May 23, 2005

A Special Thank You to The New York Times

GEE, THANKS, GUYS. Thanks for putting one of my favorite vacation/relaxation spots right there in the Sunday travel section. That's just great. Now everyone's going to want to visit San Miguel de Allende and I will be priced out from visiting on my own.

But one of the advantages of having been to a place mentioned in The New York Times travel section is that I can fisk -- I mean, critique -- the writer's version of events. Consider how the Times article begins:

WHY GO NOW: The jacaranda trees are blooming, and so too is this 16th-century colonial town, thanks to an ambitious renewal effort that is halfway through its two-year run. Every building along the narrow cobblestone streets has been repainted in the colors of a desert sunset: ocher and sienna, deep orange and clay red. The government is restoring churches and theaters, rebuilding plazas and illuminating the arches of the plaza and the ornate spires of the main church with Disneylandlike brightness.

This is all well and good, but unfortunately, writer James C. McKinley Jr. has neglected to mention a few minor points -- such as the fact that seemingly random street reconstruction work is also going on (or at least it was, when I was visiting).

Not that it's a big deal -- it's really not -- but I just wanted to point it out. Oh, and that reminds me -- cobblestones may look pretty, and may be historic, but God -- there's something to be said for nice, level streets with nice, level pavement.

But I quibble, and unjustly so.

A real complaint with Mr McKinley's essay might have to do with the fact that it was published in May. During the days, San Miguel can get frickin' hot during late spring, even at an elevation of 7,000 feet. The combination of "really hot weather" and "oxygen deprivation" means one might want not to just jaunt down to San Miguel for the weekend. If you're going to stay, give it some time.

By the by, the Times mentions several hotels in San Miguel, but don't rule out renting a house either. It's not as crazy as it sounds and it can be a pretty amazing experience in itself. Obviously, one can't just rent a house on the fly, but with planning it can be really cool -- and perhaps a good deal cheaper than many of the hotels which the Times mentions. (That said, should a Loyal Rant Reader decide to rent out Casa Carino please invite me along for the party).

Anyway! Back to it. The Times continues:

WHERE TO EAT: Yes, it's expensive - especially for Mexico - but one night should be devoted to La Capilla, (7) Cuna de Allende 10, (52-415) 152-0698, which serves innovative seafood and poultry dishes on a terrace that used to be part of the Parroquia church. The chefs create sauces with mango and other exotic fruits, cheeses and local spices, making even red snapper an adventure. A three-course meal for two runs $150 to $200. The music from the schmaltzy piano bar leaves something to be desired.

Note to husbands, boyfriends, etc.: Mr McKinley is right that one night during one's trip ought be devoted to La Capilla. That would be because:

* the Parroquia, the main church in San Miguel, WHICH IS amazing, is lit up and breathtakingly beautiful;

* from La Capilla's terrace, you WILL have the best dining view of the lit-up Parroquia in all its glory, and --

* if you take your date to La Capilla, and throw down 2,000+ pesos on the three-course meal, you are virtually guaranteed to make wild and passionate love later that night.

Sadly, I was single on my trip -- but I can assure you the view is THAT amazing. So make sure you sit upstairs, out on the terrace. Also, make sure you go on a night when the Parroquia is lit up!

After all, why d'you think you're paying 2,000+ pesos? It's true the food is very good, but when I was there, it was just that -- very good, but not amazingly so. It was not of the oh-my-God-do-you-remember-that-meal variety, so I think Mr McKinley was a wee bit too generous.

That said, for amazingly good food, go to Nirvana. I am not generally a fan of fusion cuisine, but Nirvana won me over. Nirvana served up meals one remembers.

The Times man was right on, though, about Bugumbilia -- it had the best traditional Mexican food ever. He also had this useful advice:

HOW TO GET THERE: The closest international airport is about 66 miles away, near Guanajuato. ... Several van services at the airport will take you to San Miguel for about $70, among them Reyna Polanco Tours, (52-415) 152-4193, Julian Cartas, (52-415)152-0079, or Rafael Tovar, (52-415) 152-7196.

Tip well. Tip especially well if one is traveling with another gringo, and one mistakenly takes the other gringo's bag, and one thus causes Jorge to drive all the way back across town to make the switch. But do enjoy the drive between Guanajuato/Leon and San Miguel -- it is pretty country and it should set you on the path to relaxation -- which is, of course, the main reason to visit San Miguel de Allende.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at May 23, 2005 10:13 PM | TrackBack

San Miguel is definitely a magical place. Your write up captures the experience of traveling there very nicely. No question about it Nirvana is the top restaurant in town. Let's hope that the Times article doesn't attract too many additional visitors as I would hate to see San Miguel change too quickly and grow too big.

Posted by: Swammi in Solon at May 24, 2005 08:59 AM

Make sure to have lunch in the Mercado next time you're there. You're missing out if you don't! And'll leave you with something to remember!

Posted by: Jesse at May 25, 2005 12:00 AM