Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende has wellness and gastronomy nailed
For millions of people, the pursuit of happiness has been replaced by the pursuit of wellbeing. It’s a small yet significant shift in attitude that recognises being ‘happy’ as fleeting and flighty, and sees wellbeing as a more lasting, enriching state.
Achieving wellbeing requires great commitment and awareness, part of which can include observing how others live. This may mean an inspiring individual, or an entire nation.
There are good reasons why Mexico was recently ranked number two in a global index measuring sustainable wellbeing (beaten only by Costa Rica, www.happyplanetindex.org). Data gathered by the research firm Gallup looked at how satisfied citizens felt with life overall, on a scale of 1 to 10, and gave Mexico 7.3 for wellbeing. It’s a rating much higher than that of the United States, despite having an economy that is five times smaller. Clearly money really isn’t everything.
The cornerstones of life in Mexico are family, respect, fun, and food. It is a country obsessed with eating, and San Miguel de Allende – or SMA, as it’s known – is home to some of the very best eating on offer.
Located on Mexico’s sun-drenched, cactus-studded central highlands, about 150 miles north of Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende is a colonial city that boasts everything from cult street food to high-end options on par with the best restaurants in the world.
Temptation lurks at every corner of this cobblestoned, hilly city bathed in warm orange and ochre tones. There are stalls selling piping hot corn on the cob slathered with butter and cheese, unbeatable meat-filled tacos, the ubiquitous salted popcorn and so many flavours of ice cream (or neverías).
Off the streets, the food scene has exploded. In the past decade, San Miguel de Allende has transformed from a close-knit, artsy little pueblo into a bustling, cosmopolitan city full of incredible art galleries and eateries.
Cumpanio is a European-style artisanal bakery and laid back restaurant. It pays homage to the French and Italian classics, using the best ingredients and traditional recipes in a modern kitchen. The boulangerie-cafe front of house offers up shiny pastries, mouthwatering cakes and – that rare thing in Mexico – authentic crusty sourdough. The irresistible smell of fresh bread wafts out into the streets, luring tourists and natives inside.
At the back sits the low-lit restaurant, with its generous portions of seafood pasta, guacamole on toast with a side of bone marrow, endive salad with blue cheese, and a chocolate bomb with passion fruit cream to finish.
At night, the space transforms into a bustling bar, where in-house mixologist Adrian Evans (@MonkeyMixology) has created a menu of fresh, thoughtful cocktails. Try a twist on the Negroni made with Vermouth Rosso, Campari and Prosecco, to accompany one of San Miguel de Allende’s famous brilliant pink sunsets.
Áperi, a few streets away, is now one of Mexico’s best-known culinary destinations. Set back in Dos Casas Hotel & Spa, with a tree growing through the open-air dining space, it’s perfect for special occasions, or for when you feel like letting some food create a special occasion.
Italian-born chef Matteo Salas trained at the Paul Bocuse Institute in France and worked at globally-acclaimed restaurant Oca before setting up Áperi in 2014. His cuisine is international with fun twists on Mexican favourites, and a commitment to fresh, seasonal and – above all – local ingredients.
The tasting menu is sublime, with each course personally presented by the passionate, talented Matteo. The octopus and chorizo in fresh apple sauce on a blue-corn taco is so good you’ll dream about it years later. While the tender suckling pig pork belly with crackling was an almost religious experience.
A duo of playful desserts were a Dominican banana, actually made of ice cream in a delicate painted-yellow casing, and a bright red, glistening chilli which reveals itself to be a chocolate mousse. Little wonder that Áperi was recently recognised as Best Gourmet Experience in The Hotel Awards by Travel & Leisure Mexico.
The weather is generally dry and sunny throughout the year in San Miguel de Allende, so the streets are always busy. And when the gridlock and honking get to be too much, there are abundant natural hot springs to escape to less than 15 minutes away by car. Don’t skip the opportunity for a soak at La Gruta, the most well-known of several local bathing spots, where a massive cascade of crystal-clear thermal water fills a steam-filled cave, flowing into several adjoining warm pools.
Where to stay
Casa de la Noche B&B is centrally located but offers a slice of tranquility. Formerly a famous bordello, it’s a Tardis-like wonder with 14 individually decorated rooms, plant-filled terraces and a central courtyard with flowers, fountain and welcoming ambiance. The split-level living area is filled with comfy chairs to curl up with a book or visit with a new-found friend. Also available is an honor bar, art workshops, yoga, and cooking classes.
Many say the very best Mexican food is made at home, and Casa de la Noche proves that this is true. The healthy-start breakfast cooked by the in-house staff is a feast of homemade granola, yogurt, divine coffee, fresh fruits, and a daily-changing Mexican traditional cooked dish. It just goes to show that in San Miguel de Allende, healthy and great-tasting food is all around you. And that makes for happy and healthy locals, and visitors alike.
For more information about Casa de la Noche B&B visit www.casadelanoche.com.