The “First Lady of Tequila” Provides an Insider’s Guide to San Miguel de Allende

When Casa Dragones cofounder Bertha González Nieves launched the high-end sipping tequila label eight years ago in the central Mexico city of San Miguel de Allende, she says it was the independent spirit and courage of the city’s legendary Dragones cavalry that drew the brand there. (Some background: The cavalry played an integral role in precipitating Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1810.)

González Nieves knows a thing or two about being a firebrand herself. As one of the first women to hold the rare distinction of Maestra Tequilera by the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila, the former Jose Cuervo executive has also been dubbed “the First Lady of Tequila,” not to mention one of the most innovative women in food by Fortune.

Casa Dragones’s headquarters plays host to a tasting room that is situated—perfectly enough—in the former 17th-century Dragones stables. Tequila lovers will enjoy a visit, but even the less agave-obsessed will appreciate San Miguel. Once a quiet artist’s enclave, an influx of vibrant new restaurants, stylish hotels, and chic shopping destinations have impressively enmeshed themselves into the city’s elegant and historic landscape. And the secret’s out: This year the UNESCO World Heritage site was ranked the number one city in the world by Travel + Leisure.

For an insider’s take on where to eat, sleep, and play, here are some of González Nieves’s top picks:

Find Your Footing

“I love to walk the streets of San Miguel starting at the Jardín (a tree-filled square in the town’s center). From there you can discover the quiet beauty and elegance of the town. Walking around the Jardín at night is also a town custom. Many local couples sit there and talk for hours—it’s very romantic.”

Best Rooms

“Hotel Matilda, Dos Casas, and L’Ôtel are all boutique hotels that happen to combine great design and excellent culinary offerings with high-end hospitality. And each has its own unique style that integrates organically with the character of San Miguel de Allende.”

Favorite Restaurants

“There are so many amazing restaurants in San Miguel that have excellent food without being pretentious. Bovine Brasserie and steakhouse has a fabulous new menu from one of my favorite chefs in Mexico right now, Paul Bentley. His menu is very rich and flavorful—and not fancy—but it truly captures the spirit of the ranchero.”

“Chef Donnie Masterton’s The Restaurant feels really special because it’s located in a beautiful old building with an open patio. The menu has a lot of global accents, but prepared with seasonal Mexican ingredients, which makes it unique.”

Best Shopping

“Dôce 18 offers great one-stop shopping for fashion, design, and food. Casa R is a unique design store, and Recreo sells great original-looking ponchos and capes. I also like Casa Armida and Hoja Santa, which has a lot of fashionable pieces from all over the world.”

Favorite Lunch Stop “Jacinto 1930 is a perfect stop for lunch because it’s in Dôce 18 Concept House, which houses a variety of shops and purveyors. I love the tuna tostado, which is delicious and elegant yet authentic to Mexican street food.”

For Sipping and Sightseeing (Day or Night)

“There a few prime spots to enjoy a cocktail and a beautiful view: Quince Rooftop and La Azotea (on the roof of Pueblo Viejo restaurant) are quite casual and fun, while Rosewood’s Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar is a little fancier.”

Insider Intel

“The spa at Hotel Matilda is by far the best in town; also San Miguel’s artisan market is a really great place to go off the beaten path for fabrics, jewelry, and street food. And I love the jazz and blues at Cent’anni, an Italian restaurant and lounge known for its great live music.“