by Annette Bignami

Quality B&Bs aren't easy to find, but Port Townsend, a wonderfully scenic port town on Washington's Olympic Peninsula has more than it's share, but there's little question that the 1889 Ann Starrett Mansion is the most beautiful Queen Ann inside and out.

Ann Starrett Circular Staircase

photo credit: Annette Bignami

Then too, what could be more romantic than a stay in the home built by George Starrett for his wife Ann. While there are too many unique touches to detail, perhaps the most interesting is the free-standing staircase that coils up the entrance just inside the lobby. It ranks with the famous Santa Fe stair and is interesting enough that the Smithsonian offered to tear it down and rebuilt it.

Ann Starrett's ghost seems alive and well. Her image lives on in the Four Virtues and Four Seasons inside the dome's tower over the stair. As seasons change sunrise casts a Valentine red light from the dome windows onto the appropriate image. The restoration project here seems ongoing, but most of the improvements, aside from the "systems" help needed by old Victorians, included a return to the stenciled walls, Virginia Starrett, a descendent, noted were the original choices. Lots of artists live in, or at least pass through Port Townsend and Larry Boise, who arrived by bicycle, hand-stenciled the lovely frieze in the front room.

Besides restoration, the current innkeepers, the Sokols, added fireplaces and baths. Since Mr. Starrett had built the home with one of the first central heating systems in the Northwest none are original, but they are authentic. The front parlor mantle, for example, came from a Chicago Mansion of similar age and design.

The private baths in mansion bedrooms were a later improvement as well. Bob Sokol, who notes he did not learn his plumbing and other building skills while an Air Force One navigator, did the ?heavy lifting with lots of help from local craftsmen and artists. His wife Edel handled the décor with the classic pattern-on-pattern Victorian excess that also reflects her German heritage, and the family collection of antiques that filled two moving vans when the Sokols moved West.

The downstairs also includes a back parlor, massive dining room where typically copious B&B breakfasts finish off guests until at least 2 o'clock in the afternoon and sitting areas. Bedrooms, besides those outside in the old Carriage House, are upstairs where the Starrett's master bedroom with a massive four-poster bed defines romantic. We've seen similar rooms in other Victorian Inns in Cape May, New Jersey, Galveston, Texas and Amelia Island, Florida that share the architecture of Port Townsend, but never a better room.

The rest of the 11 furnished rooms come with family crests that include lions and dove and fern frescos. It's not a surprise that the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded the home National Geographic Traveler called "A Victorian Marvel on Puget Sound," a "Great American Home Award."

Best of all, Port Townsend with its interesting shops, working artisans and a fleet of wooden boats, fishing craft, fine restaurants and more is but a stroll down the street. As a romantic getaway from Seattle, or a wonderful place to stop on the way to the Port Angeles Ferry or the joys of the Olympic Peninsula's temperate rain forest, it's hard to beat and, on holiday weekends and summers, hard to book. So early reservation seem a must. (800-321-0644)