It was not just any house we visited today. No, today was booked for Hearst Castle, the largest home ever built in California – and that’s saying something. Also called La Cuesta Encantada, at 70,000 square feet, it tops the charts.
It also tops an incredible view of Hearst lands – their ranch, where they raise cattle – and the gorgeous coast line. A bus takes you up a very winding five-mile road to the Castle – the original road all William Randolph Hearst’s glamorous guests would travel. The house peeks through around some bends and not others, taunting you with its prospect. And once you arrive, it is a bit breath-taking.
Though it is obviously huge, there are many graceful moments and vistas to offset its sheer bulk. Those guest ‘cottages’ look charming and the landscaping of today is spectacular. Have you ever seen roses climbing up a palm tree? Every aspect pleases. Just imagine swimming in the tiled Neptune pool – when there wasn’t a drought in California.
As for the inside, well, that is another story. Let’s start with the Assembly Room, where you would have gathered for your (single) cocktail.
After a couple of hours, WRH would have entered the room and summoned you to the Refectory for dinner. No table linens, just paper napkins, blue willow china and simple stainless steel cutlery, along with mustard and ketchup jars on the table. You know, it’s just a ranch.
After dinner, you might get a cognac in the Morning Room. Note the difference between the restored and unrestored medieval wooden ceiling.
Or, you might be invited to the Billards Room. A gorgeous tapestry in there, along with more beautiful wood, already restored.
To end the evening, you would go to the screening room at 11:00, and see the latest Hollywood epic, having likely spent the evening with its stars. Then to bed and up early. Hearst wanted his guests up and doing things – no breakfasts in bed for this crowd.
But by far our favorite space was the Roman pool – absolutely the most wonderful pool I have ever seen. I was so tempted to just dive in. But no – only the big donors and the big Hearsts get to swim in it now. Oh Patty, how could you even have considered giving this up?
While it lasted, it must have been great fun to be so rich and able to indulge one’s every whim. Sigh. We had occasion to visit the post office in old San Simeon, right across the Pacific Coast Highway, where the workers lived. Not at all a bad place to live now, with quite a view. The pier and the harbor saw a lot of European treasures being delivered to the Castle, and the school could have had some great field trips.
Talking about homes, we next visited a part of the lovely coast a few miles north which has been overrun by squatters, or however you would categorize thousands of elephant seals who moved into this area in the mid 90’s, and who come every year to mate and give birth. We were lucky enough to see them sunning, fighting, playing, covering themselves with sand to avoid sunburn, etc. It was quite a sight, and quite a contrast to the life of the guy in the castle.
Our hotel tonight is right off the PCH, somewhat on the cliffs of the coast, a place called Ragged Point. We are entering Big Sur land, and will see more of this dramatic landscape tomorrow. Enjoy the view from our porch.