'La Cuesta Encantada' (The Enchanted Hill)
02.05.2013 - 02.05.2013 26 °C
Having checked into the Cliffs Hotel above Pismo Beach near San Luis Obispo we continued our road trip to the Central Californian Coast with a visit to Hearst Castle. The Castle was built between 1919 and 1947 by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst on a hill 1,600 feet (488 metres) up overlooking the Pacific Ocean where his goldmine tycoon father George and philanthropist mother Phoebe Apperson Hearst had often taken him camping when he was a child.
The castle was built in a "Mediterranean Revival Style" with no expense sparred and filled with historic European art. Invitations to come and stay in one of its three visitor cottages called the Casa del Mar (House of the Sea), Casa del Monte (House of the Mountains) and Casa del Sol (House of the Sun) were highly coveted by the Hollywood and political elite (including Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Bob Hope, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill amongst others) during its heyday of the 1920s and '30s.
The 115 room main building is called the Casa Grande features two bell towers and was inspired by a Spanish cathedral although it doesn't contain a chapel. Inside the decoration and furnishings are lavish and we did a tour of its ground floor including the 82 feet (25 metre) long, 30 feet (9 metre) high and 24 feet (7.3 metre) high Assembly Room which is the largest and most imposing of the La Casa Grande Rooms and a treasure house of architectural features and art objects such as a French 16th century stone fireplace and many tapestries.
The dining room is called the 'Refectory' in keeping with tradition for religious houses and universities. From its ceiling hang the banners representing the districts of Sienna that compete in its famous twice annual horse race. The Billards Room has a 15th century Spanish ceiling and is dominated by a late 15th century Franco-Flemish Tapestry. The Casa Grande also has its own Movie Theater furnished with log seats and walls covered with damask fabric and gilded cast-plaster caryatids where the Hollywood elite would be entertained with the very latest movies and where during our tour we were shown snippets of home movies of Charlie Chaplin and others visiting the castle.
The castle also has two luxurious swimming pools - the outdoor Neptune Pool includes Ancient Roman columns from the 4th century and is surrounded with carved marble statues of nymphs and swans; the indoor Roman Pool is surrounded with mosaic tiles fused with gold foil, Italian lamp standards and marble statues of famous Greek and Roman gods. The Roman Pool wasn't used much as it was part of a Gymnasium complex (which included the tennis courts built on the pool's roof) that was never completed because Rudolph Hearst eventually ran out of money to do all the building work he planned.
The castle also once housed the world's largest Private Zoo and included many exotic species such as antelope, camels, giraffe, kangaroos and yaks. When Rudolph Hearst ran out of money he sold off the zoo animals but several of the zebras escaped and their descendants are now often seen grazing the hills on the way up to the castle. Rudolph Hurst died in 1951 and in 1957 the Hearst Corporation donated the castle to the state of California who have maintained it as a state national park where despite its remoteness it attracts about one million visitors per year.
A short distance up the coast from Hearst Castle is the 7,500 strong elephant seal colony at Piedras Blancas. It's an amazing site, there are no elephant seals any where else along the coast and then you come across one large cove where they so tightly pack the beach that it looks like the aftermath of a battlefield.
We then returned south towards San Luis Obispo, stopping to see Morro Bay and its distinctive Rock on the way. Morro Rock, first named in 1542 and a useful navigation landmark along the coast, is 576 foot (176 metres) high volcanic plug, the first of nine stretching inland known as the Nine Sisters. In San Luis Obispo (affectionately known as 'SLO' by the locals) we popped into town to see its famous Thursday night Farmers Market along Higuera Street and sample the night life.