Next on our recent Californian adventure up America's West Coast was a visit to Hearst Castle.
Casa Grande at Hearst Castle
When people heard we were off up Highway 1, many of them told us that 'we just had to' visit Hearst Castle, although on closer questioning those same people admitted to have never been themselves.
Luckily their advice was sound and the visit wasn't as painful as I'd imagined. I'm not your typical tourist, so the idea of a guided tour ranks fairly highly as a no-no on a normal holiday, but there isn't an opportunity to explore Hearst Castle on your own, so a guided tour it had to be.
Being Hearst Castle novices, we opted for The Experience Tour (or Tour 1), which costs $24 for an adult.
It takes 1 hour 45 mins (including a short bus ride to and from the Castle) and includes a walking tour of the pretty gardens, Casa Del Sol guesthouse, Casa Grande main house, the indoor Roman Pool and outdoor Greco-Roman style Neptune Pool with its fantastic views of the surrounding coastline and mountains.
Casa Del Sol at Hearst Castle
As we had stayed in nearby Cambria overnight it took us no time at all to drive to Hearst Castle in the San Simeon Hills on the Sunday for an 11am tour.
Back home in the UK we have so many historic castles and beautiful stately homes that it was was strange to be visiting one on the coast of California, especially one so new in comparison.
One of the main differences between the historic houses in Britain and Hearst Castle is probably the eclectic collection of architecture and interior design influences that Hearst sports, rather than one particular period in history.
Italian influences inside Casa Grande
The Castle borrows from many design influences from around the world and throughout history - Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Italian, Spanish, the list in quite extensive and makes for interesting viewing, even if at times it seems a little bit gaudy.
Antique wooden ceilings
No flash photography is allowed inside or outdoors, so apologies for some of the photo quality today.
Ornate cinema decorations
Some of the statues and pieces around Hearst Castle were obtained before laws came into place that protected such artifacts from being removed from their country of origin, like this 3,000 year old Egyptian monument.
Egyptian influences at Hearst Castle
We had a great guide who led our bus-size group and she seemed pretty knowledgeable and able to answer any question thrown at her, without being condescending or preachy.
The Neptune Pool
Our tour started near the impressive Neptune Pool, one of the most famous landmarks of Hearst Castle, which is surrounded by ornate Greco-Roman marble statues and colonnades.
Seeing the grand pool you can almost picture the unique parties and celebrities that graced its depths back in the day.
We continued through the lovely gardens and grounds, entering the Casa Del Sol guesthouse, before taking a short tour through the main Casa Grande house.
No food or drink is allowed at Hearst Castle, aside from bottled water, and it gets fairly hot up there at times, as evidenced by one young girl fainting mid-tour.
The exterior of the main house, Casa Grande, is just as ornate as the interior design you'll find inside.
One of the last stops on the Experience Tour is the opulent indoor tiled Roman Pool, which is surrounded by eight statues of Roman gods, goddesses and heroes.
The Roman Pool at Hearst Castle
The Roman Pool diving platform
Then it's back on the bus for your short journey back down the hill to the visitor center and your parked car. Overall it's an interesting tour and you get a good overview of the Historical State Monument.
We opted to skip the 40 minute movie that accompanies the tour, 'Hearst Castle Building the Dream', as we had things to do and places to see and a drive up the coast awaited us.
Next stop was Carmel-by-Sea, via the scenic coastline of Big Sur, with me driving. I'm pleased to say that we made the mountainous and winding route without any incidents, but we were greeted by a slightly foggy Carmel upon arrival.
Luckily the next day the sun came out to brighten our day of wine tasting, but more of that tomorrow...