, Peter Glenville) chose to live there--the Spanish Colonial architecture, the gardens, the arts scene, the food and the tranquility.
One of these regular visitors is Lynn Barrie who has traveled a great deal all over the world (and in fact, has shared many of her adventures with our readers). Every year, Lynn and her family return to this little piece of heaven for the months of August and September. Below, she shares some of her thoughts with us.
FarewellTravels: So what is it about San Miguel de Allende that draws you back year after year?
Lynn: Oh everything! It’s all about beautification and preservation. In fact, it’s become a UNESCO World Heritage Site which means nothing can be changed. It’s also very sophisticated with galleries, opera, theater and amazing restaurants. And it attracts a certain type of world traveler—very arty and sophisticated.
FarewellTravels: Do you rent or own a second home there?
Lynn: We’ve been renting for the six years we’ve been going to San Miguel de Allende. For the last three, we’ve been at the same house, but for the first three years, we had a different one each time, which was quite fun! They’re all gorgeous—right out of Architectural Digest with courtyards, lap pools, and bougainvillea-covered walls.
FarewellTravels: When friends and family come to visit you, what are the top three things you show them?
Lynn: El Jardín, the central square, first of all. With the cathedral, the old buildings and the leafy trees, it’s beautiful. The Mexicans use it like an open-air living room. At sunset, we take them to the rooftop bar off El Jardín called La Azotea, which has a fabulous view. And we love showing them the hike we do every morning. It’s 35 minutes up to the El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens, a magical place in the hills. With cliffs, ravines, lakes—it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
But of course, we also show them everything else--the art galleries, the theater, the shops. You can buy wonderful Mexican antiques, jewelry, shawls, home accessories, furniture…I could go on on and on!
FarewellTravels: What about the food? How is it? And can you recommend any restaurants?
Lynn: The food is very sophisticated, on the level of New York City. Two of my favorite restaurants are Mivida which has an Italian chef who prepares Italian food with a Mexican twist and The Restaurant, whose American chef prides himself on using local ranchers, dairy farmers and organic growers. Of course, there are also Mexican restaurants that are simple and authentic. Not hokey. Not touristy. And…there are French patisseries.
FarewellTravels: Do you have a favorite meal or snack that you always look forward to having when you go back every year?
Lynn: Yes…the chicken fajitas at Olé Olé are the best anyone has ever had EVER. The restaurant is tiny and divey but it’s authentic with a bull-fighting theme. We take everyone there.
FarewellTravels: Do you travel outside of the town much?
Lynn: Oh yes…in 12 minutes, you can be in incredible countryside with ranches on sprawling farmland. I ride out at a friend’s ranch and it’s amazing. I can go for two and a half hours and not see any buildings or people.
FarewellTravels: What if you don’t have a friend with a ranch? Can tourists ride?
Lynn: Yes. There are ranches that are open to visitors.
FarewellTravels: You’re generally there in August and September. Is that the best time to go?
Lynn: We go then to escape the humidity of Sarasota, Florida, where we live. But I’ve been other times of the year and it seems it's always special.
FarewellTravels: Besides everything you mentioned, is there anything else you find very special about San Miguel de Allende?
Lynn: The festivals and processions. There are many in San Miguel de Allende and they go all out with parades, dancing in the streets, indigenous tribes dressed in native clothing, fireworks…
FarewellTravels: We have to ask you this. Do you feel safe there?
Lynn: Completely. I can walk around town at midnight by myself.
Photos: Lynn is pictured above with local residents in costume and wearing a traditional dress herself just above, on horseback.