History of San Miguel de Allende

    San Miguel de Allende started with a bang. A big one. Around 12,000 years ago the Palo Huerfano volcano erupted creating a range of mountains to the south called the Picachos, and that cool crack you can see running along the top of the city. If you satellite image the area you can actually view the crater.

About a thousand years ago, the inhabitants here were a group known as the Chichimeca. They lived along the Picachos; an offshoot of these people, the Otomi, lived on the other side of the crack.

    These were mostly semi-nomadic tribes in the area. It was a pretty peaceful existence until Spain colonized the country and found silver about 300 miles from here. Soldiers started coming and tried to force the Indians to mine and work the infrastructure. This proved to be a violent challenge. To secure the route for transporting all that stolen silver, the Spanish took high-ground routes from Zacatecas, Real de Catorce, through here, all the way to Vera Cruz where they could load it on homebound ships. San Miguel el Grande, as it would come to be known provided a safe haven for these silver trains. The street Mesones today recalls the time that it was the street of guest houses and inns – ‘mesones’ for the travellers.

    These caravans were constantly attacked, and the conquistadors constantly ruined local settlements. The bloodshed was unceasing, and soon the invaders chose to change tactics. They strove to win the hearts and minds of the locals instead. So enter the priests.

    Fray Juan San Miguel established a chapel on a river near here in 1542. He named it for his patron saint St. Michael the Archangel. The river, however, had this annoying habit of not having any water in it. The legend is that the residents found dogs drinking at a natural water geyser called  El Chorro today. The priest moved his settlement to the place the Otomi called Escuinapan – ‘thirsty dogs.’

    After a bloody fight in which the new village was burned down by the Chichimecas, the Spanished placed a garrison here, and established San Miguel el Grande in 1555. The silver came through for centuries. Wealthy silver barons built enormous mansions and haciendas all throughout the state.

    At the beginning of the 1800s Spain began to lose its grip domestically, and especially as a world empire. The time was right for revolt, and right here in San Miguel de Allende, it all went down. Read about that here.

    Ignacio Allende, from here, was one of the leaders of the War for Independence, and he  paid the ultimate price. After the fight, Mexican government leaders were concerned about all the power and wealth the Catholic Church still had. In an attempt to encourage patriotic feelings some religious-named towns got heroes added to their names. For example Dolores, which is a reference to the Blessed Virgin, got the hero Hidalgo added to it – today it is Dolores Hidalgo, and San Miguel el Grande got changed to San Miguel de Allende.

     Despite the conflict between Church and state, it was in the 1880s when one of the greatest churches in Mexico was created. Architect Zeferino Gutierrez designed an entire new facade for the main parish cathedral, which had been standing in various states of repair for 200 years. The word for ‘parish’ is parroquia and the grand church  was created. The style is not just Baroque and Gothic mixed – it was Gutierrez’s idea of those styles. Some quibble today how the church doesn’t really go with the Colonial architecture around it, but there is no doubt that it is the very stunning symbol of San Miguel de Allende.

    Throughout the 19th Century San Miguel subsisted on the great local farmlands and textiles. The most beautiful zarapes, a kind of woven cape, were created here. At one point there were over 350 looms operating. These gorgeous creations were proffered as luxurious gifts for such luminaries as Maximilian and Pope Pius IX. The weaving industry remained here through the 1940s.

    As the silver mines got depleted many towns in Central Mexico started to die out. For example an awesome side-trip from here is to visit the former silver-mining giant Real de Catorce. Ttoday it is surrounded by ghost towns. In 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic nearly wiped out the population of the town.

    San Miguel de Allende started to decline. In an ironic twist, American ex-pats, normally seen as corrupters of local cultures, helped save the city. After World War II the American government created the GI Bill which paid for any veteran’s college expenses. Stirling Dickinson, wealthy adventurer, author, intelligence officer, came to San Miguel and helped to establish The School of Fine Arts – Bellas Artes here.

    The school brought in famous muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Ex-soldiers found they could collect their GI Bill money while learning to paint in inexpensive San Miguel. Many, many came down, and San Miguel de Allende gained a reputation for being an artist colony. Siqueiros went on to become an outspoken political activist. His disturbing and powerful murals can still be viewed at the Bellas Artes.

    By the 1960s San Miguel de Allende attained an almost mythical reputation across the border. Hidden in the Mexican mountains, provocative stories of peyote and pulque emanating out, stress-free lifestyle – painters, photographers, writers, all forms of left-brainers seemingly wandered in.

    Included in this convergence of artistas was Neal Cassady, intriguing member of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters – the legendary acid-dropping, bus driving wandering hippies. Cassady loved San Miguel, lived near the Centro, and would party at the legendary Cucaracha Bar. The bar has since moved, but it used to be on the Jardin.

    A figure who was characterized by many writers including Hunter Thompson, Jack Kerouac, a few Grateful Dead songs,  Cassady would drink at the Cucaracha with other lights, among them Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Sadly, Cassady was found passed out at the train station near town early one morning, and later died of drug and alcohol overdose.

    In the past 50 years, more and more people have discovered San Miguel de Allende. Like many other special places – New Orleans, Austin, San Francisco leap to  mind – San Miguel is walking a tightrope between cultural vibrancy and gentrification. The outskirts are filling with fraccionamentos – subdivisions – traffic on the perimeter is growing, food and coffee chains are starting to appear, and the innocence of even twenty years ago seems to be going.

    At the same time, there is an amazing diversity of activities, food, healthy options and special experiences like few other places offer. Beyond that, the Mexican government is extremely jealous and strict about preservation. The Centro is judiciously manicured and maintains its stunning and joyful character. It is still possible to savor the passion and aesthetic joy here.

    San Miguel de Allende, a jewel in the center of a great nation.

Vinicola Toyan

Toyan might change your life. Vino por Vino is not only proud, but we get thrilled knowing the finale to our amazing wine tour comes to this wonder of the wine world.

Surrounded by fruit trees and statues of gargoyles, nuns and monks, Vinicola Toyan has the feeling of an ancient abandoned monastery. The tour constantly unfolds surprising joys – an old chapel that is now a theatre, a replica of a 19th century Mexican kitchen where we have an organic,onsite-produced lunch, even the fact that the vineyard is run almost exclusively by women – and many other details we don’t want to spoil here.

The culmination of the tour is actually the bottom of a 14 meter cavern where the temperature stays constant for the aging wine there. The stunning walk down illuminates with mystic blue light, and an army of stone monks guard the way each in its own niche.

 Our tasting takes place in another blue-lit throne room, all stone and something right out of a fantasy story. We don’t accept commissions so if you are interested in purchasing from their rich selection of wine, you’ll be getting the best price. And don’t worry about carting all that wine back on the plane – Toyan can ship back to your home.

Some things are so exquisite, it just isn’t worth it to describe – so we will leave it at that.

El Correo Restaurant

Correa means ‘post office’ and that works out, cuz this comfy place is right across the street from the Post Office.

More importantly this fabulous restaurant combines traditional Mexican food, good prices and a joyful ambience. It feels as if you are sitting in some classic Mexican living room. Dainty artwork surrounds you.

The menu is straight up traditional Mexican offerings – sopes, enchiladas Suizaschilaquiles, great soups, generous portions. They also have a full bar.

In addition to its central location, business casual vibe, and attentive staff – the prices are great! It is a popular place so try to come before or after the lunch/dinner rush. 

Zumo Restaurant

“Zumo” means ‘juice’ but it also kinda sorta means “zest,” and this magnificent venue has a zest for the exquisite. The architecture, the view, the drinks, and especially the food all make Zumo a premier dining experience.

Chef Alejandro Zuno looks barely old enough to be a busser, yet he ranks as one of the top chefs in a town of great chefs. A member of Slow Food movement, and himself a producer of organic foods, Chef Zuno uses responsible, locally-sourced ingredients. And his well-balanced menu hits an astounding number of lovely notes.

His Achiote Miso Marinated Sea Bass with Cilantro Chard Cream Sauce, Sticky Rice & Sauteed Zucchini sounds like a poem. A touch of France, a touch of Japan, a touch of Pacific Coast and all parts of Mexico influence the table here.

It also must be mentioned that the mixologist at the bar is a master as well producing intriguing concoctions – Carajillo and Amore & Muerte (Love and Death) – among many others. Zumo has a pretty impressive array of wines.

Dos Buhos

The peaceful, rustic Dos Buhos, Two Owls, vineyard sits not too far from San Miguel de Allende, and is an excellent respite for wine lovers and those that want to enjoy the Mexican countryside.

The farm itself started fifty years ago, but in 2005 they dedicated themselves to organic, self-sustaining wine. Because of the composition of the soil – clay and volcanic stone, and the elevation of over 6,200 feet, Dos Buhos has the luxury of producing 10 different varietals.

Vino por Vino has chosen to include Dos Buhos because of its charm, tranquility and their dedication to responsible excellent wine.

We tour the weathered workspaces that now produce wine, past a quaint country bunkhouse that is available as a BnB, into old bodegas where the modern machinery lives. Sometimes we even see the two owls!

The finale occurs in a aged storehouse filled with art, including many large originals from San Miguel legend Peter Leventhal. Here we taste some of their finer vintages along with a cheese plate. If you choose to buy a bottle or a case, they can ship it back to your home.

Dos Buhos, one of the reasons your tour with us will be unforgettable.

Vino por Vino * San Miguel de Allende
(US) 504-376-9963 * tours@vinoporvino.com

Elegant Dining in San Miguel de Allende

Now that SMA is the best city in the world you just know many Playahs are going to come to town. If you want to blow it all out on an elegant evening of dining, sipping and just being awesome; or you just want to savor some of the best culinary experiences in the world – it’s all here. 

COMING SOON

The Restaurant, Zumo, Aperi, Moxi, Antonia, 1826, L’Escargot

Zumo

Traditional Mexican Restaurants

These places are humble, usually with no sign except someone’s name – “Gordita’s Dona Maria” – and a scrawled menu. So let’s talk about those menus – sometimes you’ll find no menu, but a row of earthenware pots (cazuelas), and you pick up the cover as the lady behind the table tells you what it is.

 Pro Tip: Mexicans have separate words for hot temperature and hot spicy food – caliente means temperature hot – picante or picoso is spicy. 

What they are offering are called guisados, kinda stews. And normally they will prepare you an open-face thick tortilla with that delicious stuff spooned on top. Sometimes they’re served on a long, narrow tortilla which they call huarache cuz it looks like the bottom of a sandal.

     There are countless guisados, if you discover one you love tell us about it. Here are some common offerings:

Albondigas – Small meatballs in a mild chili sauce.

Bistec en pasilla – Steak chopped and simmered in a chili sauce. This can be a little spicy.

Champinones – Mushrooms. Served in various styles.

Chicharron – Pork rinds served in a casserole of tomatoes, chilies, garlic and onion. 

Chorizo con papa – Mildly spicy red pork sausage. Mexican chorizo is different from the Spanish sausage that shares its name. Often served in a guisado with potatoes.

Deshebrada – Shredded, marinated, slow-cooked beef, the Mexican version of ropa vieja.

Guacamole – Finally! Something you recognize. If you are a spicy-phobic (you should be ashamed); check they didn’t chop up some fresh jalapeno in there. Jalapenos are way hotter when they are fresh and not pickled.

Huevos – Scrambled eggs with tomato, garlic and onion. Sometimes chopped up hot dogs. Umm, yeah.

Huitlacoche – A delicious grey/black/purple fungus that grows on corn. It is often prepared as a casserole with onions, garlic, chili and corn kernels.

Nopales – Cactus. This veggie looks and feels like stewed green pepper, but the flavor is milder. Usually stewed with onions, garlic and tomatoes. Nopal is an excellent anti-cancer agent.

Picadillo – Ground beef with potatoes and carrots sometimes with tomatoes – kind of like a fine-textured hash

Pollo con Mole – Chicken in mole sauce – moles are the curries of Mexico – as some moles have more than 20 ingredients, there are numerous versions. If it is almost black, that is the famous mole poblano that uses unsweet chocolate in the mix.

Rajas de chili poblano – Rajas is a special spelling of the word for strips, so when you see this it’ll be sliced strips of something. Here it is the wide, not-too-spicy chili you may have seen stuffed (relleno). They simmer the strips of the pepper in a creamy cheese sauce with corn.

Salchicha – Hot dogs are an honored member of the Mexican table. Often the guisado will be a casserole of chopped hot dogs and potatoes, chilies, or other ingredients.

Salsas – The steak or chicken or other things sometimes will be con Salsa – with salsa – these are the two colors.

Salsa Roja – Red sauce. Some form of chili serrano, tomatoes, garlic and stuff. There are as many versions as grandmas in Mexico. And the color does not indicate how spicy or not it is. Ask for a taste first. 

Salsa Verde – Green sauce. Some form of tomatillos, lime, chilies, garlic and stuff. There are as many versions as grandmas in Mexico. And the color does not indicate how spicy or not it is. Ask for a taste first.