I have a feeling I should not have drunk the entire bottle of wine last night when my alarm goes off at 7:30am. Yuk. I would go back to sleep, but I have an early morning appointment with a castle.
‘Hearst Castle’ as it’s known, is the labour of love of media mogul William Randolph Hearst. His family owned the 89 thousand acres of land in the Santa Lucia Mountain range it sits upon, and in 1919 he began to build what would take 28 years to fully complete.
Designed by Julia Morgan, California’s first female architect, it is set 488 metres into the hills above the ocean, and a tour bus takes us the 5 miles up from the visitors centre.
As I disembark, I smell star jasmine and am greeted by marble lions.
The ‘castle’ is based on a Mediterranean village design, the main entertaining house (casa grande) designed to look like a church in the centre, with a surrounding plaza and the 3 guest houses like the smaller (ha!) village homes off in front.
The main home is so ornate and looks like a smaller version of La Sagrada Família in Barcelona from the outside.
Inside, the parlour room has carved 16th century walnut ceilings, golden gilding, and renaissance tapestries.
If you were lucky enough to score an invite to the castle, you’d probably be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Carey Grant, Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marks.
9pm dinner would be served in the medieval gothic dining room, followed by drinks and smoking in the morning room and billiard room.
And what home isn’t complete without a red velvet theatre for private movie screenings?? Citizen Kane eat your heart out.
Just when I think it can’t get any more extravagant, I exit the tour to the gardens and Neptune Pool, an outdoor swimming area that looks like something the gods ordained.
I leave, finally, through an indoor Roman pool. It’s breathtaking and a vision of blue glistening tiles.
I head back down the mountain passing wild zebra and get on the road once more as I still have miles to cover today.
The road becomes narrower as it winds its way along the coast. The tarmac is tiny and has literally been carved directly out of the Californian mountainside. Signs warn me of potential rock fall, and the speed limit stays low.
There’s plenty of places to pull off at vista points-offering breathtaking views. I stop at Ragged Point where the view over the cliff edge to the ocean below is obscured today by an eerie thick mist.
I continue down the road and have to pull over before I crash from staring, to take in exactly what I’m seeing. It’s magnificent. I’m actually above the low hanging clouds and there’s a whole wall of cotton wool that looks like it dips into the ocean and I’m on top of it peeking over. I feel like I’m in the ending scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
What should be a 2.5 hour drive turns into 4.5 as I stop regularly to take in my surroundings. This is amazing. I pass gorgeous rocky outcrops and spy dolphins frolicking in the ocean.
I have the top down and my playlist thumping as I arrive at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to view McWay Falls. It’s a waterfall that pops out the rock face straight onto a beach, washing into the sea. Once upon a time it fell directly into the ocean, until the 1983 landslide created the beach.
I continue my drive through Big Sur, and the scenery is now forest-like with tall evergreens providing me with a canopy; and the roadside is lined with state parks, lodging cabins, and general stores selling firewood.
I drive out over the famous Bixby Bridge, one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world. I pull off onto the Old Coast Road to get some shots. There’s still a lot of sea mist and fog however, so the photos don’t quite capture its magnificence.
I drive the final stretch into Carmel and arrive at my inn. It’s a quaint little mountain town on the sea and has smattering of eateries and wooden stores downtown. It actually reminds me of a ski chalet resort, except, y’know, without the snow.
I’m exhausted what with the hangover and the driving, so grab a quick bite in a cute little Italian before retiring, my first night in this misty town. I replay all the amazing things I’ve seen today through my mind as I head to bed, and think to myself, life on the road ain’t half bad.