Last year, readers of Condé Nast Traveler named San Miguel de Allende — an attractive, easy-going Spanish colonial town of about 80,000 in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, about 160 miles northwest of Mexico City — as the world's top city, outranking Florence by one place and leaving Paris in the dust 21 places down the list. That, of course, is just loony. But San Miguel is undeniably a pretty nice place, famous as an art colony and a favored vacation and retirement destination for Americans and Canadians (an estimated 15 to 20 percent of the permanent population hails from north of the border).
Among San Miguel's attractions are a number of good restaurants (including Moxi, run by Enrique Olvera, whose Pujol in Mexico City was ranked as #20 in The World's 50 Best Restaurants this year) and several excellent hotels. The most unusual of these is the Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada, which occupies portions of several buildings in the historic center of town, a few steps from the Jardín, or central town square, and the landmark neo-Gothic church called La Parroquía de San Miguel Arcángel.
Rooms are built around tiled courtyards, hidden behind massive doors. The standard rooms are small and can seem a bit cramped, but the suites are wonderful, spacious, and beautifully furnished, with immense bathrooms, terraces, flat-screen TVs, and just a general air of luxury.
The hotel dining room, an atrium space next to the reception area, is called Andanza — fortune. The lunch and dinner menu offers a combination of Mexican specialties (guacamole, Zihuatanejo-style ceviche, green-tomato gazpacho) and more "continental" fare, along the lines of beet and apple salad, coconut shrimp with onion chutney, grilled snapper with sautéed vegetables, grilled beef medallions with mushroom risotto, and herb-crusted rack of lamb.
I particularly enjoyed the breakfasts. Yogurt with homemade amaranth granola, Belgian waffles with strawberries and banana cream, and chorizo-enhanced eggs Benedict are available, as of course are huevos rancheros (with an unusual sauce of tomatoes and sour nopales), but it somehow seems more appropriate to sample the assorted corn-tortilla quesadillas, filled one each with fresh cheese, huitalacoche, zucchini blossoms, and guacamole — or the chilaquiles (fried tortilla strips in tomatillo or jalapeño sauce), with or without a fried egg on top.
My most vivid breakfast memory from the Casa de Sierra Nevada, though, is of a truly delicious and refreshing fruit and vegetable juice drink, glowing green in color, that the restaurant calls its "energetic drink." Here's the recipe.