288km (179 miles) NW of Mexico City; 120km (74 miles) E of Guanajuato; 64km (40 miles) NW of Quer├ętaro

San Miguel de Allende (elevation 1,862m/6,107 ft.) mixes the best aspects of small-town life with the cosmopolitan pleasures of a big city. It is the smallest of the cities covered from this region and perhaps the most relaxed; a wide variety of restaurants, shops, and galleries makes urbanites feel quite at home. Most of the buildings in the central part of the town date from the Colonial Era or the 19th century; the law requires newer buildings to conform to existing architecture, and the town has gone to some lengths to retain its cobblestone streets.

Living in San Miguel is a large community of Americans: some retired, some attending art or language school, and some who have come here to live simply and follow their creative muses -- painting, writing, and sculpting. The center of this community is the public library in the former convent of Santa Ana. It is a good place to find information on San Miguel or just to sit on the patio and read.

A notable aspect of San Miguele├▒a society is the number of festivals it celebrates. In a country that needs only the barest of excuses to hold a fiesta, San Miguel is known far and wide for them. Most of these celebrations are of a religious character and are meant to combine social activity with religious expression. People practice Catholicism with great fervor -- going on religious pilgrimages, attending all-night vigils, ringing church bells at the oddest times throughout the night (something that some visitors admittedly might not find so amusing).

Because of the easy highway route from Mexico City, San Miguel is popular with weekenders from the capital. Arrive early on Friday or make a reservation ahead of time for weekends, especially long weekends. There's also a squeeze on rooms around the Christmas and Easter holidays and around the feast of San Miguel's patron saint, on September 29.