In the summer of 2005 I went to visit the Hearst Castle with my mother. At that point in my life I had only been out of the United States of America twice. One day trip to Juarez, Mexico and a weekend trip to Baja, Mexico. On the August day that we visited the Heart Castle I was truly impressed with all of the things that I saw. I had never seen such beautiful things in my life and I left feeling like I had just seen something special.
Cut to nine years later and a return trip to the Castle with my husband. At this point in my life I have traveled much of extensively that I had on the summer day in 2005. I realize that I risk sounding like a snob in this blog entry but after three trips to Europe I found the Hearst Castle much less impressive than I did the first time. I think it was inevitable that I would feel this way. At the age of 27 I hadn’t seen the world and at 36 my frame of reference is much broader.
Without a doubt the Hearst Castle is beautiful. It is an achievement. There are so many amazing things on that hilltop in California. And therein lies to problem, the gorgeous things that are hundreds of years old from various European countries are on a hilltop in California.
I remember from my visit in 2005 that William Randolph Hearst became enchanted with European things when he visited the continent with his mother in the 1800’s. I certainly can understand why after visiting Europe somebody would be drawn to the culture and the rich history that is available to you at every turn. For all the amazing things that the United States offers it doesn’t have the sense of history Europe does. But at the end of the day I can’t say I’m impressed with the Hearst Castle anymore.
Looking at the history of the castle this time I realize that what Mr. Hearst did was basically take advantage of the devastation of World War I. I could respect him more if he had recreated European artifacts but looking back I don’t think it was right to basically raid a devastated continent to fill what in essence is your own personal Barbie dream home.
Not only do many of the things in the Hearst Castle not belong in California they don’t belong together. It’s kind of like Spain and France and other parts of Europe were put into a blender to make what a rich American would want Europe to be.
The thing is on the surface the Castle is beautiful but there are cracks, literally in the facade.
The first time I visited the Castle I did the basic tour. This time my husband and I did three different tours. If anybody is going to visit the Castle I do encourage them to do more than the basic tour. The basic tour is the one that leaves you feeling like you are a some cheap Amero-Euro knock off. The other two tours we took allowed us to see the upstairs of the main castle. These rooms were smaller in size but more impressive in a way. Their more lived in feel left one feeling like they were visiting something a little more real and not just a fantasy.
My favorite tour was the nighttime tour. On the nighttime tour there are docents dressed as if they were 1930’s guest at the castle. Plus you get to see one of the guest cottages and see the kitchen. It was this tour that allowed me to step out of my critical mind for a time and actually appreciate the Hearst Castle for what it was, an escape for the rich and fabulous.
If somebody is in visiting the Central Californian coast the Hearst Castle is a destination that will call to you. But the question remains. Is the heart castle an American masterpiece or a European Potpourri Knock off?
I say the later but it’s worth a trip of your own to decide for yourself.