Hearst Castle highlight of California visit.
Late in May I visited California; the entire state has a serious water shortage. So it was no surprise that restaurants had signs on tables reading “if you want water please ask”. However I also saw people hosing their gardens despite regulations, so some folk don’t care! What was a surprise was arriving at the famous Hearst Castle to be greeted by a row of chemical porta a loos outside the entranceway!!
One of many inlaid tiles.
The above fabric adorns a large 3 seater couch.
Evidently Sir Randolph insisted on leaving condiments in their bottles on the table because the castle was his escape from the formality of the San Francisco social scene!
I had always wanted to visit this castle ever since I lived I the USA as a 22 year old. The family I nannied for back then knew the Hearst Family and so the drama surrounding Patti Hearst was a daily topic.
So here I was 40 plus years later visiting the Hearst Estate. You need to pre book a time to visit and there is a selection of tours so don’t just turn up or you might be disappointed.
We were poured onto several buses for the 20 minute ride through beautiful farmland. There are cattle and believe it or not zebras roaming in the fields. In 1919 Sir Randolph Hearst the publishing magnate started the original castle on his ‘ enchanted hill’. He also purchased exotic animals which later on when times became tough he had to sell. Fortunately the zebras survived the cull and add some colour to the sunburnt brown fields.
Zebras and cattle roaming the coast near San Simeon
I was very keen to see the two swimming pools so I was a tad disappointed that the outdoor Neptune Pool was empty. The pool was leaking gallons of water daily , most unacceptable in the current water crisis. However the indoor Roman pool (25 metre or 81 feet) was for me the highlight of the trip. It is O.T.T. by anyone’s standards and the Murano glass tile work is quite remarkable, of which there are over 1 million tiles, some have gold leaf inside the tiles. Imagine swimming in this pool after a hot summer Californian day, sipping a little champagne perhaps.
But I digress, the castle is well maintained and despite some scaffolding I could enjoy the gargoyles and intricate decorations on the exterior. The interior has some magnificent rooms and the 16th century tapestries are stunning. There are two Egyptian statues 3,000 years old and others undated. The billiard room is impressive but no way we’re we allowed to ‘break’ the perfectly placed balls. Hearst had exquisite taste and employed the best workmen to complete the castle. The tiles, the wooden painted ceilings, the magnificent double mantled fireplaces , the wrought iron doors, the list goes on. The esplanade through the grounds is planted with azalea, Palm, citrus and boxwood. The tennis courts surrounded by high concrete walls struck me as an extremely claustrophobic setting knowing temperatures can reach 100 degrees F. If you get an opportunity to visit jump at it, I have visited many castles in Europe and France but the setting of Hearst Castle makes this rather special.The setting atop the hill has sweeping views out to the coast although in June the notorious summer fog hangs along the coast.
All tours are guided, some are wheel chair accessible. They disallow any food and chewing gum is a “no no”. Bottled water is allowed. Tours start at 8.15 and in summer they run evening tours. There is a movie on the construction if you have time to enjoy.
After leaving the castle down on the highway is San Simeon wharf and several beaches; these are covered like carpet with large lazy elephant seals. These beaches are well worth a stop as these huge creatures flip sand over themselves to cool down and generally give a new meaning to blobbing! Every so often a couple have a bit of a fight and one or two go for a swim.
Globules of oil washed up near San Simeon
Stags on the coast near Cambria
The entire coast has amazing marine life. South of San Simeon near Morro Rock the sea otters play in the estuary. We saw about a dozen sea otters frolicking about including two babies, they look like fur balls! It was a little distressing to see some oil on their coats from the recent big oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast.
Sea Otters and babies near Morro Rock
The American Bald Eagle
While there we spotted a bald eagle, this was exciting as they are rarely seen this far south. The eagle was chased away by two angry seagulls. The Californian coast is famous for Santa Barbara and Carmel etc but heading inland one drives through beautiful farmland, vineyards, rolling hills and charming little cafes.