The colonial city of San Miguel de Allende is one of our perennial favorites in central Mexico. Originally the site of an indigenous village, San Miguel was founded by a Franciscan monk in 1542 and reestablished by Spanish colonists in 1555 near two springs. The town flourished at a major crossroads, as evidenced by the immense palaces that stand in its center to this day. An influenza outbreak in the early 20th century left the city in serious decline, but its fortunes changed when artists established a school in a former convent. Expats restored crumbling colonial houses, and San Miguel grew into a major tourist (and retirement) destination, drawing visitors with its mild climate, well-preserved architecture, cobblestone streets, impressive gallery scene, fine restaurants and vibrant nightlife. Roof terraces around San Miguel afford memorable views of the skyline’s domes and bell towers, notably that of the Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel (parish church), a surreal neo-gothic fantasy of pink sandstone.
Originally the site of an indigenous village, San Miguel was founded by a Franciscan monk in 1542 and reestablished by Spanish colonists in 1555 near two springs.
Artists still work in San Miguel de Allende, but it doesn’t feel bohemian. In fact, the town is the most expensive and stylish of Mexico’s colonial cities. People dress up, especially on the weekends, when San Miguel draws visitors from Mexico City, Querétaro and Guadalajara. Holiday weekends can be especially crowded, making it wise to visit during the week, when there isn’t as much competition for reservations in top restaurants. The wine country just outside San Miguel is also quieter on weekdays.
We’ve long recommended two hotels in San Miguel de Allende, the Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada, composed of six historic buildings in the center, and the Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, a larger resort at the center’s edge. But since our last visit, a number of hideaways have opened in renovated colonial-era buildings. I couldn’t resist a return trip, so I selected three of the most promising new properties, all of which are within an easy walk of the church.
The newest of them was The Essentia Hotel, which had been open for just a few weeks at the time of our stay. The nine-room hotel (more accommodations are in the works) occupies a fine, central location near the corner of Mesones and Relox, a block away from the main square. The doorman spoke flawless English and greeted us warmly. Communicating with the rest of the staff wasn’t always as easy, however. In contrast to the doorman, some of the front desk clerks knew only a few words of English, which is a problem at a “luxury hotel” in a destination popular with U.S. travelers. (Before leaving home, I’d sent an email to request restaurant reservations, and the concierge had replied, in all capital letters, that he was “AT MY SERVICE,” but it required additional emails to prompt him to action.)
Our room key proved to be an unattractive fluorescent-green rubber bracelet, and it opened the door to a Junior Suite that was nothing of the sort. There was space for only one chair near the bed, making it a deluxe room at best. I liked the Saltillo-tile floor and domed brick ceilings, as well as the jetted tub and separate barrel-vaulted shower stall. But I didn’t appreciate the intense light emitted by the recessed bulbs in the bedroom’s ceiling.
Public areas at the hotel include an elegant wood-paneled lounge decorated with contemporary art, and an excellent restaurant, Santiago & Macarena, where rough, exposed-stone walls contrast with Louis XVI chairs. There, we enjoyed a delicious dinner of rich mushroom pâté topped with zippy whiskey-and-lemon gelée, and fresh red snapper with crispy skin accompanied by chorizo-studded succotash. The staff spoke excellent English, and our cheerful server had a broad knowledge of wine.
Problems mounted up, however: The roof terrace was unfinished, and at the time of our stay, the hotel offered no breakfast. We found delectable pastries at Panio, a world-class bakery nearby, and then raised our spirits further by checking out.
The central location; the historic building; the friendly doorman; our room’s attractive bath; the excellent restaurant; the wine cellar/private dining room.
The lack of breakfast service; the small size of our accommodation; the lack of turndown service; the unfinished roof deck.
More rooms are planned for the front of the building; currently they all face an attractive indoor-outdoor staircase at the rear.
A much better option can be found nearby in the Dôce 18 Concept House, a sort of upscale mall with a selection of fashion boutiques, gourmet shops, art galleries, a private tequila bar, a food hall and a 10-room hotel. Parts of the building date from the 18th century, but much of its current appearance is the result of an expansion in 1943. L’Ôtel at Dôce 18 Concept House occupies the newer upper floor of the building, and the three-year-old hotel feels bright and fresh. Only the small lobby, with its partially exposed stone walls and old “Singer” logo above a doorway, makes nods to the past.
Much of the hotel surrounds an airy atrium above Dôce 18’s new tapas restaurant, Oli. L’Ôtel’s dedicated bar is a mostly white lounge space with deeply cushioned chairs and a baby grand piano. There we indulged in mezcal Negronis each evening before dinner. The bar opens to a roof terrace with an attractive (unheated) checkerboard-tile pool. There is no view, but eight wood-framed loungers plus cushions set along a set of broad stone stairs provide agreeable places in which to relax.
I had reserved a Luxury Suite, which, like the rest of the hotel, felt comfortable and inviting. A brass coffee table, numerous Edison bulbs and raw-wood doors lent warmth to the space. The bath was especially attractive, with two square onyx sinks, irregular white tiles cladding the ample shower, local Ablu Botanica bath products and a freestanding oval tub in an air shaft open to the sky. I also liked the suite’s white linen sofa, contemporary art, gas fireplace, leather-strap luggage racks and sumptuously comfortable bed. The only problem was that the room’s windows all faced air shafts. Light came in through the one above the bath and a second next to the desk. The suite had plenty of natural light and fresh air, but guests requiring some sort of view should reserve the Master Suite or Owners Suite, the latter with its own rooftop orchard.
Overall, I enjoyed our stay immensely. The staff always greeted us cheerfully and provided helpful service. The front desk was happy to assist with mailing postcards — an unusual request nowadays — and the bartender always looked happy to see us. I also quite liked staying atop the Concept House, where we had a fun tapas dinner and splurged on a private tequila tasting.
The central location atop San Miguel’s largest concept store; the ample public lounging space; our airy junior suite-like accommodation; our outdoor tub; the fine breakfasts; the helpful staff.
Our Luxury Suite had skylights, not actual windows; the hotel’s roof terrace had no view, and its swimming pool is unheated.
The hotel has a four-room sister property nearby with a more colorful décor; it, too, has a roof terrace but no pool.
With our faith in San Miguel’s boutique hotels restored, we checked into Casa Blanca 7, a 10-room hotel facing the Templo de San Francisco and its laurel tree-filled square. This white house has a Moroccan theme, which works quite well with the riad-like residential architecture of San Miguel. Open since mid-2017, Casa Blanca 7 has guest rooms and lounges with tall wood-beamed ceilings surrounding two plant-filled courtyards, both centered on fountains. Around the main courtyard we discovered the front desk, the Café Casa Blanca 7 (for breakfast and lunch) and a bar-lounge with leather sofas and a fireplace. These spaces are open to the public, but the rear courtyard, which provides access to the guest rooms, requires a key.
We received an upgrade from a Luxury Suite to a Master Suite, the hotel’s highest accommodation category. Its bath was spectacular: a soaring space with a hammered-nickel tub backed by an exposed-stone wall, flanked by cubic composite-quartz vanities. Ample light came from sconces, a black-bead chandelier and a skylight far above. But the room itself could hardly be considered a suite. It had room only for the king bed, a desk, a bench at the foot of the bed and an ottoman. Privacy was lacking, since the only window faced the courtyard. And turndown service failed to materialize.
Upstairs, we found the new Fatima 7 restaurant by acclaimed chef Donnie Masterton (formerly of the Restaurant in San Miguel), which serves delicious Moroccan cuisine. My “bisteeya,” a packet of phyllo-like warqa dough filled with shredded chicken, saffron, raisins and almonds, was better than the one I had the previous year in Marrakech, and a side of beets with walnuts, mint, chile flakes and yogurt was refreshing and well-balanced. I also loved the view, encompassing both the Parroquia and the looming tower of the church.
Fatima 7 is a stylish addition to San Miguel’s restaurant scene, and it provides a welcome break from Mexican food. But the hotel, while comfortable and welcoming, does not qualify as a luxury property. The Rosewood San Miguel de Allende and Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada remain at the top of the pile, and L’Ôtel at Dôce 18 Concept House is a stylish new addition that fashion-conscious travelers will want to consider.
The Moroccan design well-integrated with the building’s historic architecture; the welcoming staff; our spectacular bath; the fine rooftop restaurant and its fantastic views.
The lack of turndown service; the Master Suite was more of a deluxe room; the lack of privacy; the noise from the restaurant in our room.
The restaurant provides a stage for belly dancers on Wednesday evenings, starting at 7:30 p.m.