As excited as I am to be back in a routine, I am still craving vacation mode. Not a vacation of activities planned, but a leisurely getaway with cooler weather, charming streets, and visual delights. Thinking these thoughts, my mind immediately goes back to my trip to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. While I was there, I met a wonderful transplant, Christina Ruckel. She informed me of the casas in San Miguel that she uses as rental properties. Personally, I have always shied away from rental properties. I tend to like the creature comforts of hotels. However, after speaking with Christina, it is clear that she doesn’t just rent away her space, but provides an intimate and catered experience to all of her guests. You can live like a local, and still feel like you are on a dreamy vacation.
Since I am very interested in returning soon and renting one of her beautiful casas in Casa de Los Chiqueados, I asked her several questions to help me (and you!) decipher what to look for in rental properties and why to choose San Miguel de Allende as your ideal escape.
How did you first start coming to San Miguel? What drew you in?
We first came to San Miguel de Allende in early 2006. My family and I had been looking for a second home in a Spanish speaking country so that the boys could become fluent in Spanish. After 3 years of searching in the Caribbean, Central and South America and Mexico we were quite discouraged in not finding the place best suited for our family. On the flight home from Buenos Aires, we read about San Miguel in the in flight airline magazine and thought we would try it next. That was the best choice ever!
San Miguel felt like home immediately and like many others, we bought a home on our second day in the historic center of town and have never looked back. The house was a former youth hostel and we have spent much time, love, energy and money restoring it to have the Old World Colonial charm that we adore. It is still our home and we wouldn’t change a thing. Please do not tell my husband I said that though. We moved down full time 4 years ago when our youngest son went to college at Texas A and M.
What do you find to be popular in decor throughout San Miguel?
Décor here is all over the spectrum. Some people love the Colonial style with a strong European influence. Others like more typical Mexican decors with adobe walls, terra cotta tile floors, Talavera tiles hand painted in many bright colors and carved wooden furniture. More people, especially from Mexico City and other large urban areas are leaning toward more contemporary design choices. Color, however, is something we see much of.
What decor obsessions have you developed since living there, that you weren’t necessarily drawn to in the States?
If I had to list my most favorite design feature I would have to admit to an obsession with canterra, a carved stone similar to limestone. I just love it! All of our arches, window surrounds and fireplaces have it. The character it adds and the warmth are amazing. I have even put it on floors and of course our fountains. Also loving the use of antiqued mirrors on doors and ceilings now too. The rich warm colors of Mexico are ubiquitous in all of my decorating projects. They make me smile and happy. That is what living here is all about! Things here tend to be a bit more plush, heavier and more ornate.
What prompted you to start developing rentals?
My energy level is much higher than most people and I get restless when I don’t have several plates spinning. My husband Gary is an avid golfer and got tired of coming home to a rearranged house. I enjoyed playing golf as well but a back injury kept me from playing a year or so after moving down full time.
Gary encouraged me to find something that combined my creativity, energy and interest in architecture and interior design. Oh, I must mention shopping too. When a couple of adjoining properties came up for sale on our street, we decided it would give me something to do and that is how we got into the rental business. It took well over a year to get the permits since the rules for construction in the historic part of town we are in are so strict, and to get them completed. Casa de los Chiqueados means House of the Spoiled Ones and is aptly named. During this time, we found Casa Max and Casa Maggie in a neighboring colonia and named them after our beloved rescue dogs. They are built on the site of an old pool hall. All of our private residences are furnished differently, very upscale and full of original art. We used many of the talented craftsmen from in town and the surrounding pueblos to help us do this.
What sets your rental properties apart from others?
What sets us apart from other rentals is our commitment to customer service, the willingness of our staff to go through great lengths to make a stay with us the very best it can be. Each of private residences is named after a precious gem because they are all jewel boxes in every sense of the word. Our rates are low in comparison to what is included and what we offer.
What is your hospitality philosophy?
Our philosophy on hospitality is simple and starts with the first contact. We believe in treating all of our guests like they are staying in our own private home. We have a lot of guests and have been guests in some of the loveliest homes around the world and have brought what we liked best of these experiences to our residences.
We return all requests on the same day and work to ensure our guests have all the information they need to begin their stay in San Miguel in a positive manner. Jose Luis, our beyond wonderful and capable rental manager can help with private transfers from any airport. He is always there to greet our guests personally, taking time to explain how things work. From the in room safes, to the TV’s and DVD players to the stoves, no question is unanswered.
Guests are shown to their jewel box of choice and greeted with flowers, their favorite wine and a basket of fresh fruits and snacks. Some guests who send us their grocery list will also find their items purchased and put away. We ask beforehand what their preferences are and keep a file for future visits. We remember if you like softer pillows or more firm, if you would like extra towels and which wines and flowers you like best. Our guests celebrating a birthday or anniversary with us get a cake and champagne. This attention to detail shows how much we value our guests and keeps them coming back again and again. From the beginning we knew we wanted to build up our business one happy guest at a time.
What is your best advice for someone who is looking to book their next vacation at a rental property anywhere in the world? What should the customer look for/avoid?
Advice I would give is to check references and also to look on Trip Advisor. Our guests have shown our philosophy towards them is on the right track by all of the 5 star reviews they have given us. We have also gotten an award for our dedication and commitment to customer service by Trip Advisor.
One thing we hear all the time is that our properties are sooooo much better in person than the photos on our website show. This is by design as we would always rather under promise and over deliver. A complaint we hear so often is that people have rented from photos from other sites and that the descriptions were not at all accurate and were deceptive. That is a horrible way to begin a vacation.
No matter where in the world you travel, use common sense. Do not wear flashy jewelry or pull out a wad of cash. Be understated in your dress and mannerisms. Be polite. Try to learn a few phrases in the language of the country you are visiting and use them. A smile and friendly attitude go a long way. Getting involved in the customs, culture, foods and celebrations will make your visit more enjoyable for you and for others. If we are fortunate enough to have you as one of our guests, we are happy to make suggestions, reservations and whatever you need to make your visit to our magical town the very best it can be! We look forward to your visit and to meeting you soon!