Sampling San Miguel

Clients can give this town a try before settling down

By: Joyce Gregory Wyels

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A view of the Cathedral of
San Miguel de Allende.
A new tour of San Miguel de Allende benefits from a happy paradox: While the community hosts a sizeable enclave of expatriate Americans, San Miguel remains the most Mexican of towns. The 450-year-old National Historic Monument in central Mexico has long been a favorite destination of American travelers so much so that some 8,000 U.S. and Canadian citizens now call it home.

Two of those transplanted Americans, Camie Sands and Linda Lowery Keep, have created the Simply San Miguel lifestyle tour especially for North Americans who might want to consider settling here. Clients who book a tour will be treated to a behind-the-scenes round of cocktail parties, house and garden tours and cultural events. Meanwhile, local realtors, bankers, architects and attorneys answer questions about the perks and pitfalls of relocating to Mexico.

Even better for Mexico aficionados, other experts explore the ancient cultures that underpin San Miguel’s many religious and civic celebrations. Bill and Heidi Le-Vasseur welcome guests to a reception at Casa de la Cuesta, their bed-and-breakfast establishment that doubles as a folk art museum. Masks, ceramics, antique toys and Day-of-the-Dead skeletons fill rooms, stairways and patios. The collections having long since outgrown the residence, selected treasures now occupy an adjacent museum, which provides a showcase for Bill’s authentic danza masks and Heidi’s more eclectic displays.

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Guests mingle at Casa De Las Flores
Rick and Debra Hall, who own the folk arts shop Zocalo, likewise immerse visitors in Mexican traditions. The Halls invite tour-goers to their country house in nearby Atotonilco, a place of pilgrimage for its 18th-century shrine. Debra recounts historical anecdotes as she leads guests through the church, its walls and ceilings lavished with “folk-baroque” paintings of biblical scenes in a kind of indigenous Sistine Chapel.

Perhaps even more engaging is the Hall’s own house, jam-packed with whimsical creations by contemporary artisans. In the day’s gastronomic highlight, guests are served a homemade comida, the food itself an entree into Mexican culture.

Visits to new homes offer yet another perspective. Hillside mansions overlook the town’s rooftops from poolside terraces, the view punctuated by church spires and centered on San Miguel’s icon, the rose-colored Parroquia a “parish church” that masquerades as a Gothic cathedral.

But this is one tour that focuses more on people than on places. A fountainside dinner at the biblioteca (library) introduces visitors to locals who are just as passionate about their charity work as others are about creating or collecting art. An enthusiastic Robin Loving, who enthralls listeners with stories of the girls at Santa Julia Orphanage, typifies the many Americans who work to alleviate poverty among the area’s original inhabitants.

The tour leaders go to great lengths to personalize the trip, even sending out a questionnaire to gauge interests beyond shopping, gallery-hopping and a cooking class. If there’s a performance at Teatro Angela Peralta, clients will know about it; if there’s a fiesta, or Las Posadas Christmas processions, visitors may be invited to participate with the townspeople.

Although the tour allows for “walking-around time,” and all activities are, of course, optional, clients might like to schedule an extra day at the end for further exploring or just to unwind. After my own week of whirlwind activities, I was happy to reflect on my experiences while relaxing at a rural retreat called Casa de Aves, near Atotonilco. Having signed up with nary a thought of moving to Mexico, I found that Simply San Miguel offers a fun time no matter what the ulterior motives.

Even if your clients decide not to relocate, they’ll enjoy a week of wining, dining and socializing in a beautiful, art-filled colonial town.


The week-long tour, $1,700, double, for everything except airfare, pays travel agents a 10 percent commission on the entire package. In addition, an agent who brings a group of 10 paying guests gets a free trip.

Casa de Aves
Commission: 10 percent