San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende, founded in 1542, is considered to be one of the most beautiful towns in Mexico and it truly is a gem. Located in the Bajio mountains in central Mexico, San Miguel is about 160 miles north of Mexico City in the state of Guanajuato. It's absolutely charming with narrow cobblestone streets, lovely 18th century buildings and marvelous houses, both grand and small. These intriguing casas are generally hidden behind tall walls and are entered through often-large elaborately carved wooden doors, which open into courtyards. Fountains, gardens, loggias with fireplaces and casitas are all part of what make San Miguel houses so appealing. And almost all of them come with wonderful staff. Many also have roof gardens overlooking this enchanting hillside town. Part of the reason San Miguel remains so special is that it was declared a national monument in 1926 and all new construction must conform to the colonial architecture. And it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I fell in love with it immediately.

La Parroquia, a Gothic style cathedral, which is wonderfully lit at night, borders the main plaza, El Jardín, on one side. Nearby are Benito Juárez Park, the largest in town, and the Instituto Allende, where many foreigners come to study art and Spanish. As San Miguel is quite small, one never has to walk far (in sensible shoes, seriously) to get to one of the many good restaurants or to a fabulous store, of which there are also lots. From decorative objets and light fixtures to furniture and ceramics, the shopping is sensational. Luckily many stores will ship and there is also a place which will pack and ship your purchases. The Rosewood Hotel in town has a very good spa and there are few hot springs for bathing nearby. Golf, riding and tennis are available as well.

Within an hour are fascinating and fun places to visit including Pozos for ruins of imposing ghostly haciendas and the Shrine of Atotonilco for some of the finest native frescoes in Mexico and the yearly procession on foot of female pilgrims of all ages dressed as brides. There is also Dolores Hidalgo for hand-painted ceramic dishes and tiles and the very pretty city of Guanajuato famous for its unique underground streets and Museum of Mummies (not for the faint hearted). It's also famous for being the birthplace of Diego Rivera and his childhood house is now a museum.

León International Airport is about 75 minutes (door to door) and is served by Aeroméxico, Mexicana, United (nonstop from Houston) and American Airlines (nonstop from Dallas/Fort Worth). Mexico City is about 3 ½ hours by car.