How do you create a luxury boutique hotel in an artsy colonial town in the high desert of Mexico?
You decide to buy land in Pennsylvania.
At least this is how Casa Misha—in San Miguel de Allende, five hours north of Mexico City—got started. Owners Richard Samuel and Edward George of New York had chosen the keystone state’s Buck’s County as the ideal setting for a second home. Shortly after making this decision, Ed traveled to San Miguel, and, like many visitors, fell in love with the historic town immediately. “Within a week of Ed’s first visit to San Miguel,” explains Richard, “he’d put an offer on a property. That property became Casa Misha.” Richard likes to joke that if Ed had owned a GPS at the time, he would have realized he wasn’t in Pennsylvania and Casa Misha wouldn’t exist.
And what a shame that would be. Located on a quiet cobblestone street in the heart of San Miguel’s Centro district and just two blocks from its lively jardin, Casa Misha, only four years old, is a hidden gem.
Let’s start with San Miguel itself. Set in the mountainous reaches of the Mexican desert, this colorful city of colonial architecture, thermal hot springs, perpetual blossoms and perfect light also has perfect weather, everlasting spring. Declared a UNIESCO World Heritage Site last year, 467-year-old San Miguel de Allende, population 80,000, has an eclectic mix of Mexicans and foreigners. The foreigners aren’t only the tourists and snowbirds who flock here every winter, but also the 8,000 expats who’ve left their old lives behind to immerse themselves year-round in San Miguel’s myriad cultural offerings, climate, and energetic artistic community.
Because of the town’s artistic flavorings, many people are looking for something unique in their lodgings. That’s exactly what they’ll find at Casa Misha. Truly earning its reputation as by far the best boutique hotel in San Miguel, the exclusive, first-class establishment features seven elegantly decorated private bedrooms, each handsomely and individually designed with fine English, French and Mexican colonial antiques and lavish furnishings. But lush décor, gourmet cuisine, turn-down service and attentive staff aren’t all that await guests. The hotel is replete with, among other lovely details, roof-top terraces, small and large living rooms full of antiques and leather furniture—ideal for reading, entertaining and movie-watching; gardens dripping with jasmine and orange blossoms; fresh-cut flowers in every room; the sound of water tinkling in courtyard fountains; soft music flowing; and aromas of Ed’s freshly-baked breads and muffins seeping from the kitchen.
In the beginning, however, Richard and Ed weren’t planning on a hotel. They were planning on living in their new home themselves. Then they started renovating. “All the renovations had to be cleared with the historical preservation department since many parts of the house date back to the 1700s,” says Richard. During the renovations, an adjacent lot containing some ruins came on the market and they decided to buy that too, all the while outfitting their home, hiring seamstresses, and sourcing antiques and furnishings from Guadalajara, Mexico City, London, New York, and San Miguel itself.
After the extensive renovations, they started thinking of the property as one of the top-end rental homes in San Miguel.
But they were also thinking of how they liked a certain TV show.
The Duchess of Duke Street had always been their favorite BBC drama. In the story, an English woman sets out to become the best cook in England in the early 1900s. She also opens the Bentinck Hotel in central London where each room is custom-designed with several gentlemen "maintaining" their London rooms there—their home away from home. Food and services were all customized to the guests as they became known to the hotel.
Richard and Ed were inspired. Why not create a high-end boutique hotel with exceptionally personal service?
“As our property was already designed around the idea of a very large private home, and we’re natural entertainers anyway, this was the perfect fit,” says Richard. It didn’t hurt that Ed was also a chef, baker, designer and pastry chef—skills he happily employs today at Casa Misha.
In 2005, Richard retired from his days as a banker in Manhattan. Then, joining Ed, he moved to Mexico full-time.
To the delight of its worldly guests, and to the residents of San Miguel, Casa Misha was opened in February 2008. With Casa Misha up and running, Ed intends to resume his travels.
Richard waits anxiously to find out where the next Casa Misha will be.
*This story was originally published in the Toronto Star.