Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California: The world's most amazing place to have a pool party (and you're not invited)

One of the most photographed pools in the US has just been refilled after a four-year restoration.

The lavish 1.34 million litre Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle, which took 15 years to build, has been empty since 2014 when it was found to be leaking 19,000 litres of water a day.

Considering the average pool in Australia contains 375,000 litres of water, that's a long time to be leaving the hose in.

The pool was drained after Lady Gaga used the location to film her epic 11-minute video for G.U.Y., in which she stars as a fallen angel, in return for a $US250,000 donation to the castle.

At the time, the state  was facing a long drought and refilling the famous pool was an unpopular proposal with California residents.

Gaga's donation made only a small dent in  the cost of restoring the pool, which took four years and $US10 million.

Each of the pool's original 15,0000 cracked marble tiles had to be replaced by the original Vermont supplier.

The restoration included improvements to the pool's water efficiency and irrigation system, so that water filling the pool is now supplied from a more sustainable source – mountain springs.

The castle, which sits on top of the Santa Lucia mountains in central California, was the original party pad and a labour of love for William Randolph Hearst.

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America's original media magnate spent 28 years constructing the property, remodelling the Neptune pool, with its authentic Roman temple facade shipped from Italy, three times from 1924 before he was happy.

He hosted lavish parties throughout its construction, until ill health forced him to move to LA. Construction ceased in 1947.

Hearst's guests included prominent politicians and movie stars such as Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable, who were flown in by private jet and landed at the castle's small airstrip nearby.

The guests could also enjoy the equally luxurious indoor Roman Pool.

Surrounded by sculptures of gods and goddesses, it took five men six years to hand-cut its blue and gold mosaic tiles, which are reflected in the pool's still waters to breathtaking effect.

Hearst spared no expense creating his castle in the sky, and a private tour of the castle gives an insight into the lifestyle  his guests would have enjoyed.

The 115 rooms in the main building were created around his collection of Spanish and Italian works of art, which he purchased at auctions in New York. Its General Assembly room contains the only four tapestries in the world from 16th-century Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens. The value of some other works he collected is only now being discovered.

Hearst's medieval-style banquet hall, lined with Siennese horse riding flags from Italy, inspired the dining room at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. Dinner was served in this room every night, and the longer you stayed at the castle, the further away from Hearst you would be seated, until you eventually found yourself eating on the floor.

Some of the castle's other extravagances included tennis courts, an Arabian horse stable, a fur vault for guests who got chilly; an art deco theatre and opera house and the world's largest private zoo, which included zebras, bears, lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, chimpanzees, orangutans monkeys and an elephant.

Most of the animals were sold off during the 1930s, and the deserted cages of the old zoo remain on the property.

Zebras, rare deer, barbary sheep and a few other animals  still graze with the former ranch's cows, and can often be spotted by passers-by from the Pacific Coast Highway.

Hearst died in 1951 and in 1958 the castle was given to California as a gift. He wanted to bring cultural history to the US, so that those who couldn't afford to travel overseas could see world class art in the US.

The castle is now part of the state parks system and attracts 750,000 visitors annually.

Very occasionally, State Parks staff and members of the Hearst clan are allowed a dip in the pool.

But unless you're Lady Gaga, who danced in both the Neptune and Roman pools in a video that's as extravagant as the castle itself, then the chances of you swimming here are pretty unlikely.

Besides which, I have it on good authority that the mountain spring water which now fills the pool, is very, very cold.

INFO

See also: Why you should visit California's epic 'road of dreams' now

See also: 20 things that will shock first-time visitors to LA

MORE

Traveller.com.au/usa

Visitcalifornia.com

FLY

United Airlines flies to LAX from Melbourne and Sydney daily; united.com

VISIT

Hearst Castle

To visit Hearst Castle, you must book a tour. Tours through the castle are wide-ranging, run daily and must be booked in advance. hearstcastle.org

Cambria

At the southernmost end of Big Sur, Cambria's mist-enveloped and windswept beaches are home to artist's enclaves and superb wineries all within easy reach of Hearst Castle and San Simeon's famed elephant seals. Visitcambriaca.com

STAY

El Colibri Hotel and Spa at Moonstone Beach, Cambria is $US225 a night, elcolibrihotel.com

DRINK

Stolo Vineyards & Winery; stolofamilyvineyards.com

Hearst Ranch Winery, San Simeon; hearstranchwinery.com

The writer visited as a guest of Visit California, visitcalifornia.com

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