This colonial city on a hillside in the highlands of central Mexico has been bewitching its visitors so that they find themselves returning again and again.

On the narrow cobblestoned streets of San Miguel de Allende, the constantly changing light from the vast open skies of the high desert cause dramatic conversions on the exteriors of the 16th-19th century houses. Midday’s straw walls arm to apricot as the sunlight recedes, shades of clay are abruptly washed in pomegranate, and fading indigo suddenly seems as rich as fresh-crushed berries. At night, the soft pink cantera stone of La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel is lit to a nacreous glow, and the church’s faux-gothic spires seem to pierce a ceiling of stars. San Miguel is a city of churches. Church bells wake the sleeping, and softly toll the pre-dawn hours for the restless.

Every door, every façade in San Miguel has some detail that draws the gaze. Around each corner, there seems to be another tiled fountain, another courtyard to peer into. With so much to see, long time residents still tumble occasionally when their eyes light on some unnoticed detail.

Here in the city with more fiestas than any other in Mexico, a mix of pre-Colombian gods, Catholic saints and heroes of the revolution join in the fatalistic humor and wild hope that characterizes Mexican art.


The expats who started arriving here in the 1930’s started turning the city’s crumbling colonial hoses into shrines of Mexican art and culture. The distinct local style is a mix of dark colonial religious art and antique or reproduction furniture, set in sun-washed courtyards enlivened by hand-painted tiles and wrought iron. The somber religious aesthetic is balanced with the raucous, colorful and painstakingly detailed work of Mexican folk artists, from ceramics to textiles to papier-mache skeletons for the Day of the Dead.

San Miguel feels Mexican to the core, but with more than a passing resemblance to Andulusian cites like Cordoba, where exterior walls secure a rich interior life based around bright flower-filled courtyards.

San Miguel was founded in the mid-16th century by a Spanish friar, and had its days of great wealth as a way station on the road between Mexico City and the silver mines of Zacatecas. It was the first town conquered in the revolution against Spain, with the name Allende honoring a native son slain in that conflict. Most of its Moorish-influenced architecture and the churriguerresque fascades of its churches still stand.

Naturally, the city has filled with shops selling antiques and art by some of Mexico’s foremost folk artists, as well as with galleries showing contemporary work. It’s possible to locate just about anything anyone would want right in San Miguel. Weekenders from Mexico City have magnificent houses in San Miguel, and the city is full of the unique dwellings of artists.

One of the showplaces in San Miguel is Casa Alhambra.  The architect got his masters in Madrid in historical renovation.  Even though the home is only 6 years old, it has the appearance of being hundreds of years old with all its stone and cantera and arches.  All the furnishings were custom made by a well-known designer for the home and it is worthy of even royal taste.  Yet, being newer (new plumbing, wiring, water purification system, etc.) it has the over-sized bedrooms that Gringos has learned to love.  So it is an exquisetly done combination of old and new – something that is very hard to find in San Miguel – and which makes Casa Alhambra unique and very special.