Big Sur and Hurst Castle

When you’re on the road for almost three months, some days look better than others. Today was one that I looked forward to: Driving Big Sur via the Cabrillo Highway and touring Hearst Castle in San Simeon. I had driven this highway in my 20s, before learning to appreciate special moments.

Our journey actually  started the night before. I had asked the desk  people at our Carmel lodge for a recommendation to dine with an ocean view. You’d think that Carmel by the Sea would have these options… But no!!  Too many seaside homes. So we were given the name of a restaurant on Rocky Point, 10 miles south. This is where Big Sur begins:

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As you see, it is also known for its sunsets, looking west. The coastline is looking south… Taking a closer look, you see the bridge allowing a river to meet the sea. The road then starts up the cliff. That is Big Sur… The road alternates between high cliffs looking down at the shoreline, and then a descent brings the road within a few feet of sea level, before ascending to another cliff vista. This goes on for about 55 miles.

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While driving, I realized that Big Sur was the most spectacular drive I have yet to experience. Close seconds are the Ring of Kerry (Ireland), the Scottish Highlands, particularly Loch Ness, and the descent from the Golan Heights toward the River Jordan.  I felt extremely privileged to be here today.

So eventually, all good things must end. The road still hugged the coast line but the elevations flattened out. That meant we were approaching the Hurst Castle at San Simeon.

The property in San Simeon was  originally purchased by George Hearst in 1865. The family used it for camping trips and riding horses on their 40,000 acres. When his mother died in 1919, William Randolph Hurst inherits the land, and bought more until the acreage reached 150,000. He then approached architect Julia Morgan and said that he wanted to build “ a little something.” They created a masterpiece that initially required a horse ride or walk up 1,600 vertical feet to the top of the ridge. The view above looks down the ridge from the home Mr Hearst built. In his day, zoo containments were built for polar bears along the road.  Zebras roamed the ranch with the cattle. And Mr Hurst declared that the animals always had the right of way  on the road.

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Mr Hurst and Ms Morgan constructed La Cuesta Encantrada, or Enchanted Hill.  Work progressed over decades and was never totally completed. Mr Hurst continually added to his vision, which prompted Ms Morgan to design new rooms and purchase artwork from Europe to build the walls and ceilings adorned in mostly Spanish art. Work progressed through a personal bankruptcy until failing health in the mid 1940s suspended work altogether. Upon his death, the Hurst family donated large tracts of shoreline to the State of California for parks, as well as setting up the Castle as a museum. Various tours allow visitors glimpse of the rooms and gardens. We originally had signed up for tours of the great rooms, followed by a second tour that outlined the architectural plans. But Mrs Bear’s injury disrupted this… Luckily, they offered a couple wheelchair access tours, so we were able to see the main rooms and gardens. We also vowed to return when able-bodied because there is so much more to see…like 25+ bedrooms on the higher floors.

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