Ahhhh, San Miguel, how I've missed you.
I've been away too long and am so excited to return this January 2014 for my next painting workshop abroad.
Our newest home away from home will be Casa De La Noche, a 12 bedroom home complete with a private courtyard and our own Studio facilities located just outside the historic centre. Want to join me on my next watercolor workshop in San Miguel De Allende? Contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Have you heard of San Miguel?"
As an artist and art instructor, I was asked again and again. Each time an impression of this place was forming in my mind until finally one day, a student from my Glebe Community Centre class brought in a thin, faded booklet from a trip she had taken to San Miguel De Allende, Mexico. Okay, I got the picture and it was loud and clear. San Miguel was truly an artist's paradise and I had to see it for myself.
I began my online research immediately and in less than 3 months, I had secured an incredible house to rent, flights, ground transportation and enough participants to create my first watercolour workshop in San Miguel. In January 2007, I brought five of my Ottawa students with me to this artist community in central Mexico. As it turns out, this would be the first of my many Painting Workshops Abroad.
Set in the highlands in the state of Guanajuato, San Miguel De Allende (or SMA as the locals call it) is somewhat remote. After 3 flights we arrived at 10:30 p.m., exhausted yet eager to make our final leg of the journey by car. The lit highway from Leon's tiny airport quickly fell away to a very dark, narrow and uneven road. I could make out the silhouettes of distant -mountains that shifted and overlapped like a herd of migrating beasts. In all this darkness, we had only a few seconds to enjoy bright flashes of tiny villages strung with Christmas lights. I kept half an eye on nodding Jorge, our driver and after 1.5 hours finally he spoke,
"We're very close now." We rounded a bend and gasped. There it was spread out in front of us, twinkling like scattered diamonds, the colonial jewel of Mexico, San Miguel De Allende .
The residences in San Miguel can best be described as garden with a house, and ours was no exception. Behind the discreet door of Casa Feliz was a breathtaking sala, an al fresco dining area enveloped in lush greenery under the stars. Past trickling fountains, flowering vines and through French doors, we found Pedro who welcomed us with a warm hearty chicken tortilla soup, handed us our keys and bid us goodnight.
Our day began with an invaluable walking tour with Patronato Pro Niños, a non-profit organization that provides medical and dental care for children in and around San Miguel De Allende.. As a group of artists, we were in our glory, snapping digital photos and filling up our memory cards. Our American guide Margaret led us to the Jardin, the city's main square and La Parroquia, the most famous of San Miguel's landmarks and the source of those morning bells. We later set up here to sketch people in action with quick, timed drawings and felt very much at ease.
Exploring San Miguel is like walking into a living, breathing painting a hand painted tile pressed into a crumbling ochre wall. A bronze door-knocker with its natural patina contrasting against a white, peeling door becomes the subject of a later painting. With charming cobblestone streets winding past cheerfully painted haciendas and rambling vegetation, San Miguel is truly an artist's paradise. Much of this undisturbed beauty has to do with the fact that in 1926, San Miguel De Allende was declared a national monument. No intrusive billboards, neon lights or fast food chains are permitted within the city center.
There is no shortage of things to do. In between our lessons (and sometimes during), we took the time to enjoy the Mercado de Artesanias filled with fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables, inexpensive ceramics, jewellery and woven art. We shopped at high-end boutiques, took in a house tour, a horse back ride and some witnessed the miracle of the monarch butterfly migration. With near perfect weather, affordable accommodations and great hospitality, you can see why many call San Miguel home. Yet with its beautifully restored architecture andmuch of the city remaining Spanish speaking, I still felt as though I wasseeing the real Mexico.
San Miguel De Allende has been ranked as one of the top 10 destinations in the world by top travel publications. Why then, when so many go there to rejuvenate, retire or paint is San Miguel still one of the world's best kept secrets? I think it's because once you've been, you never want to leave and as its growing population of American and Canadian residents suggest, many simply do not.