May 4, 2014

ROAD TRIP: SAN SIMEON AND HEARST CASTLE

During my first visit to the US in 2011 Nick and I took an epic road trip up the West Coast. We traveled from San Diego all the way to Seattle in two weeks, camping along the way. This is the story of that journey and you can read the previous posts here.

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Apologies for the delay on this post, but we're in the middle of moving into our first apartment and naturally not everything goes according to schedule. But we have internet now, so here it is! The actual second day of the road trip was spent driving. Hours and hours of driving through the slowly changing landscapes. It was interesting to notice how the surroundings went from what looks like the south of Spain to something more like the wine regions in southern France. I hadn't fully realised how big the state of California really is and since it's so narrow you can literally spent a long time driving up the coastal highway. Which is exactly what we did.  



We arrived at our destination in the early evening. The first night of camping was to be spent at San Simeon State Park. So we set up our big tent which was remarkably light (I guess they don't need an extra layer for heavy rainfall here). It was a cloudy and chilly evening but we had a nice campfire and a simple meal, and sometimes that's all you need. Since we were planning on going to Hearst Castle the next morning we got up early, had pop tarts (first time for everything!), packed everything up again and left.


Hearst Castle was built between 1919 and 1947 by media magnate William Hearst. If you want to see something close to a castle in California then this is the place for you. William Hearst had inherited more than 250.000 acres of ranch land when his mother died and decided to built a luxurious retreat on top of the hill. Why not right? It took years to finish of course but when it finally did, 'La Cuesta Encantada' or 'The Enchanted Hill' consisted of 165 room, 127 acres of gardens and looked like a Medieval Spanish village, church included. The secluded spot was basically a nice place for the rich and famous to hang out together. 


After Hearst died in 1951, there seemed to be no buyers for the decadent estate. I guess the market for Spanish looking medieval castles up on hills is pretty limited. After a few years the Hearst Corporation donated the property to the state of California and it became a National and California Historic Landmark. According to Wikipedia the place gets around one million visitors a year! 

Ceiling imported straight from the Middle Ages
We arrived for one of the first (crazy) bus rides up the hill. It was so foggy that morning you couldn't even see the castle from the street below. It's unbelievable that such a big property was built on a hill that was originally only accessible by foot or on horseback. Tickets for guided tours start from 25 dollars for adults but in my opinion it is completely worth it. We took a tour through the grand rooms (the big building) and learned that a lot of the equipment used to build the rooms was actually brought over to the US from European monasteries and put back together here.

Apparently this is an authentic Flemish tapestry in 'The Refectory'
I think this is the Cocktail Room, sounds good to me!
The Movie Theatre
Back outside there are two other smaller guest houses (and by small, I don't really mean small), for which you can also book a tour, and a gorgeous garden we walked around in for a bit. My absolute favourite part of Hearst Castle was of course the pool. Unfortunately it isn't heated, which was too bad because it looked very inviting. Apparently Lady Gaga used the location in one of her videos. 






We spent a lot of time discovering the maze of gardens with fountains and little terraces, taking tons of pictures. That's why you're being bombarded with pictures as we speak! I tried to make a smaller selection but I couldn't. The decadence just doesn't end on the enchanted hill and the best was definitely saved for last... after we saw the tennis courts (why not you know) there was the indoor Roman pool: the crown jewel of this parallel universe.



If you want to know what the wealthy Americans were capable of during the roaring twenties, this is definitely the place to go. I couldn't really believe what I saw during that trip and since the whole place was surrounded by the morning fog it looked like a dream world. Thank god I have the pictures to confirm my story. And as you can guess... the other part of the day was spent driving!

Have you been to Hearst Castle? And if not, would you like to go?

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