strellita's Bed & Breakfast

Estrellita's B&B is Ajijic's New Star

by Joan Alita Ray


Homes & Lodging

You know you are going to enjoy a beautiful bed and breakfast from the minute you see the front wall of La Estrellita's B&B, a new addition to Ajijic's growing number of businesses. The color outside says volumes about the personality and artistry of the establishment inside, and about the new owner, Lorraine Pasini, who moved here seven years ago. It's painted a luscious periwinkle blue, unusual and inviting. The new sign with an E in flowing script is perched between two black wrought iron lanterns. Gone are the plaster swan and sign of the old Swan Inn, and now Estrellita's, meaning "little star," is attracting new visitors and delighting the returning ones.

The gorgeous color outside is a hint for other possibilities inside. One step inside the door the visitor is quickly assured that they will not be disappointed. The colors meld into warm ocher and deep reds, sunny yellows and more of that impossibly tempting blue. If the colors, the wealth of beautifully displayed Mexican folk art, and the warmth of the Guatemalan fabrics covering the living room chairs suggest to you an artist at home, you would be right.

Lorraine Pasini stands in front
 of her new colorful B&B.  (All photos
in this article are by Rebecca Ford.)

Lorraine Pasini's artistic touch is everywhere in the inn, from the catrinas, (the skeleton figures prominent in Mexican art), to carefully chosen tile and accessories in each bathroom. Lorraine's passion for art took form in oil and watercolor paintings and paper maché during her many years in California. She also expressed her artistic talent in her award winning B&B in Glen Ellen, located in the wine country of California. There she took a five-bedroom plantation style house, with an inviting broad porch running around the front and sides of the second level, and turned it into an inn she called The Glennelly. The B&B quickly grew in popularity with Lorraine at the helm—her friendly personality and flair for creating a relaxing and beautiful atmosphere alone could make a business a success. Her attention to detail and enjoyment in what she does won Glennelly the California Historical Preservation Award in 1987.

"My husband, Luis, didn't even know I had purchased the California place until the deal was done. I made the offer, and they accepted within that same day. When I showed it to him for the first time he was aghast; when he pushed his fist against the wall it went right through!" Lorraine remembers. "But he was a general contractor, so I just reminded him how perfect he was for the job. He took on the project, of course, and while he did extensive remodeling I was refinishing old pine furniture from Scotland, England and Ireland. The colors were very important then also, and after many tries I found a warm peach for the outside of the B&B, and trimmed it all in white. It was gorgeous, and my husband ended up using the color so much in his other jobs that the paint store renamed it "Pasini Peach."

(Left:) The warmth of color begins in the dining room, where guests lounge each morning. (Right:) The Guatemalan fabrics are a perfect match to the folk art displayed in the living room.

Lorraine moved to Ajijic in 2001 after her husband of 26 years passed away because she remembered him talking about "Ah-hee-hee, the laughing town." Luis was familiar with this area; he was born in Torreon just northeast of Lakeside, and she wanted to see this place he remembered so fondly. She looked at B&B possibilities at that time, but it wasn't until the perfectly located Swan Inn came up for sale that she found the right fit.

It was the right fit in many different ways. Lorraine named her new inn La Estrellita's B&B because it fit so well with her past and with her present. The name has come from a marriage between a beautiful old poster, which hangs to the left as you enter the B&B, and a little slice of her old life in the Sonoma region. "Estrellita was a Spanish dancer who always performed with her picture on a poster on each side of the stage. This is one of the posters right here," Lorraine explains as she points it out.

"Estrellita was a good friend of Jack London's, who was one of her admirers. He would often come to watch her dance," Lorraine says, warming to one of her favorite subjects. "I found the poster in the Glen Ellen Jack London Bookstore which was owned by Russ Kingman, a well-recognized Jack London expert, who actually knew London and Estrellita.

"Many times over the years my husband had taken his workers to the pub in Glen Ellen where this poster was hanging and he'd always loved the piece. I was lucky enough to buy it later from Russ and give it to Luis on his 50th birthday. It holds a lot of good memories for me, and now it is starting a new life here, just like I am."

Lorraine has done some research on this intriguing woman, who has now become part of her history also. "Estrellita's real name was Stella Hurtig." Lorraine explains, "She was a Jewish woman born into a Vaudeville family in Cincinnati. She had a wild life. She celebrated her birthday on top of a pyramid in Egypt, and was mobbed by admirers in England when she was asked to dance for Queen Victoria."

Estrellita finally retired from dancing in her early 40s, became Mrs. Paul Jones, and went on to become the first manufacturer of exotic perfumes in California. She also was the woman upon whom Jack London based his character Ida Barton in his book Kanaka Surf. "She was quite a beauty," Lorraine adds, "and I'm glad she is now adding her intriguing history to my new B&B."

Upon closer examination of this little slice of California history, I notice the producers of the poster are David Allen & Sons, Leicester Street in London, Harrow and Belfast, and that it was painted in 1910. It completes a wonderful slice of California history with some Mexican spice, lovingly brought home.

This poster of the real Estrellita
 shows the young woman who
 attracted the attention of both
 Queen Victoria and Jack London.

Lorraine bought the old Swan Inn in Ajijic in October of 2007 and tore into the project, repainting everything, buying new comfortable Serta pillow top beds and linens, installing a new water filtration system, putting in a laundry, a small kitchen for the guests, and comfortable furniture. "There were so many details, and such a short amount of time before the first guests arrived December 20th," she remembers. "It was a frantic race to get everything done in time, but it was all great fun, too."

Amenities now include a comfortable sitting area with TV, patio and garden seating areas, two rooms with their own roof-top patios, an outdoor kitchen, purified water system, internet and free wireless access in the living room and dining area for those with laptops. Lorraine has placed a beautiful long table in the breakfast area, which seems to invite visitors to chat and leisurely enjoy her morning offerings. Her breakfast includes various pastries from local bakeries, cereals and coffee and other beverages.

(Left:) This garden seating area is a bright spot to spend some relaxing time. (Right:) This rooftop patio is right outside of one bedroom, along with lovely views of the village.

Visitors will love the bright colors and folk art that is abundant at La Estrellita's, but there's more. Just step outside and you are perfectly located to explore the village of Ajijic. Next door to the B&B is the Lake Chapala Society, with beautiful gardens, library, snack bar and many activities and meetings. Visitors can easily go next door to relax over a coffee or cold drink and fall into chats with local expats in this friendly community. Want to talk about real estate, what it's like to live here, and where does everybody shop? This is the perfect place to find out. Maybe you'll join a Scrabble game or hear a lecture while you're there.

From the inn, you are just two blocks from the village plaza, and the boutiques, art galleries, good restaurants and jewelry stores that abound throughout the downtown area. Lake Chapala is also just steps away and a tempting place for visitors to relax and enjoy the view. Water birds are abundant with egrets, herons, and white pelicans swooping along the shores. Local fisherman throwing their nets and villagers training their horses for show are common and pleasurable sights.

(Left:) This patio, painted the same blue as the outside of the B&B, is right outside of the room called Capriccio. (Right:) This is one of the many pieces of religious folk art throughout the B&B.

Lorraine especially enjoys meeting her guests, both newcomers and long-time residents—many of whom drop by asking to see the new look of the inn. "They have all remarked on the great changes," she says. "I felt that my biggest risk was painting the outside that startling color of blue, but I am delighted with it. Some people have had their picture taken standing by the front door, wanting to go back home and try to reproduce the color in their own homes."

She is especially proud of her contractor, Juan Gutierrez. Her distinctive wrought iron was done by Alejandro Ramos Mendoza, and the painting was done by Antonio Zennaro.

"I bought all my furnishing locally," Lorraine adds. "The wrought iron work, tin and iron light fixtures, tile and even most of the art you see throughout. I had all new bedspreads made locally, and had the greatest fun finding the right folk art for each room. I have my catrina nuns in the room called Las Monjas (the nuns), model ships and sea pictures in Puerto del Mar, some Chinese touches in San Francisco, and folk art roosters in Capriccio. The two upstairs rooms were the last of the single rooms finished. I wanted to completely redo their outside patios. Those rooms are called Tropicana and Jalisco.

(Left:) This bright room is called Las Monjas, or the nuns' room, because of its lovely folk art touches. (Right:) This is one of the rooftop rooms, with its own private patio outside the door.

Those two top floor rooms offer a rarity in Ajijic, with their own comfortable outside patios, tempting lounging chairs shaded with yellow umbrellas, also made by the company of a La Floresta couple, Carmen and Octavio Robles. The patios are replete with flowering plants, and views that would invite any visitor to sit, relax and enjoy this added benefit. It would even be enough to tempt you to take an afternoon off from the shopping, sightseeing and browsing.

Next Lorraine is tackling the remodeling of a casita (small house) at the rear of the property. It has two bedrooms and baths, its own kitchen and lots of privacy. She is intent on finishing the work in the casita so she can move there in April to be on site for her guests' comfort and convenience. Also, it will be full time home for her two pups, Max and Molly, who already delight everyone who comes through the front door.

"I'm enjoying my guests, and I love showing people through the rooms," Lorraine says, "just as I did before in Glen Ellen. It pleases me when my visitors love the new look, and when my catrinas or my "rooster room" makes them laugh. Some would like to just sit in the living room area and soak up the color, or sigh over the garden rooms. Their appreciation makes it all worthwhile!"

La Estrellita's B&B
Lorraine Pasini, Owner
Telephone: (376) 766-0917
16 de Septiembre, #18, next to the Lake Chapala Society

16 de Septiembre #18
Ajijic, Jalisco 45900 Mexico

From outside Mexico: 011 52 (376) 766 0917
From within Mexico: (376) 766 0917
(from USA/Canada): (310) 694-3706 VONAGE