Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
Experience the Allure of the Medieval World (photo: Hearst Castle)
Boys and girls love castles and the allure of the medieval world’s knights, swords, tapestries and unicorns. From the Bay Area, you can make a short trip to get the feeling of a European castle by visiting Calistoga’s Castello di Amorosa and San Luis Obispo’s Heart Castle.
Castello Di Amorosa (“castle of love” in Italian) is built to appear as a 13th-century Tuscan structure, open every day except Christmas for enveloping yourself in a bygone era and — darn, parents, sorry to break the news to you — wine tasting.
With your admission fee, you receive a map, tasting of five wines and free ambling access to the two upper levels, including the fabulously titled Knight’s Hall, where your children get a special coloring page to do while you taste, as well as their own glasses of premature wine (grape juice).
If you wish to see the lower levels of the castle, you must take a guided tour, which includes the Torture Chamber, Armory and Grand Barrel Room.
This impressive 136,000-square-foot, fully ADA-compliant structure, replete with drawbridge, sits on 127 acres. The story behind it is fascinating; owner Dario Sattui adores Italian medieval architecture, having owned a castle near Florence, a monastery near Siena and a Medici palace (!) in Tuscany. He wanted to create a very authentic castle here in the Napa Valley, importing builders from Austria, Italy and other countries to help him realize the dream using ancient methods. Construction began in 1995, and nine years later, only the underground portions of the castle (well, that consists of 80 underground rooms!) were completed. The visible parts of Castello di Amoroso then took shape. The complex includes a chapel, a dry moat, battlements, five towers, a frescoed Great Hall, secret passageways — and even a “partially destroyed” tower in an effort to look like the castle had been involved in battle. The basement torture chamber contains a real Iron Maiden. In 2007, the doors officially opened for business.
After touring the castle, bring your picnic blanket and eat on the grounds of nearby V. Sattui, one of my favorite wineries (and owned by the same vintner). If you don’t wish to pack your own sandwiches, you can avail yourself of the wonderful deli there.
One note: Strollers are not permitted at the castle. See the website for more details on wine-tasting options and other information: castellodiamorosa.com. Don’t forget to click on “Blog” to read some wonderful accounts of Mr. Sattui’s passionate commitment to this project. Admission: ages 5-20, $15; adults, five tastings, $25; and six tastings (including reserve wines), $35.
Hearst Castle, roughly four-and-a-half hours from San Francisco, may require an overnight stay, but it’s so worth it. Built by revolutionary woman architect Julia Morgan for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the castle is so huge that there are many different tours, with separate ticketing, to see it all. Hearst pillaged Europe to bring back treasures for this 165-room home. In some ways, the outdoor areas are more impressive, with 127 acres of gardens and walkways (and, long ago, an open-air zoo) and, of course, the iconic 104-foot-long Neptune pool, which is now temporarily closed for restoration. But! See instead the indoor Roman pool, where Hearst and his Hollywood pals once swam into alcoves adorned with statuary and cobalt-blue tile. Castle elements really come into play in the refectory, or dining hall, which sends you back into the Middle Ages (or Hogwarts) with banners, tapestries and an outsized fireplace, and the Gothic Suite, where some of the most treasured collections are kept. Suggestion: Before you go, read up on Julia Morgan’s history as the first woman student at Paris’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts, persevering two years to gain admission there among the men. Morgan pioneered the use of reinforced concrete in building. She rocked.
Tickets start at $25 for adults and $12 for ages 5-12. Tickets are free for ages 5 and under. Visit http://hearstcastle.org/.
*A final note: Children are not permitted to visit Sam’s Castle in Pacifica, but arrange for a sitter, and take a tour. It’s only open one day a month, so plan ahead: http://www.sammazzafoundation.org/the-castle/overview/.
Erika Mailman is a Northern California freelance writer. Reach her at Erikaeditor@cs.com.