Barry Pollack’s “Going Places” Bella Maggiore Inn, Ventura

The Bella Maggiore Inn was a fading memory, abeit a fond one. Nearly twenty

couples, my best friends, celebrated New Year's Eve there several years ago. I should have written my praise of it then but was diverted by other travels and perhaps more luxurious settings. On returning to Ventura recently, I discovered it again. The Bella Maggiore with its Italian villa décor is not a luxurious destination. It has old world charm and old world inconveniences. There are no elevators for its three stories. There's a meandering route to the rooms annexed to it from an old bank next door. But it more than makes up for its deficits by providing gracious service in a setting that is cozy, romantic, and conveniently located in seaside Ventura. Jolyn, the inn's charming hostess, will welcome you with a contagious laugh and a smile. Ventura, which has undergone somewhat of a downtown rennaissance over the last ten years, is still a place with a small town friendly feeling - slower paced, than its big city neighors to the north and south. It is also blessed with great weather - often sunny, never too hot nor too cold. Exit the 101 Freeway at California Street and downtown is just two lights away. The Bella Maggiore Inn at 67 South California Street (800-523-8479) is just off Main Street and three blocks from Ventura's beach, a scenic fishing pier, and a beautiful meandering beachfront promenade and bike path. Ventura's four blocks of touristy Main Street is rife with antique and vintage stores. Just down the street from the inn is Earl Stanley Gardner's old law building. An historical plaque in front of the building notes that Gardner, a resident of Ventura, patterned the office of his character Perry Mason after his own office in this building. And on the corner of California and Main is the Portabella, a store filled with magnificent antiques housed in a great old bank building. The Bella Maggiore has 28 rooms, each uniquely decorated with shuttered windows, ceiling fans, and private baths. There are mostly queens, a few kings, and large jacuzzi's in its two most expensive rooms. Rates vary from $75-175 per night and unlike other similar destinations, there is no two night minimum. Sunday through Thursday the inn is often the preferred acommodation for business folk. On weekends, you'll find it filled with

vacationers, families, and romantic couples. You'll find giftwrapped truffles on your bed at check-in. A full breakfast is included and can be ordered off the hotel restaurant's menu. Meals are served in their courtyard café. The courtyard has a central fountain with a spouting lion's head and vine covered walls. It's a perfect romantic setting for an intimate dinner under the stars, a small wedding, or a News Years eve celebration. Get up early in the morning and you may find fog shrouding the beach but the Pacific almost always clears with the early afternoon sun. In the evening, between 5-6 p.m., drinks and hors d'oevres are served. You can sip wine and chat in the lobby before a large fireplace or in a second floor sitting room with an outdoor patio that overlooks the courtyard. After eleven in the evening, you might hear the nostalgic whistle of a passing Amtrak train as it clatters along its seaside tracks, but for the most part the town quiets and goes to sleep. You can't miss the inn when you turn down California Street with beige awnings over its windows and international flags on a small wrought iron portico over its carved caste stone entry. The Spanish Colonial style inn was built in 1925, designed by Los Angeles architect Albert C. Martin. Martin also designed Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Los Angeles City Hall, and Ventura County's City Hall - just up the street from the Bella Maggiore. If you read the comments in the guest book at the front desk, you'll find brief praises "a joy," "bella, bella, bella," guests wrote. But also, you'll find notes that read, "I heard a noise in my room and it wasn't my husband. Later, I heard an ironing board creeking." The inn apparently has a resident ghost. Jolyn told me the story. In 1945, Sylvia, a "party girl," worked at the hotel and also had a room there. She fell in love and became pregnant. But her lover deserted her. Distraught, she hung herself in room 17. And so, the hotel is not only warm and romantic, it's haunted. Guests have complained that someone (Sylvia?) has pulled the covers off them during the night. Others have commented about running into "cold spots" in the hallway or in the rooms. There have been instances of "moaning" in the courtyard. Although I can conjure other reasons for those sounds. You might choose to stay at the Bella Maggiore if you're visiting Ventura for business or to escape the stresses of the city for the calm of the beach. You can relax there, romance there, or perhaps even hold a séance.

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