With its cobblestoned streets, colorful 16th- and 17th-century houses, neo-Gothic churches, and hilly terrain, it's no wonder San Miguel de Allende has been luring artists and writers since the 1940's. In recent years, an infusion of new B&B's, stylish restaurants, and boutiques has given this colonial town a more modern vibe. Fashionistas, be forewarned: some of the streets are steep, so leave those Manolo heels at home.
Casa de Sierra Nevada (46 Hospicio, Santa Elena; 52-415/152-0415; www.casadesierranevada.com; doubles from $216) is the closest San Miguel gets to a Four Seasons. It's very formal (overstuffed couches and chairs, canopy beds, antiques), and the landscaped lawns are dotted with pecan and peach trees. Of the 33 guest rooms, three are suites with wood-burning fireplaces. • A few minutes from the center of town, Casa Quetzal (34 Hospicio; 52-415/152-0501; www.casaquetzalhotel.com; doubles from $150) is marked only by ornately carved wooden doors, providing discretion for boldfaced names. Pacifica, with its private terrace and whirlpool tub, is by far the best of the five one- and two-bedroom suites—and worth the splurge ($265). • Once the home of Diego Rivera's daughter, Casa Rosada Hotel (12 Cuna de Allende; 52-415/152-0382; www.casarosadahotel.com; doubles from $150) is now a 17-room boutique property with a lively bar. Rooms are minimally furnished with iron beds, Jean-Michel Frank-style sofas, and Moroccan touches; the building is terraced around a garden of succulents. • Casa de la Cuesta (32 Cuesta de San José; 52-415/154-4324; www.casadelacuesta.com; doubles from $120) is a magical place with two courtyards, two house dogs, many chirping birds, and six rooms decorated with bright Mexican folk art. (Owners Bill and Heidi LeVasseur are also folk-art dealers who represent Mexican artists.) If you're lucky, Bill will fire up the pizza oven and give a quick dough-rolling lesson. • Built in 1966 as a winter residence for Westport, Connecticut, expats Charles and Gladys Schuck, Casa Schuck (3 Bajada de Garita; 52-415/152-0657; www.casaschuck.com; doubles from $130) is San Miguel's oldest bed-and-breakfast. All six rooms have 12-foot-high beamed ceilings, fireplaces, and hand-carved French doors that open onto a central courtyard lush with geraniums, climbing bougainvillea, and jacaranda trees. There's also a small pool, as well as a sundeck with city and mountain views. • BEST VALUE At the Villa Scorpio (93 Quebrada; 52-415/152-7575; www.villascorpio.com; doubles from $100), owners Nick Power and Penelope Haskew pay attention to the small details: sexy-yet-functional mosquito netting over the beds, down com-forters. The villa—close to the center of town—has six rooms, three gardens, and a terrace on the roof with a whirlpool and private massage room. • Rooms at the year-old Casa Calderoni (4 Callejón del Pueblito; 52-415/154-6005; www.casacalderoni.com; doubles from $95; no children under 12) are named after artists (Frida Kahlo, Paul Gauguin) and decorated with reproductions of their work. It's a little hokey, but guests love the rooms for the feather beds and other understated comforts. There's e-mail access downstairs, and a rooftop terrace with unparalleled city views.
The food at Bugambilia (42 Hidalgo; 52-415/152-0127; dinner for two $50) is traditional Mexican cooking prepared with age-old recipes—but prices are expensive for San Miguel. Try the house special, chiles en nogada fríos: two marinated poblano chiles stuffed with ground beef, almonds, pecans, raisins, and other dried fruit, topped with a cream sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. It's the official national dish, because it features the colors of the Mexican flag—red, white, and green. • Chamonix (17A Sollano; 52-415/154-8363; dinner for two $42) is the baby of Swiss-trained chef Allen Williams, who speaks English, French, and Spanish and serves food that is anything but Mexican. Appetizers include Vietnamese spring rolls, lettuce wraps, and jasmine rice. The menu changes daily, but there's always a wide selection of pastas and fresh fish. • El Correo (23 Correo; 52-415/152-0151; breakfast for two $9) is the place for a traditional Mexican breakfast, from huevos rancheros to chilaquiles. Those who prefer American fare can order pancakes, French toast, or incredibly fresh fruit salad. • Rincón de Don Tomás (2 Portal de Guadalupe; 52-415/152-3780; lunch for two $30), right on the Jardín, is where locals flock for carne de puerco con chile rallado (pork ribs with grated chiles) and enchiladas served three ways.
Gucci and Prada have yet to make their way to San Miguel, but Duo Duo (3 Pila Seca; 52-415/152-6211) is the best-edited clothing store in town. Here, alongside fashionable hats and guayaberas made from vintage textiles, are unusual kitchen utensils, embroidered hand towels, and Mexican oilcloth bags. • Clandestino (19 Zacateros; 52-415/152-1623) has a little of everything: textiles, jewelry, and groovy home furnishings (antique beds, tables, chests from China). • Casa Maxwell (14 Canal; 52-415/152-0247) specializes in refined Mexican crafts, including dinnerware, decorative accessories, and textiles. • Casas Coloniales (36 Canal; 52-415/152-0286) is a favorite with both local and U.S. interior designers. The furniture is Louis XV-style with a Mexican twist—woven rugs hang on the walls like tapestries amid huge, multicolored tassels. • For equally sophisticated ceramics, there is only one spot: Arcilla (5A Recreo; 52-415/152-6417). Some items are influenced by Japanese minimalism and devoid of ornamentation; others are over-the-top surrealist visions. • Hand-embroidered linens are the draw at Alfonsina (36 Hidalgo; 52-415/152-1429), which also has graceful children's clothing (including First Communion attire) and espadrilles. • El Nuevo Mundo (17 San Francisco; 52-415/152-6180) is the source for inexpensive, kitschy Mexican gifts such as tarot cards, worry dolls, maracas, woven wire bowls, papier-mâché dolls, and Day of the Dead wooden skeletons. • At David (53 Zacateros; 52-415/152-0056), you'll find silver jewelry set with turquoise or black onyx; prices are negotiable if you're paying cash. • Flea-market aficionados will want to haggle over silver, ceramic, and leather goods at the three-block-long Mercado de Artesanías (open daily 9 a.m.-8 p.m.). The main entrance is behind the Ignacio Ramírez market by the Plaza Cívica. • The best—and most affordable—antiques store in town is Casa Reyna (Salida a Celaya; 52-415/152-3747), packed from floor to ceiling with massive crystal chandeliers, wood furniture, old wrought-iron hardware, spurs, ceramics, and glass. • Cantadora Antigüedades (8 Recreo; 52-415/152-6444), though more expensive, has forties furniture and hard-to-find decorative items, including lacquered boxes and chrome bar carts.
Harry Bissett's New Orleans Café (12 Hidalgo; 52-415/152-2645) is the place to bring someone you want to impress. The décor is elegant, with bottles lined up on wood shelves; the bartenders use a rolling ladder to take down out-of-reach scotches. There's a great selection of wines by the glass ($3-$5) from Chile, Italy, France, and Mexico, plus finger food like popcorn shrimp. Best drink: Huracán (white and dark rums, four fruit juices, and grenadine). • On any given night, Spanish, English, French, and German chatter fills the two dark rooms at Le Petit Bar at El Market Bistro (95 Hernández Macías; 52-415/152-3229). One room resembles a wine cellar; the other is a veritable homage to Duchamp (sconces are made of inverted urinals). Best drink: a shot of Don Julio tequila with a sangrita chaser. • Electro Pulque Lounge (Jesús and Cuadrante; no phone) is an eclectic, seventies-inspired, incense-infused space furnished with found objects and secondhand furniture. Best drink: pulque, an ancient Mexican liquor—reputedly an aphrodisiac and energy booster—made from fermented aguamiel, the juice of the agave plant.
Rima Suqi is Best Bets editor at New York.