By Laura Ness
I will never forget the first time I drove down Highway 1, destination, Hearst Castle. There was nothing that could prepare me for the sight of impossibly verdant hills, dotted with cattle, dropping dramatically into a magnificent ocean. High on the hillcrest shone this profoundly palatial edifice, something Disney might have created after a visit to Windsor Castle and a few rounds of scotch, served neat. It was pretty mind-blowing to see zebra as we neared the summit, preparing us for our entrance into the other-worldly environs that William Randolph Hearst and his famed architect, Julia Morgan, fashioned from the antiquities of the world and the imagination of an impossibly wealthy tycoon.
There is nothing rational about Hearst Castle. It simply is. It exists to impress, to confound, to delight, to intrigue and to admire. If there is one single takeaway from a visit here, it is this: royalty rules.
Another takeaway for me, and I return to it again and again in my mind’s eye, is the spectacular Grecian pool, its shimmering alabaster columns as white as snow in the Californian sun, its aquamarine waters resplendent as the mirror of the sky. This, my friends, is magic. It gets no better than this. I closed my eyes and made a secret wish to live here forever. But my last name is not Hearst.
Still, I admired the Nine Muses Sarcophagus from the third century AD, the eternally long dining table and the fabulous tapestries of the Refectory, the insanely large prep kitchen and sink, the statuary, the splendid roses, the movie theater where the Hollywood elite got to admire themselves on the screen, basking in their stardom, as they played bit parts in Hearst’s subtly-scripted fantasy.
I’d certainly not miss the Grand Rooms Museum Tour, and the Upstairs Suites Museum Tour gives you a feel for guest accommodations. Cottages and Kitchens gives you a peek at the servant’s life, and the Christmas at The Castle tours during December are magnificent beyond belief. All the tours require a lot of stair climbing, so wear flat shoes and bring sunscreen, as the sun somehow seems to shine brighter at this rarified altitude.
Hearst Castle is located at 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, Calif. 93452-9740. For tour reservations call 800-444-4445. Visit the website for complete information and tour reservations. www.hearstcastle.org.