Destinations, USA

Hearst Castle still enchanting guests

2 Comments 18 January 2013

Hearst Castle still enchanting guests

Driving north on Highway 1, I first spot the castle upon turning into its driveway that seems miles and miles long to the top. Perched at the very top of a of one of the many rocky points on the Coast Range, I immediately have flashbacks of Neuschwanstein in Germany, the actual castle Disneyland based the one from Sleeping Beauty. I know it’s called Hearst Castle, but I didn’t expect the sight to be so dramatic and so…European.

But that’s exactly what newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst was going for when he commissioned architect Julia Morgan, the first certified female architect in California, to build this grand west coast estate in 1919.

The land was William’s birth right, but the castle was his own creation.

Hearst Castle is a 250,000-acre working ranch. The house is enormous, but dwarfed by the size of the property. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

His father George, who made his fortune in silver before William was born, purchased the land land on the coast of San Simeon, where the castle is located, in 1865. William grew up and grew to love the land here as much as his father did.

But at the age of ten, he began a love affair with distant lands when his mother, Phoebe, and him went on a year-long vacation in Europe. Called The Grand Tour at the time, William and Phoebe would see great works of art and architecture around the continent, some thousands and thousands of years old. William especially fell in love with the style in the Mediterranean.

It was this holiday that inspired William to build a castle of his own, in the same style, eventually.

Hearst Castle is an actual art museum, containing an immense private collection of European statues, tapestry and antiques. William was an avid antiques collector and his purchases would not only decorate the interior of the house, but actually be built into it, like wooden flip chairs from a Spanish monastery. Julia Morgan began designing Mediterranean Revival Style estate in 1919, not long after Hearst inherited his father’s 250,000-acre ranch from his mother.

It took 28-years to complete.

Not long at all considering most people dubbed the land “impossible” to build on, it didn’t even have a road at the time.

Casa Grande is the largest and main house at Hearst Castle. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Visiting the estate and seeing William’s vision in reality, I could understand his success. To see so much detail in something and have the determination to make it come to life is extremely unique.

Today, the estate is a California State Park, open to the public for tours. I started my visit by watching Hearst Castle: Building the Dream, a 30-minute film about the estate in the park’s iMax theater. Unlike a lot of museum movies, this one was very interesting and produced like a Hollywood film. I learned the story behind the man and the castle, as well as the people who visited and saw old films of the place in its prime.

Hearst was and still is a big name in publishing. A true newspaper man, he invited many guests from the film and business world to the castle to find out their story. Some notable visitors include Charlie Chaplin, Carrie Grant, even Winston Churchill.

I went on their Grand Rooms Museum Tour inside Casa Grande, the main house on the estate where William and his family stayed. This tour goes in the order of what it would be like to be a guest in the house at dinner time. Visitors would meet in the Assembly Room for a drink around 7 p.m. Have dinner in the Refectory next. When finished, they would fool around in the Billard Room. The night would end with a screening in Hearst’s private Theater. Owning a film studio and working with the big names in Hollywood, William would show films that weren’t even in the public theaters yet.

Guests would meet in the Assembly Room for a drink before dinner. During a video in the Theater Room at the end of my tour, I saw several photos of old Hollywood celebrities lounging on this couch. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Throughout the tour, patrons see works of art in each room, such as Anotonio Canova’s Venus Italica staue in the Assembly Room . The guide tells guests details about what it was like to stay at the castle, like how the longer a visitor would be there, the further down he or she would sit from Hearst at the center of the lengthy table.

William would sit at the very center of the dinner table in the Rectory. New guests would sit next to him so he could hear their story. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

After the tour, which is about an hour, visitors are free to roam the grounds until the park closes. I spent about two hours doing this. Not only is the castle large, but it also has so much detail and an incredible view of the coast. Walking around, I really became lost in place and time. They’ve kept the estate so perfect to how it originally was and its so distant from anything modern, walking around I started to feel my day dream of old Hollywood become a reality.

Perched on top of a hill, Hearst Castle offers a stunning view of the coast. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The outdoor Neptune Pool was most popular amongst guest in William’s time, but for me, the Roman Pool is my favorite stop. An entirely mosaic room, I could imagine a new guest at the castle sneaking away to this spot and wondering, “Is this place real?”.

The indoor Roman Pool is almost entirely covered in mosaics. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Visitors can choose from three different tours available regularly, Grand Rooms; Upstairs Suites and Cottages and Kitchen, each of which is $25 per person (adult). Visitors are free to roam the grounds after their tour until closing time.

But the best tour I heard about is their Evening Museum Tour, which is only offered on certain dates throughout the year. During the tour actors and actresses roam the property dressed in 1930s attire. This was the era Hearst Castle was in its prime. The number one place I want to visit, but never will, is back in time. Activities like this are the closest we can get to that.

Having so many places around the world on my “to do” list, I don’t often say, “I’ll come back here again.”. But I said that, a few times while touring and after leaving Hearst Castle. The Hearst family named this spot of land, “La Cuesta Encantada”, which means “The Enchanted Hill“. Almost a hundred years later and it’s still enchanting its guests, including me.

Thanks to Hearst Castle for welcoming me out to tour their beautiful estate. Visit their website for more information on your visit.

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

As always all opinions are my own.

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- who has written 310 posts on Heels and Wheels.

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  • http://twitter.com/Butterflydiary Charu Suri

    It sounds absolutely lovely, and a place I’ve heard much about but never visited. The Roman Pool looks spectacular,

  • http://www.heelsandwheelsonline.com/ Bobbi Lee Hitchon

    Doesn’t it! The place is amazing. I will definitely visit again one day-hopefully for the evening tour.

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