A short drive out of San Miguel took us to La Gruta Mineral Hot Springs. Three large pools, with additional smaller ones for children, are filled with natural hot springs water for a muscle relaxing, therapeutic soak under trees in the lush gardens of San Miguel. You can lounge by the pools, or for those more adventurous, swim through the tunnel into the circular cave to the warmest water in the complex. It was a great way to start the morning and ease the muscles after a couple of days of teetering on these heavily cobblestones streets.
It was a short drive to The Sanctuary of Jesus of Nazareth of Atotonilco, a Unesco World Heritage site church complex. It is known as the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico” because of its beautifully painted murals on the ceilings, main altar, and chapels. We were lucky to arrive at the church just in time to witness a wedding! The groom and his mother arrived first in a flower adorned, black carriage, pulled by black stallions, harnessed in festive silver. Next, the bride arrived under a lace parasol held by her father, in a white carriage pulled by two white horses. The sound of the church bells filled the air as they exited their carriages, bridesmaids fluffed the bridal gown, and all vanished into the historical church atop rose petals…such a romantic and beautiful site.
In the evenings, especially on the weekends, half the town seems to end up at Le Jardin (the garden), a square block plaza in the historic center of town, right beneath the shadows of the Parroquía San Miguel Arcángel church. Six different mariachi bands, completely decked out in their charro outfits, embellished with silver and metallic embroidery, we’re playing in their corners of the park, all playing different songs. Vendors were out in full force selling Mexican trinkets and flower halos, food vendors were hawking chili spiced roasted corn on the cob, donkey carts pulled ice cream carts. Tarot readers told your fortune. Wedding parties were celebrating beneath the church with more horse-drawn carriages and stretch limosines. Restaurants bordered the park on all sides, spilling tipsy tourists onto the scene. To say it was crazy and chaotic would definitely be an understatement! Now that’s how you spend a great evening in El Jardin.
So far, there haven’t been too many surprises when it comes to food, although I did have an amazing jicama taco, made with spicy, sauteed prawns, crispy leek threads, and two wonderful sauces drizzled over, with a squeeze of fresh lime, all wrapped in paper thin slice of jicama. Wow, what that was a brand new way to spin a taco.
Our day was spent in a cooking class, hosted by the main chef and pastry chef from a local hotel that offers cooking lessons every day.
Our group of ten girls, along with the chefs took a stroll to the fruit and vegetable market, about four blocks from our cooking center, where the street was lined with individual little stores, each selling their specialty…a butcher shop, a pastry vendor, a tortilla store, a spices place. One was going to need to make several stops for each menu item needed.
The fruits and vegetable market was under one big roof, with several open stalls lining both sides of an aisle. It was a good thing there were many of us so each person carried a few items. I can’t imagine shopping for your family, carrying it all, and having to walk back on these cobblestones, uphill, at this 6,000 foot altitude. I’d be too pooped to cook.
We had ten girls wrapped around a kitchen island, all furiously chopping onions, garlic, carrots, and zucchini, and peeling the dried chilies we purchased.
Walking the historical center of town gives you a feeling of stepping back in time to the colonial period with the buildings all being preserved as they were 250 years ago. With the city becoming a Unesco World Heritage Site, even greater restrictions and guidelines have been put in place to maintain the look of historic charm.
All the buildings are a warm glow of yellow, ochre, or orange, with ironwork and wood framing. If repairs are to be done to exteriors, 60% must remain original.
Don’t let this ramshackled look fool you though, because hidden behind these walls are beautiful courtyards, fancy restaurants and hotels, spas, and more eateries with live bands spilling music into the streets.
San Miguel is the home to more than 8,000 expatriates, and more than 500 artists. The city has many art schools which may explain why so many artists flock to this city. We visited the La Aurora Center for fabrics, art, painting, and design for an afternoon of painting. It was filled with galleries of amazing art… a very dangerous place for an art junkie like Elaine and myself. There were so many beautiful paintings there and we wanted many of them. San Miguel certainly is an enormous art and design community.
Day of the Dead is a national holiday in Mexico and there is plenty of art here to commemorate the passing of ones family members and friends who have passed on, to celebrate their lives and to support their spiritual journey. Once you understand the holiday, all these paintings of skulls become quite meaningful to keep loved ones in their hearts.
My good friend Elaine and I are traveling to the lovely city of San Miguel de Allende located in central Mexico. The main attraction of the town is its well-preserved historic center filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. It has become a destination which attracts artists and has become a cultural center. We are here for a painting, art, and cooking class, and walking tour of this historic city…right up my alley! We checked in, grabbed some tapas at a local restaurant, and took a late night stroll around the central square while the music from mariachi bands filled the air with the magic of the night. No doubt, tomorrow will be a day of surprises. I can’t wait to see this church in the daytime!!