Nestled high in the cool hills of the Mexican altiplano, San Miguel De Allende is one the hippest, busiest, most charming towns in Mexico. More importantly, this seductive little city offers the alternative traveler numerous inexpensive and high-quality opportunities to study Spanish or the arts. So much so, that many travelers come to visit and never seem to make it home.
Founded in 1542 by Fray Juan de San Miguel, and home to the heroes of the Mexican Independence, San Miguel (or SMA as it is called by the local expats) is a perfectly preserved Colonial city of 130,000 people. With clean-swept cobblestone streets, brightly painted haciendas urbanos, a shady and peaceful Jardín, gorgeous churches, and a fiesta every week (it seems), it is reminiscent of old Mexico - graceful, gentile, and urbane.
In the 1930's, the Instituto Allende, a national art school, was established and SMA became an artists' colony -- a mecca for aspiring painters and artisans from Mexico and beyond. Those aesthetic sensibilities helped preserve and develop the towns' character and appeal.
Today, the number of artists and artisans has grown along with other art schools, workshops, boutiques, galleries, and markets. The expat population has also grown (numbering between 2-5,000, depending upon the season), and with it came Spanish language schools, the largest bilingual library in Mexico (Biblióteca Publico), English language papers, theatre, concerts, lectures and restaurants.
Combine all these things - throw in cool, sunny, dry weather most of the year, reasonable accommodations, an astounding number of happenings and goings-on for a small town, and the ability to walk anywhere -- and you have a near perfect destination for alternative travel or living.