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Friday, January 27, 2017

Europe Without The Long Flight

Has visiting parts of Europe been on your bucket list for years, but you can't pull the trigger because of the time it takes to get there and the length of trip needed to do it right? Maybe the overall cost of a European vacation has you unable to make the decision to give it a go.  Well I have some great news for you.

I have this little secret that I am about to share with you so let me have your undivided attention and listen closely.  What if I told you that you can see 16th Century architecture, pastel colored buildings similar to those on Italy's Amalfi Coast,  piazzas similar to those in Rome, and have the culinary experience that matches that of Barcelona or Paris, but you only have a 3 to 4 hour flight and half the budget you might think you need? Would you be in for that?  Who wouldn't, right?  But there are tons of travelers here in the US that ignore this hidden gem and opportunity every time they make their vacation plans simply because...its in Mexico.  That's right, Mexico!

Let me formally introduce you to one of my favorite travel destinations in the whole wide world...San Miguel de Allende.  San Miguel who you say? San Miguel de Allende.  This beauty of a city is located in the hill country in what I refer to as the central, lower half of Mexico.  Its a little over 160 miles northeast of Mexico City and about 75 miles or so from Leon (airport code BJX) which is the airport most travelers fly into when visiting the area. The distance from the airport is not a bad thing.  The mountainous scenery between airport and San Miguel is beautiful and worth having your camera at the ready during the drive. Plus, you won't have any of the beauty of San Miguel spoiled by the noise of airplanes landing and taking off.

After you skirt the outer edge of Guanajuato (another amazing historic city) and venture through a couple of smaller villages on the drive, San Miguel finally reveals itself and you can't help but feel a little emotional.  You have officially stepped into an era when things were simpler and life was about friends and family and shared meals and faith.  The cobblestone streets are all the proof you need to prove this place is special and amazingly preserved and protected from major tourism and commercialization.  Residents here don't look to escape to another part of the world after graduation.  They realize what they have and what they have is very very special.

Our hotel of choice for this experience was the Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada.  It is a gorgeous property which was once an old hacienda now converted into a luxury boutique hotel. While the layout is not a traditional hotel design, the grounds are beautifully landscaped and rooms are elegantly yet simply decorated.  The check in desk, main bar and restaurant are situated in a way that you feel like you have entered someones luxury home after walking through the front door.  You feel stress and the outside world disappear.  Is this a bunch of hyperbole you ask? Trust me when I say it is not.  This hotel captivated me as did San Miguel. Tip:  Upgrade to the deluxe junior suite.

Another hotel visited during our stay was the fantastic Rosewood San Miguel de Allende just a few blocks from the Belmond.  This is a bigger hotel and not as close to the main squares of San Miguel but it would be hard to say its not equal in all other aspects of luxury accommodations.  The rooftop bar offers one of the best (if not the best) views of San Miguel.  It's a must do at night.  And it is closer to more of the local residential areas of San Miguel where you can venture into the nearby park on the weekends and see families enjoying some play time or watch a local pick-up game of soccer or basketball.

So you have reached San Miguel, you have checked into your beautiful hacienda and now you are ready venture out.  Make sure your camera phone is fully charged before you do because you will want to snap a pic at every corner.  As you make the first corner from the Belmond towards the main square, you get the first glimpse of historic La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, the parish church of San Miguel.  It is a magnificent sight.  My recommendation is to grab a seat on one of the many park benches around the square that faces the church and sit and take it all in and listen for the ringing of the bells.  Stop in one of the pastry shops on the many side streets that shoot off of the main square and sit and enjoy seeing what old Mexico was really all about.

But don't stop there...as you stroll the streets you will stumble upon many of the other squares and churches that makes this city a dream location for those that love historic architecture.  The Templo de San Francisco and the Nuestra Señora de la Salud Church are must sees and each are surrounded by beautifully manicured trees and squares.

Once you start walking...you will see that you are somewhere special.  The quietness of the side streets pour into the lively squares where you can sit and savor great food while listening to a musician take you back to the 16th and 17th century by their simple strumming of a guitar.

Are you a foodie?  If so, you have to come to San Miguel.  The menus are diverse.  Fresh seafood is brought in daily from the Pacific and the local chefs take pride is their using of ingredients indigenous  to the area.  You can enjoy everything from shrimp tacos to pork belly sandwiches to the best ceviche found on the face of the planet accompanied by the best wines from the mountainous regions around San Miguel.  

Into shopping?  Some of the best boutique clothiers in the world can be found in San Miguel as well as skilled and world renowned artisans selling their hand made, hand painted crafts.

So can you see why I titled this blog the way I did?  San Miguel offers everything that most major destinations do all throughout Europe and is much much easier to get to for those of us here in the U.S.

So are you ready to see the jewel of Mexico?  We sure hope so because you will not be disappointed that you decided it was ok to go to Mexico and forgo the beach.


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