Big Sur

San Simeon

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The stretch of Pacific coastline between Carmel and San Simeon is one of the world's most beautiful drives, centred on the region known as Big Sur. With the ocean on one side, and the forest shrouded mountains rising rapidly to the other, the area makes for some stunning scenery. It's little wonder then that media magnate William Randolph Hearst chose to build his ranch, "La Cuesta Encantada" in this splendid pocket of the United States.

We drove California Route 1 south from Carmel during the afternoon, when the sun was out and most of the fog had lifted. It takes a few hours to pass through, and we'd booked Hearst Castle for the same day but realised there wasn't enough time to fit in both, so rearranged the tour for the following lunchtime. We spent the night in the town of San Simeon itself which is at the southern end of Big Sur and therefore the edge of the nice scenery, it was basic but functional.

California Route 1

Looking south along California Route 1, following the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean.

Bixby Creek Bridge, one of a number of spectacular crossings built in the 1930s to allow Route 1 to hug the mountains as it does.

The classic American highway

Pacific coast cruising

Yellow flowers, blue sea and some lingering fog clinging to the mountains, looking north up Route 1.

Around San Simeon there is a colony of elephant seals, which bask on the sands in full view of spectators on the wooden walkways around the beach. These are mighty beasts weighing easily over two tonnes, they make a lot of noise and can move pretty quickly when they feel the need!

Basking elephant seals

Elephant seals sparring

The following day the elephant seals were being a bit more active, tearing chunks out of each other in pitched battles at sea.

La Cuesta Encantada, as originally named by William Randolph Hearst, referred to more generally by him as 'The Ranch' but these days known as 'Hearst Castle'. Built on a hilltop starting in 1919 with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, it was one of the grandest private residences of its time.

Hearst Castle

Guest villa at Hearst Castle

One of the guest villas at Hearst Castle. The complex has a total of 56 bedrooms, even more bathrooms, acres of gardens, tennis courts and an indoor and outdoor swimming pool.

Perhaps the most iconic part of Hearst Castle is the centrepiece Neptune Pool, lined with statues and the frontage of a genuine Roman temple. I wish I could have taken a swim in it!

The Neptune Pool

Statue detail, Hearst Castle

Statue detail at the Neptune Pool.

Hearst was a great collector, and amassed quite a set of statues, including this discus thrower.

Discus statue

Hearst guest room

One of the guest rooms at Hearst Castle, done up in the way it would have been back in the 1920s. Guests included the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and Winston Churchill.

The main house itself, the Casa Grande, centrepiece of the ranch. The towers were modelled off the church of Santa Maria Mayor in Ronda, Spain.

Casa Grande, Hearst Castle

Dining hall

The dining hall inside the Casa Grande is lined with wood panelling from a 14th century Italian chapel. Hearst famously stipulated the bottles of ketchup were to be kept on the table at all times.

The Roman Pool, indoors behind the Casa Grande, is lined with blue and gold leaf mosaic tiles. It also features a waterfall, but that wasn't running when we visited.

Roman Pool

Golden crab mosaic

Golden crab mosaic detail at the Roman Pool.

Another of Hearst's statues, a reclining goddess.

Reclining goddess statue

Pacific view

The grand vista from the ranch hilltop down to the Pacific Ocean. It's easy to see why Hearst chose this location for his home. The grounds once held the world's largest private zoo, and there are still roaming zebras to be seen.

A closing shot of palm trees swaying in the breeze against the azure Californian sky.

Palm trees and the California sky

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2011