Muros en Blanco (Blank Walls) Project – San Miguel de Allende

You have no doubt noticed that there is a common colour theme in San Miguel’s buildings. The mandated colour scheme for painting the outside of homes and businesses in El Centro range between nine distinct, vibrant earth tone colours As mentioned previously, the effect this has on the cityscape, as the light changes throughout the day, is amazing.

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Great representation of colour
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The oldest gas station in SMA-another iconic/vintage photo-op

This wasn’t quite as prevalent in the area we chose to stay.  It is always a crap-shoot when booking a place, but this time we scored big. Our beautiful Airbnb was about a 10-minute walk to Centro in one of the oldest neighbourhoods of SMA, Colonia Guadelupe. Not only were our accommodations absolutely beautiful and one of the best in all our Airbnb stays, vibrant Mexican colours washed the walls making the space cozy, homey, and very comfortable. Here the facades are cobalt blue, lime green, mauve, pink or lemon yellow and how appropriate it all seems.

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Mosaic design on Posada beside our Airbnb

Our neighbourhood had some other hidden gems as we soon discovered. The area is full of street art so of course with our long-standing love affair of this art form we were game for the  hunt. With fond memories of our street art excursion in Georgetown Penang in Malaysia we hit the streets one day and certainly were not disappointed.

Another interesting story here that definitely needs sharing. In 2012, Colleen Sorenson, an American expat living in SMA, saw an explosion of illegal ‘tagging’ on the walls of homes and businesses in SMA. Wanting to deter local youth from vandalizing the town’s unadorned walls with graffiti she lobbied for a project to channel youthful energy and talent, from graffiti to vibrant art that both artists and the community could take pride in. She saw the walls as an opportunity for art rather than defacement; her vision was to legalize graffiti. After more than a year of deliberation with the various authorities, and local residents, the first street art festival was held in Guadelupe in 2013. The urban street art project showcases over 100 works of young artists from around Mexico and from other countries, (Chile, Argentina, Canada, Germany and the United States), who participated in conjunction with local artists to promote the new art district. Guadalupe has since been named a Districto de Arte, and the Festival, is now known as Muros en Blanco or The Festival of White (or blank). The festival is held twice a year, spring and winter, and with other visiting artists painting in-between, the art is continuously changing.

As we stroll along the streets we see hummingbirds, butterflies, cars, people, saints, dragons, flying fish, flowers, ducks, bulls, skeletons, seahorses, trees, musicians, a school bus, and much more. At every turn there is something different to see. Different styles, colours, content; some beautiful, some surprising, some puzzling, but all fascinating. Here is a small selection of our discoveries (look closely, people just blend into the art).

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The other area we were very close to was Fabrica La Aurora Art and Design Centre.  In the early 20th century this building housed a textile factory where mana (cotton) was produced. For over 90-years it was the main source of work in the city. There is a great photo gallery showing the glory days of the factory and a huge weaving machine remains on-site.

This fascinating art space with more than 50-art studios and galleries is ideal if you want to purchase art, browse the artwork or simply enjoy a drink and some light lunch in a creative ambience.

Apart from paintings and sculpture, there are also works by Mexican photographers, glasswork, ceramics, woven goods, and antique furniture for sale. On the day we visited we were fortunate to see some talented artists at work. Martha you would love it here!

Always on the move our next stop is Queretaro, about a 2-hour bus ride away.

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This cheery ceramic wall plaque  greeted us every time we entered or exited our Airbnb 🌞

San Miguel de Allende – A Pleasure to Finally Meet You!

As you may or may not recall, we had planned to visit this city in the north central highlands of Mexico last year until a chance meeting with a fellow Canadian convinced us otherwise. We were told there were many more interesting places to visit than, what she described as, a “Mexican Disneyland” for mainly American, Canadian and European retirees as well as Chilangos (people from Mexico City).img_2155

We loved our travels last year and probably would never have visited the areas or saw the marvels we did, fate has a habit of doing that!! But curiosity was still nibbling so we decided to go with the previous years plan while wandering this year, great move on our part.

Our friend wasn’t far off the mark about the number of expats; we were amazed to see so many septuagenarian/octogenarians, (hey wait a minute, got one of those with me), garnering canes and walkers. I thought we had time-warped back to my parents retirement facility!!

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Twilight street scene

Joking aside it is difficult not to be instantly taken with beautiful San Miguel with its compact Centro historico, cobblestone streets, and beautiful colonial architecture. Colour is everywhere, this is Mexico after all, and it really is a photographers playground, so much inspiration especially with the changing light throughout the day.

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Bougainvillea bloom everywhere 🌺
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Chimney cleaning brushes for sale.
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Colourful burrow

While the foreign influence is strong, approximately 12,000 expats live here, the area is blessed with a wonderful climate year round – dry, no humidity, warm during the day and cooling off nicely in the evening. SMA been drawing foreigners here since shortly after World War II and boasts countless contemporary attractions — many art galleries, chic cafés, elegant restaurants, and quaint colonial hotels. Being a UNESCO World Heritage site and a Pueblo Magico (Magical Town), it really is the “corazón de Mexico” (the heart of Mexico).

The centerpiece and focal point and one of the best things to see in SMA is the La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel or the Church of St. Michael the Archangel, it is as impressive as it is massive. This is arguably the most photogenic spot in the city inside and out. You are able to stroll inside the church as long as a mass isn’t going on, and while pictures aren’t really allowed I did sneak one photo inside (my old adage’ ‘better to beg forgiveness than ask permission’, was at work here).

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Gazebo & fountain in the Jardin Principle

 

The neo-gothic 17th-century structure is one of most photographed churches in the country and once you cast your eyes on it you can understand why. We enjoyed the view from the well-manicured Plaza Allende, popularly known as Jardin Principle, (main garden), in the plaza directly in front of the church. It was designed in French style, with wrought iron benches and filled with lush laurel trees.

The other three sides of the plaza are surrounded by restaurants, vendors, and various businesses with a lovely shaded walkways.

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Siesta time

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What’s behind this door? Don”t you love the door knockers?

 

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A mishmash of colour & it works!

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So many churches!
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Winding streets.

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One of the best parts of this city is that around every corner there is a new adventure and behind every door there is a secret courtyard. We let ourselves get lost while exploring always using the massive central cathedral as our guide to get back to the square.

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Getting lost on the way to the mirador.

A good set of legs and healthy lungs certainly helps once you leave the city core. Did I mention how hilly SMA is? One day we decided to head to the mirador to get that perfect birds-eye view of the city. Snaking through the back streets and alleyways we tested our stamina and finally made it. Beside getting a little extra exercise climbing up the hills, we also got to see some of the most beautiful and finest properties in the city.

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Beautiful gardens everywhere.
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This little girl entertains herself while mom is busy selling her wares. 

One thing we didn’t expect to see in SMA were botanical gardens. The Jardin Botanico El Charco del Ingenio is northeast from the main part of town. This 170 acre area is not only a garden, but also a recreational and ceremonial space with a wildlife sanctuary. This environmental conservation project was established in 1991 and is privately funded. Why even the Dalai Lama has visited here and declared it a ‘Peace Zone’.

 

Cacti, many huge, and other succulent plants make up the botanical collection, many are rare, threatened or in danger of extinction. The area is very tranquil and perfect for an afternoon hike in nature.

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Don’t want to get too close!

Taking the local bus as far as we could, we hike the remaining 1.5 kms and spent the afternoon exploring the various paths that surround a very deep canyon.  Depending on the path you take, there are some gorgeous views of SMA.

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View of SMA from El Charco

There is a bit more of San Miguel we want to share with you, stay tuned for part two.