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Sunday December 17 2017
San Miguel de Allende Celebrates
Judy Newell - 2010

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This year Mexico commemorates the bicentennial of the War of Independence from Spain in 1810 and the Mexican Revolution a hundred years later. It seems as though the whole country is festooned in red, white and green, the colors of the Mexican flag mariachis are buffing their brass to honor the revolutionaries who liberated their country and a cacophony of fireworks lights the skies.

No where are celebrations more exuberant than in the Bajio – the cradle of the revolution. San Miguel de Allende throws in added zest with its annual Fiesta de San Miguel, September 17 to October 3, in honor of the city's patron Saint Michael Archangel.

A popular stop on the Silver Route between Mexico City and Zacatecas, the old San Miguel de Grande always had money – and the elegant Spanish-colonial mansions that accompanied it.

Founded in 1542 by Fray Juan de San Miguel, it was home to several heroes of Mexican Independence. Road signs around San Miguel read “Ruta 2010”, referring to the fact that the route of Mexician independence passed through San Miguel de Grande, as it was called at that time. After the death of native-born son and independence leader Ignacio Allende, the town changed its name to San Miguel de Allende.

Today, San Miguel is a perfectly preserved Colonial city of 130,000 people. With a shady and peaceful Jardín, or central plaza, lovely churches, and a fiesta every week (it seems), it is reminiscent of old Mexico graceful, gentile, and urbane.

It's a tourist destination, artist colony and retirement community for about 8,000 mostly American expatriates and many well-to-do Mexican families who have rediscovered it as a peaceful retreat from the big cities.

“I can’t think of anything I don’t like about living in San Miguel,” said artist and retiree Beverly Moor who has lived here for five years. “I feel totally safe here as a woman living alone and I came from Lake Forest in Chicago, which is one of the safest communities in the States.”

She loves that the town has retained its colonial architecture, flower-filled patios and winding cobblestone streets. “There are no traffic lights and no neon signs to mar the ambience. And the tourism police mounted on horseback are beloved by everyone.”

Stopping often to give directions and pose for photographs, the colorfully dressed riders wear replicas of the uniforms of the “Dragones de la Reina” from 1795.

But San Miguel is not just a destination for the silver-haired. More and more, younger families are moving here. Melissa Hirsch, formerly an attorney in Odessa, Texas, lives here with her 14-year-old daughter Claire.

“We moved here because I wanted my daughter to experience a more diverse culture and become truly bilingual,” she said. “I was looking for better schools than those in the public school system of Texas. Educationally, she is so far ahead of her friends from the States.

“Friends from New York City told me the private school that their daughter attended there cost $30,000 a year. They feel that the private school that she’s attends in San Miguel is just as good and it costs $400 a month.

“The thing that I enjoy most about living here is that everything that I like to do is within walking distance of my home – professional concerts, theatre, art galleries – and there’s a duplicate bridge club here with players from all over the world. Bridge is a universal language!”

The focal point of San Miguel is the Jardín. The small park rests in the shadow of the massive church, La Parroquia, and locals start their day reading newspapers on park benches. San Miguel is justifiably famous for its friendliness and the Jardín is a perfect place to converse with residents and visitors.

The streets around the Jardín teem with restaurants and shops. Food-wise, Mexican specialties and international cuisine are excellent, with prices for every budget. If you stayed in San Miguel for months, you could eat in a different restaurant daily.

San Miguel de Allende is renowned as a community of artists, writers, musicians and theatre people. You can study fine arts or Spanish at the Institute Allende. Bellas Artes caters to those with musical and dance interests. Established authors give weekly book-readings and there’s always another gallery opening, concert or theatrical perfomance. The athletic golf at a nine-hole course, play tennis and horseback ride through the mountains.

Several international travel publications have ranked San Miguel in the top ten most desired cities in the world to retire. Residents of San Miguel enjoy both a luxurious lifestyle and an affordable cost of living. Real estate taxes run about 10 percent of what they do in the States and living expenses are often half or less.

And no amount of growth can change the appealing climate: at around 6,300 feet, San Miguel has temperatures in the 60s and 70s pretty much year-round and a full day without sunshine is rare.

San Miguel de Allende was declared a National Monument in 1926. In July 2008, it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, joining the ranks of such distinguished locations as Venice, Florence, Salzburg and Prague as one of the most historically and culturally significant cities in the world.

The city plays host to world-famous events such as the Chamber Music Festival and the San Miguel Jazz Festival, both of which feature international artists. The Biblioteca, or library, has the second largest collection of English-language books in Mexico and its café is a favorite hangout for locals.

The abundance of schools, associations, artistic endeavours and charities gives everyone a chance to participate in the community. Life in San Miguel is celebrated not just with fiestas, but also with charitable contributions and hands-on work to benefit the needy.
The San Miguel Community Foundation was founded by expats more than 30 years ago to offer donors a way to make contributions to the more than 60 charities listed on their website. Today the foundation makes grants available two times a year to needy Mexican charities and channels direct contributions from donors wishing to support an individual San Miguel charity. On the website, a quote by Norman MacEwen sums up the philosophy of the foundation: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Beauty, culture and generosity. The warmth of San Miguel de Allende surrounds and envelopes all who visit or live here.


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