Mexico’s sights are legendary and ancient, but there’s more to today’s Mexico than temples and history. Mexico is taking its place among the world’s most exciting vacation spots, thanks to newly cosmopolitan offerings that range from cutting-edge art to trend-setting fashion to raved-about cuisine. Arrange your visit around two of Mexico’s most desirable destinations, San Miguel de Allende and the Riviera Maya. Both combine the old and the new in a fresh way that reveals the magic of modern Mexico.
Begin your trip in central Mexico, 270 kilometres north of Mexico City. San Miguel de Allende (often shortened to “San Miguel”), a UNESCO Heritage World Site nearly half a millennium old, is a draw for its exquisite colonial buildings and views of the distant Guanajuato Mountains, but it’s also building a name for home-grown design and adventurous, chef-driven restaurants. Begin an exploration of San Miguel with a strong coffee, artisan toast and eggs scrambled peasant-style at Cumpanio, a chic European-style bakery and lounge with plate glass windows that look out onto the cobbled streets of the city. Then, stroll two minutes westward to the city’s most famous landmark, La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. This elaborate pink church appears to change colour throughout the day, depending on the angle of the sun, and it’s a stunning example of neo-Gothic architecture. If it’s open, dip into the crypt where several war heroes are buried. Just a couple of streets away is Bellas Artes, a 250-year-old cultural centre that was once a convent and still boasts superb colonnades, courtyards and high ceilings. There are five gallery spaces with temporary exhibitions, plus permanent murals by Mexican artist David Siqueiros. If you’re looking to dive deeper into the local arts scene, you can take classes in ceramics, drawing and mixed media here.
Get your senses ready for an experience full of magic, color and warmth in Mexico (Bud Ellison)
Mexico’s exploring the ways of organic fare, and lunch at Via Organica, a café that operates as a not-for-profit and sources sustainable food from local farmers, is a showcase for how to do it right. Stop here for Mexican-style meatballs in chipotle and tomato sauce and add a glass of the green juice of the day (made from the produce in the adjoining shop) for extra vitamins. Fortified, wander over to Mixta, a shop selling all kinds of elegant items sourced from San Miguel and abroad, including eye-catching jewelery, custom furniture and clothes by local designers, all housed in an 18th century building. From here, walk a kilometer north through the city’s winding streets to Rachel Horn Home. Raised in San Miguel, the eponymous Horn designs “21st century Mexico” interiors for some of the city’s most prominent businesses, and her shop (in the Fabrica La Aurora art and design centre, where you’ll find more than 40 galleries, shops and studios) is the place to pick up unusual housewares that make perfect souvenirs.
Horn worked on the design of Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, a sophisticated colonial-style boutique hotel whose enticing Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar offers some of the most spectacular views in town. Stop here just before sunset for an (excellent) margarita or two, and prepare for a sky that’s massed with colours as the sun descends. Round off the day with dinner at La Mezcaleria. This hip eatery is run by a Swedish-Mexican couple who have their own mezcal label and make each drink to order from fresh produce and herbs. The small plates of house-cured salmon, shrimp with grilled cherry tomatoes, and grasshoppers (an Oaxacan delicacy) are addictive.