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Introducing San Miguel de Allende

Many people say that San Miguel is a bit like a Mexican Disneyland for foreign (mainly American) retirees. Indeed, this is a stunning and neat city, with colonial architecture, enchanting cobblestone streets and striking light. Regular festivals, fireworks and parades dominate the local scene.

The town's cosmopolitan panache is reflected in its excellent restaurants and high-class, colonial-style accommodations. Numerous galleries are stocked with some of the best of Mexican artesanías (handicrafts) and cultural activities are on tap for residents and visitors. There are few major sights in the compact centro histórico: San Miguel is the sight. The city – with El Jardín, the principal plaza, and the Parroquia, the large church, at its heart – was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2008.

Economically speaking, this is no budget destination and is a far cry from the 1940s, when beatniks and artists shacked up here on a shoestring to pursue their creative ventures. Visitors still study at the art institutions – Bellas Artes and the Instituto Allende. While the foreign influence is pervasive (more than 12,000 foreigners are believed to live or have houses here), on the whole the population coexists comfortably.

Beneath the smart B&Bs and fancy shops, another Mexico exists. You only have to laze in the main plaza, visit the food market or interact with the local people to sense a different ambience, color and vibe.

The climate is agreeable: cool and clear in winter and warm and clear in summer, with occasional thunderstorms and heavy rain.