Earlier this year we took a little road trip around some of the finer parts of North Wales. If you are a regular reader, you may be aware that I originate from that part of the world and am always looking for a reason to share some of the local delights with you. This in turn gives me the opportunity to be a tourist on my home turf, to capture those locations that I can share with you. It also gives me the opportunity to splurge a little on fancy hotels, you know, for the blog.
As part of the aforementioned road trip, we had the beautiful Italian village of Portmeirion on the list of places to visit. Italian you say? Well, yes. You see, Portmeirion is, quite simply, a little piece of Italy tucked into a coastal hillside of North Wales. This is one the reasons we chose an overnight stay in Portmeirion Village.
The history of Portmeirion
Designed and created by the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who had a vision of village inspired by Mediterranean styles and centred around a large piazza, the village is packed with architecturally beautiful and colourful buildings. While most of the buildings were original designs by Williams-Ellis, some buildings were salvaged, transported and rebuilt, creating a mix of styles and design.
The location, formerly the Aber Iâ estate was the perfect setting, hidden to one side by thick woodland (Y Gwyllt) with an incline down to the wide Dwyryd Estuary below meaning that the village is effectively hidden from the outside world and the hillside location offers great vantage points of the village and buildings wherever you may wander.
Construction of the village took place over two periods, 1926 – 1939 and 1954 – 1976 and by the time the build was complete Williams-Ellis was in his nineties. The old house which now houses the Portmeirion Hotel preceded this era and was the only building that remains from the original Aber Iâ village. It was extended and converted into the grand hotel which opened in 1926.
If you were around in the late 60’s, you may recognise the scenery around Portmeirion as it was the location for the TV series – The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan which has become something of a cult classic. McGoohan played a former secret agent, known only at No. 6, who was imprisoned in the mysterious village. The No. 6 moniker has stood the test of time, with an annual renowned music festival – Festival No. 6 – being held at Portmeirion since 2012, although it seems that 2018 may have been it’s final year.
Exploring Portmeirion Village
We arrived at Portmeirion on a mid afternoon in late spring. Apart from service vehicles, the village is a no car zone unless you are staying overnight, in which case you can drive through and park up at the hotel. We bypassed the main parking areas and headed to the entrance where we were greeted before heading toward the hotel to park up for the evening.
As we were a little early for check in , we decided to explore the village. Wandering up the hill from the hotel to the centre of the village, you really are transported to a little piece of the Mediterranean.
The central piazza is the main hub of the village. An open space featuring a large blue tiled pond, fountains, a pavilion, a giant chess set and beautiful planting. To one side of the piazza sits the Bristol Colonnade, originally built in 1870 and used as the frontage of a Bristol bathhouse, when found falling into decay it was carefully moved and rebuilt piece by piece at this location.
From the piazza you have a 360 degree view of the village. Beautiful decorative buildings in pastel shades and bright colours, some adorned with gorgeous frescoes. Archways, domes, cobbled streets, terracotta tiled roofs and tropical lush planting whisk you away from the nearby mountains of Snowdonia to much warmer climes.
The beautiful facades of the buildings which make up the hub of the village cafes, shops and collection of holiday cottages create a deceptive image of scale, with false windows and details making them appear much larger and grander – a really clever move by the architect.
The finer details scattered around the village add depth and attention to detail. Statues, planting, beautiful cast iron metalwork – the mermaid panels can be seen scattered around the village. There is a lot to take in.
Portmeirion is open to the public daily between 9.30am – 7.30pm, except on Christmas Day. There is a good selection of cafes, gift shops, a restaurant and bar within the village. Day tickets cost £8.00 for adults and can be purchased in advance here.
A night at the Portmeirion Hotel
Once we were done exploring and had rewarded ourselves with coffee and cake, it was time to check in to the hotel. There are a number of accommodation options at Portmeirion – two four star hotels (Portmeirion Hotel and Castell Deudreath), with luxury rooms, suites and self catering cottages located in the village itself.
We chose the Portmeirion Hotel – the flagship four star hotel located at the bottom of the village near the estuary. As previously mentioned, the hotel opened in 1926 and much of the Victorian interior has remained, along with details such as a beautiful Italian fireplace and an eighteenth century staircase. The public areas really offer a sense of class as you enter.
The hotel has 14 rooms located across two floors. We opted for a ‘Hotel Double’ room which was located in the main building on the first floor, with views overlooking the estuary. The room was beautifully decorated with all the little touches you would expect from a four star hotel.
The hotel features a bar and lounge area, as well as an art deco inspired fine dining restaurant, which has been awarded a 2 AA rosette. There is a heavy emphasis on local produce with creative and exciting menus. There was a choice of a table d’hote menu or a ten course tasting menu. Can you guess what we opted for? Yes, the tasting menu of course. Ten. Courses. Well, we were on holiday!
I should probably mention at this point that I am not the most adventurous diner. I’m very much a meat and two veg kind of eater although I have become more willing to try different things over the years. Tasting menus, for me, are a perfect way to explore foods that I would never select as a full portion. I have to say, it was absolutely superb. Every course was delicately presented, but delicious and very filling – especially when washed down with some great wine.
I had great plans to go out and do some night photography once we were done eating, but in all honesty, as well as the fact that there was torrential rain outside, I don’t think I could have even made it up the hill to the village anyway!
The hotel grounds are lovely too. There is an outdoor pool for use on those warm summer days, a ‘stone boat’ (the Amis Reunis) on the banks of the estuary to explore and further pathways away from the village towards a watchtower, as well as more beautiful details scattered around.
I loved the design and architecture of Portmeirion. I must have taken hundreds of photos during the couple of days we spent there. Every path you take and every corner you turn, the architecture and layout seems to be designed to frame the scenes in front of you perfectly – whether it’s a gateway, an archway or a window of a building. A perfect frame for a perfect photograph.
Gwynedd, LL48 6ER