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Homes & Lodging

American Couple Opens New B&B

By Judy King

By ignoring the well-meaning advice of friends and family, a retired American couple is having the time of their lives in Ajijic. Don and Jeanne Niederlitz are glad they didn't listen to the advice of others. Everyone told them they shouldn't move to Mexico. Then they were told that if they were to come to Mexico, they should rent a house. The same family members and friends also told them to slow down, relax, and take it easy in retirement.

Don and Jeanne purchased a home after a February 2000 Focus on Mexico tour to Lake Chapala. As soon as the house closed escrow, they began renovations on the garden and built a pool. Then they purchased the adjoining tumbledown adobe art gallery and began rebuilding it into a lovely and inviting six-room Bed and Breakfast with two separate guest casitas.

Located in the center of Ajijic, at 16 de Septiembre #18, Swan Inn has the best address in town-next door to the Lake Chapala Society. Because the Society grounds surround two sides of the property, and a neighbor's driveway borders the third side, the Swan Inn is one of the quietest places in town.

Jeanne delights guests with tales from their lives and adventures, talking freely about her sheltered childhood in private schools and her privileged preppy lifestyle and ensuing management of a theater group in New York City.

Don is a retired graphic artist. His design ability and paintings are featured throughout their home and in each of the rooms in the inn. As we walk through their living room, he chuckles and says, "I was working on the face in that mural when my contractor winked at me. I knew then, it was the perfect expression for this Indian."

He points with pride at the beautiful bas-relief sculptures that stud the walls of the garden and front of the building. When I first saw them, I thought local stone artists had carved Don's designs in canterra stone. Don quickly explained that brick masons had crafted the finely detailed round sculptures of swimming swans from concrete.

As Jeanne leads me on a tour of the property, she speaks fondly to the workers finishing up the project, calling each by the nicknames she has given them. During the seventeen months of construction, Don and Jean discovered that one of their workers had been hearing impaired from birth. They whisked the older worker off to a Guadalajara specialist and purchased hearing aids for him. This year, Jesus heard music for the first time. Now Jeanne has him scheduled for dental work.

Generous to a fault, Jeanne and Don have all but adopted the twenty-man construction crew of The Little Company. Every morning during the construction, Jeanne baked a cake for a mid-morning break for the men. They helped contractor, Juan Gilberto Higuera, host his company's family Christmas party. And, on May 3, day of the construction worker, the Neiderlitzes presented a gift bag to each man at a poolside BBQ.

The men repaid her devotion with a surprise birthday serenade. Jeanne's birthday is on the 16th of September--the same as Mexican Independence day and the name of her street. This year the national holiday fell on Sunday, but the men were all at her door at 8 a.m. singing "Las Manañitas," the Mexican song for special days and the equivalent of "Happy Birthday to You."

Why would retired folks decide to build and run a B&B? Neither Jeanne nor Don remembers making the decision; somehow it just seemed to evolve. But once they had decided to become innkeepers, they made certain that commercial designer, Gene Fortun, included the amenities they had always hoped to find in hotels.

"On trips between our homes in Wisconsin and Georgia, whenever we checked into hotels or B&B's, I wished for a place I could sit and read or relax, without being shut up in our room. Sometimes, after being together in the car all day, we longed for separate space," Jeanne said.

Jeanne knows the guests of the Swan inn will enjoy the numerous indoor and garden sitting areas, living room with fireplace, nooks, benches and escapes

"We even added a small kitchen just for guest use, so that visitors can make a midnight snack or warm up the 'doggy bag" from their dinner the night before. Some people like a cup of tea or a piece of toast at bedtime. We want them to be as comfortable here as if they were at home."

The hotel, which opened early in November, offers spacious rooms including breakfast. Stop by the Swan Inn, 16 de Septiembre #18 in Ajijic, for a tour of the hotel or contact Jeanne and Don at for more information about the Swan Inn.

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