The Grand Rooms tour shows off the main common areas. In the huge assembly room, guests socialized beneath high walls covered by valuable tapestries and oil paintings; in the flag-draped dining room, they ate on fine dishes and silverware but seasoned their food with off-the-shelf ketchup and mustard bottles (lest you think the host was too formal). A plush movie theater — illuminated by ornately carved, voluptuous female figures holding light fixtures — plays an old newsreel of various guests at the estate, including Charlie Chaplin on the tennis court.
The star of the Upstairs Suites tour is probably the sumptuous Doge’s Suite, inspired by the palace of the Venetian ruler. A pair of well-appointed guest bedrooms boasts precious imported furnishings; the ornate door of one bathroom came from a sacristy in Europe. The suite’s luxurious sitting area has walls draped in blue fabric and a ceiling comprised of ornately framed paintings.
Hearst’s own bedroom is comparatively spare, with a canopied bed sitting under a 14th-century wood ceiling carved with medieval figures; a similarly modest space across the hall was used by actress Marion Davies, his longtime companion.
Also on this tour is his office, another church-like space with Gothic-style arches, and a comparatively intimate, low-ceilinged library with lined with thousands of books and 150 ancient Greek vases.
Outdoors, visitors can wander the grounds at their own pace. Esplanades around the property are fragrant with flowers and fruit trees, and populated with sculptures and fountains.
The jaw-dropping Neptune pool is surrounded by ancient Roman columns, a temple pediment and 17th-century Italian bas-reliefs; its terrace offers spectacular views down to the sea.
The path back to the bus takes you through the stunning indoor Roman pool, its blue-and-yellow mosaic tiles accented by marble statues, standing lamps and the occasional sunbeam through a skylight.