Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Enchanted Hill - La Cuesta Encantada

Words fail me when I try to come up with descriptions of Hearst Castle.

Priceless medieval tapestries and Hollywood gaudiness; oddly-proporioned rooms built specially to house the incredibly ornate ceilings imported whole from Europe; opulence and ostentation set against austere wind-swept hills where cows still graze alongside zebras from what used to be the world's biggest private zoo. Magnificent, but mad.

View from a terrace. The whole estate is illuminated by caryatids, two of which are in this picture
I am afraid my pictures do not fully capture the uniqueness of the place.

A branch full of mandarins against the background of a poolside colonnade
The reason for that is not my inadequacy as a photographer (of course) but the incredibly tight security on the premises.

The pool house modeled on a Greek Parthenon - rather more Epicurean than Spartan. 
First of all, nobody is allowed to drive up to the castle. You leave the car at the visitor center by the ocean, and are then put on a bus and driven about 5 miles inland along a winding road to the hill-top castle.

The approach to the castle with lots of citrus trees and palms
The path was designed so that the castle keeps appearing and disappearing along the way (nothing was allowed to stick out of the bus windows, so no pictures). All the 40 or so people on the bus are one tour group which is shepherded rather briskly around the property.

A glimpse of a replica of Donatello's David behind a rhododendron
Our guide told us straight away that when he goes up the stairs, we go up the stairs, and not left, right or down. There was another person herding us from the rear, and a security guard wired with a microphone and a walkie-talkie circling around the group.

A bas relief at the grand entrance
We could touch absolutely nothing, except specially designated rails. Photographs were to be taken as we walked along, no re-takes or second chances, and if someone's baseball cap gets in the way of a beautiful view, that's too bad for you. Sheesh.

Castle grounds with lots of roses
No flash was allowed, so I got no interior pictures either. It's all their fault, you see.

A fuchsia blooming against clean geometric lines of the stonework
Now for the facts. The castle was built (and never finished) in the first half of the 20th century by media tycoon William Hearst. The property is enormous and sits on 240,000 acres of hilly land fronting San Simeon bay in Central California.

The main house, La Casa Grande, was modeled on the cathedral in the Spanish town of Ronda.

One of two towers of La Casa Grande, housing Mr. Hearst's bedroom
George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright and one of many famous guests at Hearst Castle, apparently said: "Mr. Hearst, yours is the kind of castle that God would build if He had your kind of money."

Ornate carving above the main entrance to La Casa Grande
 It was fascinating for me to see a rose (Cécile Brunner, if you are wondering) carefully wrapped around the palm tree with thin wire supports going up maybe 40 feet. There were quite a few palms decorated like this. No wonder the Castle's annual maintenance budget is $9 million.

Too many columns?
Some of the most amazing features of the property are the pools.

Remember the movie "Sabrina" with Audrey Hepburn? The Larrabee family had gardeners to take care of the grounds, a tree surgeon on a retainer, an indoor swimming pool and an outdoor swimming pool. Well, so did the Hearst family.

The Neptune Pool

The huge outdoor pool is called the Neptune pool. It is fed by mountain water and is adorned by several statues made of marble quarried in Italy.

A sculptural group by the Neptune Pool

Despite being a century old, the statues look pristine and dazzlingly white because of the absence of air-borne pollutants that give old statues their aged look elsewhere.

The indoor pool is called the Roman pool. It contains statues of Roman gods and heroes and is styled after a Roman bath. It is decorated from top to bottom with spectacular glass mosaic tiles (smalti) from Murano, Italy.

The Roman Pool
The surrounding hills are covered with grass, green in winter when rains are plentiful, and golden-brown in the summer's dry heat. Apparently not interesting enough for Mr. Hearst who is known to have moved and planted 70,000 mature oak trees to improve the views where he thought the hills looked too bare. That's gardening on a grand scale :).


  1. Cudowne miejsce. Było co oglądać, oj było. Podobały mi się baseny i widoki na morze. Pozdrawiam serdecznie

  2. Well, I am sure, we don't have something like this in Europe. Beauty and exaggeration ! Your photos are perfect !!!

  3. Thank you, Giga and Dani. I am glad you liked the post, it was an amazing place to visit.

  4. Bonjour. c'est absolument magnifique, mais ne t'inquètes pas Masha tes photos sont très réussies.
    Amicalement jocelyne

  5. Merci, Jocelyne! I am glad you liked this post and my pictures.

  6. Wow. This will be a must visit for me next time I'm in the area. Its looking like you had absolutely wonderful weather to tour the place.

  7. I have always loved looking at pictures of this place, and often wondered why I didn't see more of them - now I know! How crazy that they wouldn't even allow you to stand around long enough to take pictures, pause a bit, etc. Still, you got some great shots and I loved seeing them. What a great experience - even with the crazy security!

  8. Thank you, Jess. Yes, the weather was pretty good up in the hills, but really chilly by the ocean. The castle is far away from anywhere, so plan for a long drive.

    Holley, thank you. It was fun - part of the flavor of the place. Certainly an unusual experience.

  9. This is a place I always wanted to visit. It is so unique and the architecture so grand. The grounds and siting is just remarkable. Your images do a fine job showing the magnitude of it all.

  10. Hearst Castle is such a fascinating place and yet so absolutley over the top. I have visited it once but your photos, make me want to go there again. You captured Hearst Castle perfectly despite the security hassle. That must have been a nightmare for you as a photographer! The Cecile Brunner rose wrapped around the palm tree is quite an astonishing sight. I love it! Thanks for the great tour through this amazing property!


  11. Thank you, Donna. You are right, it is grand and certainly worth a visit - there is nothing like it anywhere else...

    Christina, thank you. I am glad you agree with me - it is over the top! Actually there were quite a few reblooming roses wrapped around palm trees, and I was wondering if they used a helicopter to deadhead them :)

  12. Thank you, and nice to meet you!

  13. Go over Legante entry, go series of pictures, full of beauty, luxury and color, and also perfectly integrated and surrounded by nature.
    A Great story. Quite a feast for the eyes
    Greetings .-

  14. Wow. Your pictures turned out very well, inspite of the hassle!

    Were you able to enjoy any of your time there? Curious that they are so unwelcoming to their guests. I suppose tourism is not a large slice of their annual income.

    Thank you for sharing! Beautiful!

  15. beautiful place, great captures

  16. An amazing place!
    I'm surprised by La Casa Grande, and many plants such as lemon, seems like southern Spain style.
    Your photos are great and I've been fascinated to see Cécile, climbing up the palm tree.
    I think that the luxury is in the landscape of the hills!

  17. Thank you, heph, I am glad you liked them.

    Yolanda, some parts of California do look like Spain. Thank you for such a nice comment.

  18. Thank you Masha! We visited this place some time ago. You captured its beauty very well!

  19. Tatyana, thank you for the compliment. You seem to travel a lot, good for you...

  20. Inspiring! Love the rose standards. They look like Queen Elizabeth grandiflora

  21. Masha, you captured the place so well. Thanks for sharing the beauty and opulence of it. Amazing place!

  22. RR, thank you, and funny that you mentioned rose standards. The guide told me that they have trouble with them because fragrant roses in standard form are weak (what?). I opened my mouth to argue but then thought I'd better not :).

    Sherry, thank you. I am glad you liked it.

  23. Thank you for sharing. There have been so many posts about the Hearst Castle recently and I have not tired of looking over the photos since no two are the same. I really enjoyed your post because I don't recall any pool photos from the previous ones and you are definitely right in saying that the pools are amazing.

  24. Bom, I am glad I added something new. Thank you for your comment.

  25. Wow and amazing and all those other superlatives! It sounds like security was greater than when I toured the White House. Your photos do give a taste of the grandeur and uniqueness of the place. It is interesting to see what an individual with his own particular tastes can do with unlimited funds!

  26. Thank you, Deb. You are right, Mr. Hearst's tastes were certainly unique. I am glad you liked the post.

  27. Hi Masha,

    What a beautiful and interesting travelogue.
    What a richness and decadence.
    Gorgeous photos, as if I were with you on a trip.
    I've enjoyed it Masha.
    Dear greetings, Elly

  28. Thank you for such a nice compliment, Elly. I am glad you enjoyed this post.

  29. Great description of the castle and its grounds as magnificent, but mad. Truly it is. An asonishing place and in spite of the guards you got a lot of amazing pictures.

  30. Thank you, sweetbay. It was a strange experience, but a good one. I hope we can get back there one day...

  31. I've heard so much about this place, but I've never been there. After reading this post and seeing these wonderful pictures, I'm determined to visit it. Thank you Masha for sharing all this beauty with us.

  32. I am glad you will, Olga. Thank you for the compliment.


I am so glad you have stopped by!