Escape to Casa de Sierra Nevada in San Miguel de Allende
There is a certain type of traveler who will scoff when you tell them that you love San Miguel de Allende, a city smack in the middle of Mexico. "Oh, that's where the gringos go," they'll say, and it's true. There are many US and Canadian retirees that have made this Silver City their home, and in fact it's been a magnet for north Americans since just after World War II. The attraction was the ability to study at two different art schools in town where GI Bill dollars went very far, Or perhaps it's better to call that the justification, the attraction was the beauty of this town, which is well-preserved – an attraction that exists to this day, drawing gringas like me, international tourists besides, and not a few Mexico City weekenders.
Let that certain type of traveler scoff, for San Miguel is a confection of a city, with brightly painted buildings, and old iron lamps and absurdly narrow and steep cobblestoned streets, the cobblestones themselves streaked with color. There are plenty of things to do here, but I think the best itinerary is just to wander around those streets from early morning to late night, interrupted with a coffee from El Petit Four bakery and a hand churned ice cream from a street vendor in the afternoon.
Your luxurious base of operations should be Casa de Sierra Nevada, a boutique hotel with 37 rooms and suites, spread across six historic mansions which date from the 16th to the 18th century. These six buildings are all within a few steps of one another – three are connected by courtyard – with the exception of Casa Parque, which is a few blocks away in a former 17th century fort. (This building is said to be haunted, but when I visited I saw nothing supernatural.)
Each mansion has its own flavor and room design, borrowing from different eras of San Miguel's design, and, as is the case in almost every boutique hotel with unique room design, return guests become passionately attached to a room in a certain building. I personally became incredibly attached to the newest part of hotel, Casa Palma, which was gut renovated and has spacious suites that are hard to find fault with – a bed that's easy to sink into and difficult to leave, a sitting room with a carefully selected library of interesting books – my shelf had Hillary Clinton's biography and a novel by Dennis Lehane. I also took much longer to get bathed and dressed in the morning than I otherwise would, given that the bathroom has a indoor shower, outdoor shower and a deep, pounded metal bathtub, a private patio with plunge pool.
The presidential suite is also in this part of the hotel, and its attached roof deck has an amazing view of San Miguel and especially its church. The hotel occasionally uses this roof deck for evening cocktail parties when the suite is unoccupied – but if it's empty, any guest can unofficially take in the view from the deck, something that's especially nice to do at night when the stars compete with the lights of the town.
A caution for the noise sensitive: these mansions are right in the thick of where people actually live – a school is not far away and if you relax in your private plunge pool, during the week you can hear the sounds of vigorous school yard play – so this is place that tends more towards immersion than isolation, if immersion can be said to happen all in a plunge pool on a private patio.
Casa de Sierra Nevada offers two worth distractions from strolling San Miguel's streets: one is its cooking school, Sazon. The classes here are demonstration style, with sophisticated use of cameras, monitors and mirrors -- usually focusing on Mexican regional food – with lots of sampling but little hands-on cooking for students. The hotel's Laja Spa is small (three treatment rooms) and simple, but also comprehensive. There are basic treatments, but I especially like the creativity of a menu that includes the "Heroes Healing Poultice", which is a massage with a steamed cotton bag filled with local herbs.