?The time has come to distance ourselves from preconceived notions of the Mexican vacation as a Cuervo-soaked, MTV Spring Break?ridden bender, the only takeaway of which?aside from cheap, unregulated prescription drugs?is tacky regret and trinkets bearing grainy images of Frida Kahlo. Case in point: San Miguel de Allende, a ravishing hill town about 200 miles northwest of Mexico City characterized by classical Spanish architecture and a strong penchant for contemporary design. Even lodging options, like Casa de Sierra Nevada (Hospicio 42, +52 415-152-7040), take their style very seriously: 17th- and 18th-century details, including reused stone archways, complement 37 individually designed rooms and suites with locally sourced décor. Luxuriant courtyards filled with babbling fountains and lemon and pomegranate trees are pure magic. You?ll be hard-pressed to find a proper gay bar in town, but drop by La Azotea (Umarán 6, +52 415-152-4977) for tequila and tricked out views of the bright and ornately designed buildings downtown. This spot marks a major homo predilection that permeates many of the San Miguel?s dining and drinking locales, making it a desirable Central American destination for those willing to trade beach for boutiques and galleries with a modern, distinctly Mexican aesthetic.
This gay-owned shop?s avian-inspired collection manages to tastefully enhance the popular design trope?without becoming a cloying cliché. Go subtle with geometric, crafted iron chandeliers that evoke birdcages or a ceramic, bone white half-cylinder filled with lavender (not potpourri) from the Rancho la Colorada farm 45 minutes outside of town. Or try for something more overtly winged, like the hefty brass duck and pelican figurines that double as bottle openers. Zacateros No. 46, +52 415-122-3157, caminosilvestre.com
>Fabrica la Aurora
This market, located in a former textile factory, is the artistic center of San Miguel, featuring 50 galleries, studios, interior decorators, and artisans within its airy, indoor-outdoor compound. Test out furniture-maker Atrium?s hammocks, composed of wooden slats instead of rope. and gawk at the works of Mariló Carral, an impressionistic landscape and still-life painter whose neon color palette elicits the vital flora found all over San Miguel. Calzada de la Aurora, Colonia Aurora, +52 415-152-8636, fabricalaaurora.com
>Mercado de Artesanias
Dig through hordes of schlocky stalls in this vibrant, chaotic flea market to find the true steals. Among vendors peddling omnipresent metallic star-shaped lanterns and wooden cooking utensils, seek out the leatherworkers whose belts and bracelets are cheap and modest, well-crafted bargains. Plaza Lanatón, Andador Lucas Balderas, +52 415-152-6590
Go ahead, just try walking through the assortment of restored vintage and contempo pieces without pulling out your wallet. Bobo?s collection (see sidebar), composed of mostly Mexican designers, contrasts the stark minimalism ubiquitous in upscale U.S. and European stores, with playful construction and ornamentation. The eye is immediately drawn to designer Miguel Calanchini?s upside-down bouquet of orb-like light bulbs, tied together and hung loosely from the ceiling, but then journeys on to more lighthearted objects, like a fully molded artichoke candleholder or abstract table sculptures that feature pinecones and lustrous seashells. Cuna de Allende 11, +52 415-152-2799, bobo-gourmet.com