By: Kendall Louis
In the geographical and historic heartland of Mexico lies San Miguel de Allende, a magical landscape with a local scene full of year-round festivals, fireworks and parades. This enchanting world consists of magnificent 17th-century mansions, picturesque churches, elegant courtyards and lavish gardens preserving Mexico’s rich colonial history and earning this Spanish Colonial city a UNESCO World Heritage designation in 2008.
San Miguel’s meandering cobblestone streets, invoke thoughts of Europe, and are lined with craft shops, fashionable boutiques, unique art galleries and charming restaurants. It’s a year-round destination famous for its mild climate and more than 320 days of sunshine. But what makes San Miguel truly magical is its unique combination of artistic residents, colonial history and stunning landscape that creates an Old-World ambiance unmatched in Mexico.
Espinosa Statue, San Felipe Church, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Often referred to as “Frida’s Hideaway,” Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera spent much time there, and by the 1930s San Miguel became known as an artists’ colony. Today the town boasts an endless supply of art galleries and museums, the best of which can be found within a 15-minute walk of the town center. Moreover, scores of local art schools offer courses in painting, drawing, sculpting, weaving, jewelry, photography and ceramics from beginner to advanced levels.
San Miguel has also become a mecca for a host of other creative types, as well as an assortment of American and Canadian expats coming to escape the winters or altogether retire. Many believe this large population of foreigners helps give the town its unique collection of eclectic shops and exceptional eateries. From street food to gourmet restaurants that use fresh, locally sourced ingredients, eating well in San Miguel is a way of life. Dining options are extensive, and thanks to the weather, many of San Miguel’s restaurants and bars offer rooftop dining.
The town’s creative vibe extends to culinary arts with several cooking schools serving up Mexican culture and history alongside the study of food and cooking styles informed by the local markets. Even learning to speak Spanish is simple in San Miguel, where several language schools like The Warren Hardy School, the well-known Instituto Allende and the total immersion curriculum of Academia Hispano Americana offer Spanish language learners a wealth of experience. San Miguel also offers many cultural events, including lectures, house tours, concerts, theatrical productions and a calendar of seemingly daily festivals and celebrations.
Located in Mexico’s central highlands, San Miguel is a high desert town that embraces the spectacle of its surrounding mountains. Beyond the creative pursuits in town, visitors can choose from a wealth of outdoor activities and plenty of daytrips to nearby farmlands, river valleys and archeological sites. Some of the best daytrips from San Miguel include the six-mile trip to the village of Atotonilco and the natural hot springs of La Gruta.
Many of the expat residents of San Miguel have bought and restored some of the town’s most impressive old mansions to their original beauty. However, the most extraordinary architectural contributions of this kind came from Fort Worth natives Martha and Elton Hyder, who, beginning in 1959, built the iconic San Miguel Hacienda known as Hyder House.
Casa Hyder is a nearly 14,000-square-foot colonial home. Starting with a small structure that originally housed a machine shop, the Hyders’ multi-year project morphed into an elaborate complex of great rooms, libraries, patios, magnificent stairways, numerous plazas, stone arches, hand-forged ironwork and beautiful balconies.
Inside, Casa Hyder is filled with 17th-century collectables and artwork displaying Martha’s peculiar sense of design, which joins Mexican folk art and Indian and Afghan textiles with 17th-century Spanish and Italian furnishings. There are 11 uniquely decorated bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, as well as three kitchens and three dining venues that include the main dining room, the pool loggia and the upper terrace. And while this might seem overwhelming, the house was designed to maintain a sense of privacy for all guests. Still, Casa Hyder is well-equipped for gatherings of any size and offers a picturesque setting for weddings, anniversaries and birthdays.
Outside, the estate is awash with lively flora in sprawling manicured gardens populated by verdant ivy, bougainvillea, climbing roses, mesquite trees, purple-blooming jacarandas, trumpet vines and rows of cypress trees. Meanwhile, a sizeable tiled pool, surrounded by stone gargoyles and tons of outdoor lounging spaces, offers guests a place to relax.
It’s no wonder then that San Miguel de Allende is so popular with tourists. But don’t be mistaken; tourism has not altered the authenticity of this town or the experience it provides. San Miguel is unspoiled colonial Mexico at its finest, and a stay at Casa Hyder is unspoiled magic.
By: Kendall Louis