Magical Portmeirion resembles a film set – and indeed, it once was. Flic Everett takes a trip to the hidden Italian village nestled between the hills of North Wales and the coast
It’s tough to plan holidays abroad this year – so it’s lucky North Wales has its own little slice of Italy, perched on the edge of the Llyn Peninsula.
Set in subtropical-style formal gardens and surrounded by glorious woodland wending down to the sandy beach, the village is made up 13 self-catering cottages, two luxury hotels, gift shops and cafes, a spa and a Gelateria that serves bara brith ice cream. Its quirky unexpectedness, just a couple of miles from the busy seaside town of Porthmadog, is part of its charm.
Created by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis, who began the development in 1925 (it was finally completed in 1976). He hoped to demonstrate that a naturally beautiful site could be sympathetically developed. He ended up with a fantasy resembling a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, a dream of sorbet-coloured buildings, overlooking a glittering sea.
Over 200 000 visitors a year now pour though its piazzas and over its bridges, while a lucky few book the self-catering houses or a weekend at the gloriously art deco Hotel Portmeirion.
For the last few years, it’s also been home to the quirky Festival Number 6 in September, a gathering of music fans, named after Patrick McGoohan’s character in The Prisoner – a series famously filmed here in the 1960s.
Take a stroll in Y Gwyllt Woodlands
There are 70 acres of woods, and 20 miles of pathways to explore around the village. Head to the cove, with its rocky caves and expanse of white sand, or walk among the trees, finding the Ghost Garden – which commemorates a lost garden, rather than being home to ghosts – and the Chinese Lake. There are picnic benches and wooden play equipment, while the Gazebo offers sweeping views of the village and over the estuary.
Retrace the prisoner’s footsteps
The cult classic TV show was filmed here in the 1960s – and has since found a new audience on YouTube. The story of a man trapped in a Mediterranean-style village, and known only as Number Six, it caught the popular imagination. Now, fans hold an annual convention here, and the Prisoner Shop – situated in the ‘house’ of Number Six – sells memorabilia from maps and blazers to the sinister ‘balloon’ that chased him down the beach.
Buy a souvenir piece of pottery
Susan Williams-Ellis, Clough’s daughter, was a pottery designer, and her pieces became popular with visitors to Portmeirion. In 1960 she named a Stoke-on-Trent pottery after her father’s village and, ever since, collectors have snapped up the stylised botanical and graphic designs. The original Botanical Garden design is still hugely popular, and various ranges can be purchased from The Seconds Pottery Shop, which sells discontinued sets.
Enjoy the local dishes
Portmeirion has several cafes and restaurants where you can order something delicious. Hotel Portmeirion has reduced opening hours this year but serves lunch on the terrace for residents, and Castell Deudraeth offers lunches in its stylish dining room overlooking beautiful gardens. It’s vital to check, under current restrictions, where will be open and when. Dishes from the Hotel’s Terrace menu include leek, spinach and potato soup with Welsh rarebit cheese puffs; aged sirloin of Welsh beef, and Welsh lamb rib with mint.
Outside the village, there’s plenty to do and see, including llama trekking, boat trips and…
History lovers must not miss this glorious storybook castle perched on a rocky cliff with views out to sea and the peaks of Snowdonia. The 13th century castle of Edward I, with concentric walls providing serious protection, has seen plenty of bloodshed and drama over the centuries and is now a World Heritage site. Its ‘floating’ footbridge lets visitors enter the castle as the original architect intended. (cadw.gov.wales)
The Ffestiniog railway
A trip on the narrow-gauge heritage railway run by volunteers is heaven for both adults and children. Pretty Minffordd Station is a mile from Portmeirion, and the traditional steam train carries day-trippers the 13.5 miles to Blaenau Ffestiniog, climbing over 700 feet through beautiful mountainous woods and valleys. Blaenau is a haven for action sports too, so keen teens can enjoy some zip wiring, or even underground trampolining! (festrail.co.uk)
Walk Min y don to Black rock sands
This seven-mile walk starts at Portmeirion then on to Portmadog Cob, an 18th century seawall with views over the Afon Glaslyn estuary, a salt marsh with a huge variety of sea birds and ospreys. Walk through Portmadog, then up to the fishing village of Borth y Gest where you can see over to Harlech Castle. Go on via sandy coves and finally reach the huge golden beach of Black Rock sands. (walescoastpath.gov.uk)
Climate: Average temperatures range from 9°C (January) to 19°C (July). It tends to rain in October, November and December. May to September is the best time to visit.
How to get there: The nearest train station is Minffordd via Transport for Wales, or for a more direct service from Birmingham and Manchester, travel to Bangor and take a taxi. Avanti Trains have an express service from London Euston to Bangor that takes 3 hours 15 minutes. From here take a 50-minute taxi ride to Portmeirion. You can take a train from London to Minffordd, changing at Birmingham New Street, which takes around 6 hours 15 minutes. By car from London, the journey takes just under 5 hours and from Manchester takes about 2 hours 30 minutes. (avantiwestcoast.co.uk and tfwrail.wales)
Where to stay: Rent a cottage or book a stay at the Hotel Portmeirion or Castell Deudraeth. (portmeirion.wales)
Book here: portmeirion. wales
Please note: ONLY GUIDE DOGS ALLOWED.
NB: Please check the latest coronavirus updates before booking travel.