PaperPlane | December 3rd, 2006
MADONNA INN, CALIFORNIA
Courtesy Paperplane Magazine
Words Wilfred Brandt.
Warning: After a stay at the Madonna Inn, the real world might seem very, very dull.
Some people think hotels are overrated. The point of a holiday isn’t where you stay, it’s where you go, right? Isn’t a hotel just somewhere to stash your bags and crash at the end of a big night out on the town? Who wants to spend their holiday sitting in some drab suite when the wild and crazy surroundings of some exotic locale are right outside your door? Well what if the hotel suite is wilder, crazier, and more exotic than any locale on earth? Welcome to the Madonna Inn.
Named after husband and wife founders Alex and Phyllis Madonna, the inn was settled over 45 years ago and is situated in the rolling hills of central California, just 8 miles from the coastline on scenic Highway 1. The landscape may be breathtaking, but the sights inside the Madonna are eye-popping. Every one of its 109 uniquely themed rooms is akin to an obsessively detailed film set, from flicks as diverse as Gone With The Wind, The Brady Bunch, Barbarella - even Road Runner cartoons. Ever wanted to unga bunga with your cavegirl under leopard print sheets in a solid rock cave replica? Well, here you can. Wanna bathe in an artificial bootlegger’s still? Check out the Wild West room (“no moonshining, please!�?). And don’t worry. If you’re interested in a Swiss themed room, there are five to choose from.
While most hotels boast of heart-shaped beds or ceiling mirrors as offbeat fixtures, The Madonna ups the ante. Here you’ll find rock waterfall showers, nautical portholes, trompe l’oeil wall murals, authentic old English street lamps (flown in from merry old England!) and watchwork-embedded bathroom tiles. These rooms make ordinary hotel suites green with envy. And yes, there’s a green themed leprechaun room. You could call the rooms tacky, but then you’d be missing the point. Humorless tourists need not apply. Every room here comes with a healthy does of kitsch or camp, and even their most straightforward rental has a large tongue in its cheek.
If you need a break from all the irony, stroll into nearby San Luis Obispo. This quaint, affluent city was originally settled as a Spanish mission, and has grown to a population of 44,000 (almost half are students at nearby CalPoly Tech University). They have a Thursday night Farmers Market, old-fashioned trolley cars, and one of the last art deco movie theatre in the U.S. It’s a fairly whitebread environment, which you may find even more surreal than the Madonna Inn’s “Buffalo Room�?, but it’s pleasant enough. Nearby in town is another bizarre all-American attraction, Hearst Castle, an extravagant homestead built in the 1940s by rich, eccentric media tycoon William Randolph Hearst (rumored to be the inspiration for the title character in Citizen Kane). Its vast 127 acres of land and 165-room mansion are a testament to egomaniacal opulence. And yes, they give tours.
Situated halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco (3.5 hours drive from either), the Madonna Inn is great for a long weekend visit, or definitely worth a gawk whilst driving past. Stop in and use their famous rock waterfall urinal, or re-fuel at their onsite bar, café, or restaurant, all of which offer great food with The Madonna’s signature bad taste (the curved pink banquettes and gold chandeliers of their Steak House bring new meaning to the term, “eyesore�?).
And if you’re wondering what, with all this eccentricity, the creators could have possibly left out - stop by the What’s Left? suite. It’s interior is entirely made of odds and ends leftover from other rooms. Have fun, kids.