Written by Lynsey Oxton
Having spent a large proportion of my childhood holidaying in North Wales, I decided to go ‘back in time’ and revisit Portmeirion Village; somewhere I remember being ‘dragged to’ by my parents but actually enjoying once I got there – but would I like it as much as an adult?
What exactly is this place?
Something of a lesser-known secret (at least to those of us under the age of 50), Portmeirion is a flamboyant, Italianate village located on the estuary of the River Dwyryd in North Wales. It was created by a Welsh architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who started work on his creation when he purchased the Aber Ia Estate in Penrhyndeudraeth in 1925. He eventually completed what became Portmeirion Village in 1975, some 50 years later – now that’s an investment!
Clough was both an advocate of the rural preservation of North Wales and an eccentric architect with a passion for unique buildings. As such, he developed this rather quirky village and surrounded it in 70 acres of sub-tropical woodland gardens and lakes. As you do. Passion, patience and plenty of pennies required – with lots of vision.
It’s easy to see why some people describe Portmeirion as being ‘unlike any other place in Great Britain‘ – it’s not every day you drive down an A-road in Wales and stumble across somewhere quite as pleasantly peculiar as this!
Of course, what is pleasing to one eye, is not always to another and whilst I love places that are a bit ‘off the wall’, apparently Portmeirion has been described by others as being tacky and misplaced. If you believe all that you read, Prince Charles was once said to have called it “the highest slum in Britain“. I didn’t see much evidence to support that view during my visit, quite the opposite.
Without question, Portmeirion is a playground for photographers and instagrammers alike.
With twisting cobbled streets, winding pathways leading to more pathways, colourful cottages of ALL shapes and sizes and plenty of ‘nooks and crannies’ to discover, you can explore and snap away to your hearts content. As a child, I remember it being an ideal spot for a game of ‘hide and seek’. Back then, I wasn’t so much interested in the pretty gardens, as I was running riot in this huge, adventure haven. As a 30-something (just), I have to admit to quite liking the array of flora this time around!
That said, the hidden doorways, peepholes and unnaturally colourful cottages still enticed me; though perhaps more to do with wanting to turn my hand to some arty photography, rather than trying to find a better hiding place than my brother.
So why the Italian-inspired theme?
Apparently Clough wanted to create a place to replicate his memories of holidays in Portofino on the Italian Mediterranean coast. Word is that he designed the gardens and buildings in Portmeirion using just his ‘memory sketches’. Impressive if true!
Naturally I wanted it to be a gorgeous sunny day when we visited but it seems there was to be no Summer in North Wales on 22nd July! Despite us falling foul to a particularly miserable and rainy day, the village still managed to burst with vibrancy and charm, even if the weather didn’t! So don’t be put off.
I’m clearly too young to remember this programme firsthand (!) but Portmeirion was once home to the filming of the 1960’s cult tv show, ‘The Prisoner‘. I’ve never seen it myself (perhaps I will now) but I know the concept: a retired Secret Agent is taken to what first appears to be an idyllic village on a holiday break, but ‘The Village’ quickly transpires to be a prison where he is held captive. In each of the 17 episodes, he tries to escape his captors in speed boats or sports cars. Apparently the last episode was so obscure and left open to interpretation that the star of the show, Patrick McGoohan, had to go into hiding for a short time as he was hounded by fans demanding explanations!
The Prisoner’s cult following stretched overseas to the USA, France and even Australia and is remembered as one of the most influential television series of the 60’s. As such, it still sees fans flock from all over the globe. There were definitely some noticeable ‘Prisoner Geeks’ when we visited as well as some retro sports cars parked up.
And there’s a beach too!
I mentioned earlier that ‘The Prisoner’ aka ‘Number Six’ also used speedboats to try and make his getaway, so it makes sense that Portmeirion must also be on the water. Overlooking the estuary towards Porthmadog, is an expanse of beach around a five minute walk from the centre of the village. As already noted, the weather was not on our side during our visit so the bucket and spade stayed behind in the car. But you get the gist….
So what’s the cost?
A day trip to Portmeirion will set you back £12 admission fee for adults (a little less for OAPs and kids) and this includes use of the beach and a little train ride that takes you through the woodland and past the Chinese Lake. The village is open all day from 09:30 – 17:30 so it’s great value if you want a day’s entertainment. I’m living proof that it appeals to all ages.
Like many great visitor attractions….
If you really want to push the boat out (not literally), you can choose to stay at one of the two fancy hotels on site, or in one of a number of holiday cottages within the grounds. What a brilliant place to stay and explore ‘after hours’!
Definitely Bucket List material.
I get the impression that there are many stories of Portmeirion, some true and some not. If this particular one is to be believed, Clough requested that on his death, his ashes be put in a firework or cannon and fired into the air over his Portmeirion. If you invest 50 years hard graft, you can certainly appreciate the attachment! For some, you may never want to escape….