Introducing Portmeirion, Wales' Answer to the Italian Riviera

Portmeirion - June 2018
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Portmeirion Village was the vision of architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, designed and built over five decades beginning in 1925. Paying tribute to Clough's love of the Mediterranean while borrowing styles from all over the world, the village’s colorful coastline is reminiscent of Italy’s Portofino, and playfully captures the fantasies of a man who believed wholeheartedly in bringing beauty to the world. 

In fact, the village's whimsical design has long inspired creatives, including playwright Noël Coward, who announced in 1941, "I’ve got to write a comedy...people must laugh. I have got an idea and I must get on with it as soon as possible." When the noise of the Blitz prevented him from sleeping, Coward took the train from London to Wales and wrote "Blithe Spirit" within five days.

Here's how to plan a visit to this bewitching town yourself.

Location and Geography

Portmeirion is located in Gwynedd, in the northwestern corner of Wales along the Llŷn Peninsula; it's on the outskirts of Snowdonia National Park yet bypassed by many tourists.

Wales isn’t exactly known for its sunshine, but the rain does get warmer in summer, so don’t forget a precautionary umbrella! 

View of Portmeirion
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What to See and Do in Portmeirion

Clough wanted Portmeirion to be fun and for visitors to see something new every time. There are 20 strategically placed vistas around the village, so take your time exploring for the best photo opportunities while keeping your eyes peeled for surprising details and intriguing architectural designs.

Mermaid Motif

As you enter the village, take your time to notice the fanciful details synonymous with Sir Clough. A motif you’ll see repeated is that of a mermaid; her figure can be found on panels bought from the Liverpool Seamen’s Mission, which had provided sailers with housing before being bombed during World War II. Clough was a great fan of salvaging structures and artifacts and described the village as a "home for fallen buildings." 

The Piazza

As you follow the main street around the central piazza, take note of the Gloriette and surrounding structures, built roughly to a scale of four-fifths the size of a regular building to ensure they'd fit within the village confines. Construction of the Gloriette had been postponed as Clough wanted to build it using columns he’d acquired three decades earlier; however, he couldn’t recall where he’d kept them, and they were eventually found buried beneath a vegetable garden! 

Also to be found in the piazza is the Bristol Colonnade, originally built circa 1760 and standing before a Bristol bathhouse. Following wartime bombing, it fell into decay and was rescued and rebuilt in the 1970s. 

The Gwyllt

Equally inspiring is the village’s subtropical woodland, The Gwylt, which can be explored via some 19 miles of trails. Thanks to the Peninsula’s proximity to the Gulf Stream, rare and exotic plants introduced as far back as the Victorian era have managed to flourish among hidden temples, lily-covered lakes, and even a derelict castle.

As with his previously mentioned columns, Clough would often acquire things and bury them in the woods to give them an aged look. There’s no knowing what treasures may one day come to the fore, but in the meantime, the forest is full of other secrets to uncover—one being the Dog Cemetery, started by one of the village’s eccentric early residents. Mrs. Adelaide Haig preferred the company of dogs to humans and would keep her pack of mongrels in what is now the Hotel Portmeirion’s Mirror Room, where she would read sermons to them from behind a screen. 

Finally, if there’s one thing you can’t miss while in the woods, it’s the viewpoint; just follow the signs for epic cliffside views of both mountain and coast—and what a coast it is. Portmeirion boasts some of the region’s most secluded beaches, so much so that during the war they attracted nudists from London’s high society. Make sure you look up the tide timetable posted on entry to the village if you plan on heading down.

Gardens of Portmeirion
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Other Points of Interest in Portmeirion

  • The Bell Tower, made of stones from the 12th-century bell tower of Clough’s ancestor Gruffydd ap Cynan, King of North Wales.
  • Amis Reunis, or "Friends Reunited," is a stone boat that pays homage to a young Clough’s wrecked houseboat; it can still be seen across the estuary at low tide.
  • The Dome, built because a village without a dome would have a "dome deficiency," according to Clough.
  • The Chinese bridge and pavilion are just two of Clough's daughter Susan’s designs. 
  • The Mermaid Spa, where both day visitors and overnight guests can indulge their every whim.

Two Major Events in Portmeirion

  • No artistic endeavor is quite so synonymous with Portmeirion as the 1967 cult spy drama "The Prisoner," in which the village itself features as a character. Now in its fourth decade, the Prisoner convention invites fans to come together in celebration of the show’s legacy every April. 
  • Creatives have always been attracted to Portmeirion, so its very own music and arts festival seemed like a natural progression. Festival Number 6 takes place in late summer and is regarded as one of the country’s best events.

Where to Stay and Eat

Portmeirion comprises two hotels: Castell Deudraeth and Hotel Portmeirion, which overlooks the Dywryd Estuary. The village also features several suites and self-catering cottages, each as inspiring and unique as the next (music fans might want to opt for the Gatehouse, formerly owned by Beatles manager Brian Epstein and a regular haunt of the Famous Four). Every window in Portmeirion was designed to frame an interesting view, so whatever you decide, you’re guaranteed a special stay.

And just because you’re not in Italy, doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on fantastic food. While there are plenty of cafés to grab a quick drink or snack (including Caffi Glas for homemade Italian cuisine), head to Castell Deudraeth’s brasserie for a relaxed dinner or The Dining Room for fine dining and waterside views.

How to Get to Portmeirion

From Bangor, Portmeirion is less than an hour’s drive along the A487. The village can be tricky to reach via public transport, but for the most direct route, we recommend the T2 bus from Bangor to Porthmadog; it's then a 2-mile taxi ride to Portmeirion. To make the most of your North Wales trip, take the steam train from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog for a glimpse of Wales’s slate mining history. 

Adult entry to the village costs 13 pounds.

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