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A Sunday in San Miguel

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How the author and budding entrepreneur—and the former owner of a lavender farm in Blanco, Texas—spends her ideal weekend abroad.

By April Cumming, Photos courtesy of Consejo Turístico de San Miguel de Allende

Hidden in the mountains northwest of Mexico City rests a town composed of intricate, colorful architecture interspersed with quaint (and traffic-free) cobblestone streets. It’s a destination frequented by American expats and vacationers alike. In fact, it’s where Jeannie Ralston, an Austin-based writer and the author of The Unlikely Lavender Queen and The Mother of All Field Trips, called home in the years following the sale of her Blanco, Texas, lavender farm. Ralston has since returned to Austin, where she’s hard at work on her next project, nexttribe.com, a blog for women 40 and older who are, in her words, “stepping into the next stage of life and want to do it with curiosity, courage and humor.” The best word to describe her weekends, Ralston says, is “uncomplicated.” Here, she shares what her ideal Sunday looks like in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

San Miguel de Allende is… “A lovely, lively town high in the desert mountains filled with cobblestone streets, sherbet-colored buildings, history, culture, great restaurants and even better people.”

Rise and shine

“I used to be a late riser but my husband is an early bird and invariably wakes me up. Plus, there are many sounds in San Miguel that act as alarm clocks: roosters, church bells, vendors on the street. It’s part of the charm of the city.”

First things first

“Grab a cup of tea and go to a rooftop to look at the sunrise. I love seeing the early light hit the beautifully colored colonial buildings and make them even more vibrant.”

Break the fast

“I like to eat breakfast on the town’s central plaza, El Jardin. El Rincon del Don Tomas has outside tables. Once the sun gets high, it warms up enough to dine alfresco. Order and watch all the comings and goings in the city, especially people attending mass at the city’s most famous church, the Parroquia, which is grapefruit-colored and spiked like a crown.”

Un descanso (rest )

“I take it easy on Sundays. On most weekdays, I either bike or swim. But Sundays are a perfect time for a relaxed walk in El Charco del Ingenio, a botanical garden just above San Miguel where you can see all sorts of desert plants, as well as a gorgeous canyon that runs through the middle.”

Serenity and a serenade

“Often, you can find a band playing in the gazebo in the middle of the Jardin and Mexican families gathered to listen. They’re all usually dressed in their fine Sunday clothes. I also like to go to Parque Juarez and look at the paintings many local artists have put out for sale.”

For keeps’ sake

“Mixta is my favorite store in town. You can find such an eclectic array of clothes, jewelry, furniture, fabrics and beautiful, funky, handmade keepsakes. Fabrica La Aurora is a fabulous area housed in an old textile mill where you can tour artists’ studios and shop for antiques, furniture, pottery, linens—it’s all very high-end. The Mercado de Artesanias is a long alley-like walkway with vendor booths and is where local craftsmen sell jewelry, handmade books, shawls, hats, toys and a variety of crafts. It’s a great place to buy gifts to bring back for friends.”

Not to miss

“I always take visitors to my favorite building, Bellas Artes on Hernández Macías. It used to be a convent and the inside courtyard is a beautiful garden. You can see slight divots in the stone steps, worn down by nuns’ footsteps over the centuries.”

Child’s play

“Kids love the water park outside of town called Xote, which has great rides. If you have smaller kids, you’ll want to take them to the playground in Parque Juarez.”

Pick-me-up

“There’s a Starbucks right off the Jardin, but please don’t go there. I like Café Parroquia on Calle Jesus. It has a quiet, nice courtyard. Or, if you want something to go, stop by the walk-by window at La Ventana on Calle Sollano.”

Soak it all in

“There are many hot springs within easy driving or taxi-riding distance of San Miguel. My favorite, and probably the most famous, is La Gruta. You’ll find several pools of warm water surrounded by lush grounds. One pool leads to a tunnel, which, in turn, leads to a domedroofed pool that has the hottest water of all. It’s a year-round treat and the restaurant serves great guacamole and chips, quesadillas and margaritas. And, oh yeah, you can also get a massage! So, it’s easy to spend your whole day here lolling and eating and drinking.”

Add to the bucket list

“I still want to take an art class at either Bellas Artes or Instituto Allende. They each offer so many classes—painting, sculpting, woodworking—and I’ve never had time to indulge. These two institutions are what originally drew Americans to San Miguel after World War II: cheap art classes and good living. So, in a way, the whole town as we know it is built around the arts”

For date night

“I’d start at El Manantial, an old cantina that’s been reimagined, with a tamarind or ginger margarita. Then I’d have dinner at La Parada, which serves Peruvian food and the best ceviche around. I’d finish with a visit to the Jardin and pay one of the fabulous mariachi bands there to play a nice love song.”

Nightcap

“Indulge in drinks at La Azotea, a rooftop bar with stunning views both toward the west, where the sun sinks over the Guanajuato mountains, and through inside windows, toward the Parroquia in all its glowing nighttime glory.”  Lights out “Before bed, I do the New York Times crossword. I can usually do Sunday through Thursday. Fridays and Saturdays are most often too hard, but I like to give it a good effort.”

Cause for celebration

“Christmas in San Miguel is exceptional because it’s not commercialized as it is in the States. People are really serious about the religious part of the holiday, which means a lot to me. One of the most wonderful traditions is the posado, when people walk through the streets with lighted candles singing songs and then going to someone’s house for food afterward. Another great part of the holidays is New Year’s Eve in the Jardin. The fireworks in Mexico are stupendous, but not in the same way as they are in the States. The city sets up several tall, rickety structures called castillos in the Jardin. They’re like Rube Goldberg contraptions. Someone lights one fuse and something spins and spews sparks, and then the fire from that lights another fireand- smoke apparatus. More gadgets go off higher and higher on the towers until, for a finale, a disc spins around from the very top and then flies off and onto someone’s roof. It’s very fun.”

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