People who visit San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, generally have an eye for the finer things in life. The town is such a gem that it has been declared a national monument.
San Miguel de Allende also is a second home for artists. The town's elegant shops are filled with an assortment of handcrafts made locally and in other areas of Mexico. There are wearables, home accessories, gift items and collectible art.
By wandering around the town's delightful \o7 zocalo \f7 (main square), you see the best shops. They have fixed prices. It isn't advisable to bargain unless you're negotiating for an antique or several items that amount to a substantial sale.
Union des Artesanias (Plaza Principal 6) shows the work of six local craftspeople. The shop has woven metal baskets with hand-painted flowers ($15 U.S.), tin and brass woven wastepaper baskets ($25), large brass peacock mirrors ($75), small pocketbook mirrors in brass cases ($3), brass trivets ($5), large white hammocks ($80 and up) and beautiful white wool area rugs ($90 and up).
Artes de Tequis (Plaza Principal 20 to 24) sells some pretty and reasonably priced gift and souvenir items. Broad leather and cotton belts with wild geometric patterns for $14, ceramic pots with pointillistic designs of birds and flowers made in the state of Michoacan ($40 and up) and oversize mugs with pretty hand-painted doves and flowers for about $9.
In the back room you'll find a selection of hand-painted ceramic lamp bases from $35 and up.
Casa Canal (Canal 3) is one of San Miguel de Allende's two most famous shops. In a home-like setting, the shop displays beautiful and expensive colonial-style home furnishings, decorative craft items and fashions.
You might begin with the clothes boutique featuring the creations of Josefa (prices start at $250). It has long dresses, caftans and ensembles bedecked with ribbons, plus tastefully appliqued and beautifully hued adaptations of traditional Indian clothing. The boutique also has clothes by Opus 1, with fringed caftans ($200 and up) and other exotic items.
The furniture galleries display hand-carved wooden sets for bedrooms and dining rooms, plus assorted chests, bed headboards, armoires and other cabinets. Smaller items include tableware, lamp bases, brass and ceramic sculpture. All expensive.
Joyeria Monaco (Canal 13A) is a jewelry shop with unusual and reasonably priced pieces, including sleek and modern pendants made with silver and large polished sections of onyx ($20 and up), chalcedony ($20 and up), sodolite ($30 and up) and other semiprecious stones.
Square- or dot-shaped silver ear posts with onyx, malachite or turquoise cost $12. A silver thick-link bracelet that looks heavy but is light enough to wear with comfort is $70. Good buys.
Casa Maxwell (Canal 14 and Umaran 3) is a sprawling, multilevel mansion filled with antique furnishings and all sorts of contemporary decorative crafts and designer wearables.
Take time in browsing through this shop, which has hand-carved pine wood chandeliers with 12 lights ($700), sets of bedroom furniture that include headboards, wooden chests and dressers ($1,000 and up), carved hardwood dolphins ($35 and up), colorful woolen area rugs and blankets ($175 and up), hand-blown glasses with red, blue or brown tints ($2 a glass), and matching pitchers ($10) and earthenware table settings from Guadalajara, Guanajuato and Morelia ($250 and up per 32-piece set).
The shop also carries fine silver jewelry and designer clothes, including Judith Roberts' denim coats with bright satin appliques of desert scenes ($225) and Irene Pulos' lovely takeoffs of traditional dresses with ribbons, applique and beading ($180 and up).
Plateria Cerroblanco (Canal 17) is a family-owned jewelry shop that designs and manufactures its own pieces in a modern style. There are large, smoothed-oval chunks of turquoise, onyx and other semi-precious stones set into sleek, square-shaped earrings that have well-designed and sturdy snap-backs ($30 and up). Matching rings cost $18 and up. The shop also specializes in silver and leather bracelets ($15 and up) and motherofpearl earrings ($32 and up).
The arcade at Canal 21 has several shops.
Tendencia Mexicana has colorful cotton fashions with appliqued flowers and birds at about $75. There are also pantsuits ($90 and up), broad, colorful belts ($21) and broad-brimmed cotton hats ($40) with applique. Across the patio, Acento has amusing stuffed pigs and other toy animals ($12 and up) made out of plaid, striped and polka-dot fabrics.
Amanda Boutique has coats ($300 and up) made from hand-woven serapes in red, white and black, plus beaded gourds ($10) and masks ($30 and up), handmade leather and cotton shoes ($25) and musician Jim Doney's handmade "monochrome" instruments (about $90) and New Age cassette tapes ($8).