Travel story highlights San Miguel de Allende before our current COVID-19 era

The scene feels straight out of the James Bond film Spectre. We’re making our way down darkened alleyways teeming with people — boys in 007-worthy tuxedos and girls in voluminous cotton gowns and lace sheaths in midnight blues and black — toward our destination: a historic bullfighting ring. Snippets of conversations in French, German, and Spanish float by, with the bits I can understand questioning what’s in store for us tonight. Most of us are wearing masks or obscuring our faces with flowery La Calavera Catrina skull makeup, adding an extra-sexy allure to our evening look.

Spectre proclaimed in its opening shot, “The Dead Are Alive.” In this case, they’re ready for some licentious fun.

I’m here for the anniversary party to end all anniversary parties: a two-day extravaganza marking the 10th year of Tequila Casa Dragones at its spiritual home in San Miguel de Allende. Globetrotting CEO and co-founder Bertha González Nieves — the world’s first female Maestra Tequilera — invited 350 friends from around the world to this romantic Spanish-Colonial city in the central highlands of Mexico. Artists, writers, chefs, designers, slender and somber dark-eyed models, and a handful of Schnabels (Cy, Olmo, and Stella) have joined the celebration of Texans.

“I love Texas,” González Nieves enthuses. “I love the people and the generosity of heart in the Texan culture. Plus, Texans are the best hosts.”

In a crowd like this, my weekend romp soon turns into an insider’s experience of a city that has long been a magnet for ex-pats, creative types, and anyone looking for an inspiring weekend getaway just a two-and-a-half-hour flight from DFW. I know I’ll be back soon.

Friday

I landed at the quaint Querétaro International Airport at noon — San Miguel doesn’t have its own, so you must fly into either Querétaro or Guanajuato International Airport near León. Both are about an hour’s drive away, but I grabbed a shuttle instead of a rental car, to soak in the small towns and miles of desert tumbleweeds along the way.

San Miguel de Allende, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a hilly, high-altitude city, and I wanted a hotel that was close to the action with oodles of charm. Casa Hoyos, a boutique hotel with only 16 guestrooms, fits the bill with its contemporary Art Deco style and location in the city center, within walking distance of must-see sites such as El Jardin and Parroquia of San Miguel Arcángel.

AD_Nussbaumer Credit Douglas Friedman
Michelle Nussbaumer’s home in San Miguel (Photo by Douglas Friedman)

After checking in, there’s just enough time to spruce up for an impromptu cocktail party thrown by Dallas design guru Michelle Nussbaumer, who keeps a home in San Miguel and makes frequent visits to entertain. Her hacienda is a string of buildings connected by patios and loggias. It was a 10-year labor of love, and the interiors and gardens are so incredibly chic that Architectural Digest ran a feature on it last year. The divine Nussbaumer, as glamorous as Anita Ekberg frolicking in a fountain and wearing one of her signature caftans, whispers in my ear: I need to make my way to some of her favorite stores, many of which can be found in a unique compound of restaurants and retail known as Dôce 18 Concept House.

Then it’s off to Casa Dragones’ kickoff cocktail party on the rooftop of the Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, at the fringe of the city center. Like many boutique properties here, this is a small outpost for the luxury chain with only 67 rooms. The open-air terrace with sweeping views of the city is available to hotel guests or anyone in need of a cocktail. On hand this night are face painters to get us partygoers ready for a parade through the city.

Terraza Grande with view of San Miguel
Terraza Grande with view of San Miguel (Courtesy of Rosewood Hotel in San Miguel de Allende)

At dinner, I’m fortunate to be with some of the Dallas folks in town — Cindy and Howard Rachofsky, Brian Bolke and Faisal Halum, and Suzanne Droese — as well as some fabulous Angelenos, including the charming Andrew Rhoda and gorgeous Priyanka Khanna. We dine at The Garage Dos Casas, an event space with slightly Brutalist interiors, like what a Rick Owens restaurant might look like. Our sumptuous meal, cooked by Olivier Deboise, executive chef at One&Only Resorts, begins with crab in habañero mayonnaise and continues with creamy polenta with wild mushrooms, braised pork jowl in chile de Arbol broth, and more. The tropical dessert with guava, soursop, yuzu, and nougatine makes a fine — and very late —finish with a sip of Casa Dragones tequila.

Alas, I had intended to go to sleep early to make a full day of Saturday, but an after-party on the rooftop of Casa Hoyos is in full swing, and I can’t resist.

Saturday

Another noon start, this time for lunch at Quince with the Rachofskys and Brian Bolke. The rooftop restaurant has stellar views of San Miguel and seafood that’s legendary among locals and has garnered international acclaim as well. Then it’s on to my favorite pastime, shopping. Home design shops, artisan crafts, exquisitely tailored clothing — San Miguel is a shopper’s paradise. We check out Rachel Horn Interiors, Mixta, and Casa Armida for gorgeous pillows made by artisans famed for their textile techniques.

Recreo
Recreo Boutique in San Miguel de Allende

We browse Juana Cata, KM33, and Méson Hidalgo for apparel from Mexican designer Carla Fernández, serapes in every color of the rainbow, and silver jewelry. But my favorite shop is Recreo San Miguel, owned by ex-pats Lisa and Michael Coleman. Their boutique, in a 250-year- old building just a block from the main square, is a minimal, modern showplace that deftly combines shades of white and cool gray. The men’s and women’s clothing, dramatic leather capes and gauzy day dresses, are constructed in San Miguel. Then it’s back to Casa Hoyos for a massage in the hotel spa — the remedy to a long afternoon walking the city’s cobblestone streets.

The evening begins with cocktails (but of course) at La Casa Dragones — a 17th-century former stable, now transformed into the home of Tequila Casa Dragones. Securing a visit is as easy as reaching out to the brand’s concierge team. Or make your way to the Casa Dragones Tasting Room, a chic six-seat destination for sipping craft cocktails, located in the Dôce 18 compound. My favorite is the spruce and tequila spritz, made from Casa Dragones Blanco, spruce tip cordial, Cocchi Americano, and fresh lemon. After a few sips, I’m ready for the main event: a grand party at the historic Plaza de Toros, a 16th- century bullfighting ring transformed with thousands of vibrant orange flowers, a 10-piece mariachi band, two larger-than-life Mojiganga puppets, and a singer on horseback. We ring through a tunnel, where a dramatic dinner is set beneath a canopy of Mexican papier-mâché lanterns, with a menu cooked by some of the world’s renowned chefs.

Each course is plant-based with peak-of season ingredients sourced from San Miguel and the floating farms called chinampas in Xochimilco, where farming is done using techniques dating to the Aztecs. Elena Reygadas, known for her Italian-influenced cooking at the lovely Rosetta in Mexico City, oversees the pan de miento and the mole de hoja santa. Enrique Olvera, the originator of modern Mexican cuisine at Pujol in Mexico City, and Daniela Soto-Innes, the James Beard Award-winning chef at Cosme in New York City, labored over the other courses, including tamal de calabaza, barbacoa de hongos, and a raspado de Mandarina dessert.

Adrianna Sophia, Naeem Kahn
Adrianna Sophia, Naeem Kahn

Revelers, in Gucci and Valentino, wear traditional Day of the Dead floral headdresses, handmade masks, and La Calavera Catrina makeup. Among them are designers Naeem Khan, Héctor Esrawe, and Carla Fernández; artists Gabriel Orozco, Danh Vo, and Pedro Reyes; Academy Award-winning writer Stephen Gaghan; and Bob Pittman, Casa Dragones co-founder and CEO of iHeartMedia.

After dinner, the scene transforms into an arena concert as González Nieves welcomes a favorite Mexico City band, Tropikal Forever, whose playlist ranges from Radiohead to The Rolling Stones. Dancing carries on through the wee hours, though I suspect you already knew that.

Recreo
Recreo
Recreo
Recreo
Rosewood Hotel in San Miguel
Terraza Grande with view of San Miguel
AD_Nussbaumer Credit Douglas Friedman
AD_Nussbaumer4 Credit Douglas Friedman
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Cindy & Howard Rachofsky, Bertha González Nieves, guest, Harold Spook
Age Salajõe, Hector Esrawe
Joann McPike, Bertha González Nieves, Oscar Madrazo (1)
Priyanka Khanna, Naeem Khan
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Atmosphere
Chef Preparing Dinner
Chef Donnie Masterton, Chef Elena Reygadas, Bertha González Nieves, Chef Daniela Soto-Innes, Blaine Wetzel
Adrianna Sophia, Naeem Kahn
Faisal Halum, Brian Bolke

Source: Paper Mag

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