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‘Portmeirion is a gorgeous visual poem that will melt the hardest heart’
- Rough Guide Wales
A lot of people remark that Portmeirion, a private village on the coast of North Wales, reminds them of Portofino, in Italy. It does, in a way, but really, it has a charm of its own. Even the architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, always repeatedly denied claims that his layout was based on that village. I think I once read somewhere that he claimed he’d never been there.
Williams-Ellis (1883-1978) was concerned with preservation and conservation, as well as sympathetic development. In the 1920s, he acquired some land near Porthmadog, and set out to prove that development of a beautiful site did not necessarily mean it was spoilt.
Some of the buildings were already on site when Williams-Ellis bought the land; others came from elsewhere; sometimes, saved from demolition and re-assembled here. Williams-Ellis himself thought of Portmeirion as a ‘home for fallen buildings’.
The architecture certainly suggests just about any town or village on the Italian Riviera. There are similar colours; bold and brash in some places; a pleasing pastel in others. There’s even an Italian style campanile.
But, there’s something other-worldly about the place, too; it’s almost as if, having paid your entrance fee at the gate, you stepped into a sort of alternate reality. You can, in fact, enter that alternate reality in nearby Porthmadog. The quaint little narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway will convey you over the embankment across the estuary of the Glaslyn River to Minffordd station, from where it’s a walk of about 1½ miles to the village entrance. The train might even be hauled by one of the railway’s famous ‘double-ended’ Fairlie steam locomotives.
There’s a lot more to do here than just wander round and look, although that is a satisfactory experience in itself.. There’s a pottery, cafés, a spa, restaurants … you can even stay at one the two hotels or the 14 self-catering cottages here. You can even get married here. And, of course, there are shops, selling everything from books to ‘Prisoner’ memorabilia.
The Prisoner was a TV series filmed here in 1967. The viewing audience was, I think, hooked by the setting rather than the plot. And, probably to whet the appetite of the viewer, Williams-Ellis stipulated that the location should not be disclosed until the credits rolled on the last episode.
The series gained a cult following, and, every year, ‘Festival No 6’ (‘No 6’ was the hero of the series, played by the late Patrick McGoohan) for the show’s affictionados is held here. And, if your visit happens to coincide with this festival … that will really increase the ‘other world’ experience.