The view from Llechollwyn
From Ynys, a village on the A496 between Harlech and Maentwrog, a lane leads north to the shore of the Dwyryd estuary. Relax and enjoy the distant view across the broad, tidal waters to Portmeirion, a jumble of white, ochre and pastel-coloured buildings standing out against the trees and the hills beyond.
With its Riviera inspired houses, ornamental garden and campanile, this is the centrepiece of Portmeirion. It’s a beautiful pocket of madness. Its architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, was an ardent environmentalist who wanted to create a functional and attractive private village that would act as ‘propaganda for good manners’. It opened in 1926.
An architectural stroll
Williams-Ellis’ village is compact, but his clever use of arches, slopes and window sizes makes it seem larger than it is. The Rough Guide to Wales calls it “a gorgeous visual poem”. Take time to admire the Gothic Pavilion, Bristol Colonnade, Hercules Hall and Belvedere. Statues, corbels and whimsical details fill every nook with interest.
From the start, Williams-Ellis designed Portmeirion as a tourist destination, with the Hotel Portmeirion as its waterfront hub. Recent upgrades have been faithful to his quirky spirit. Outside, kids can play pirates in the Amis Reunis, a stone sculpture of an old ketch, or, in summer, take a dip in the heated pool.
This pretty little plaza contains guest accommodation, the Mermaid Spa and Caffi'r Sgwâr - a café with outdoor tables on the cobbles – a great spot to grab a coffee, Mediterranean-style. The Round House, the cottage where Number Six lived in The Prisoner, is now a shop selling nostalgic memorabilia.
Stretch your legs in this ten-hectare woodland, an Edwardian wild garden designed by Caton Haigh, who was a world authority on Himalayan flowering trees and exotic plants. Camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolia and maidenhair trees bring fresh blazes of colour with each passing season.
Outside the village but within the Portmeirion estate, this striking mansion has a stone façade, tall crenellations and Gothic flourishes. Originally the home of an early Victorian MP, Castell Deudraeth is now a hip hotel. Even if you’re not staying, you can drop in for lunch in the stylish conservatory brasserie.
Williams-Ellis’ daughter Susan, a designer, was already selling her ceramics in Portmeirion when, in 1960, she took over a Stoke-on-Trent pottery and named it after the village. With a nice line in botanical motifs, the business blossomed. Traditional and contemporary earthenware is still a favourite purchase from the village gift shops.
Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways
Minffordd Station is just a mile’s walk or drive from Portmeirion. With platforms for both narrow gauge and mainline services, it’s a rail enthusiast's heaven. For a vintage treat, board a steam train bound for the heart of Snowdonia towards Blaenau Ffestiniog. Alternatively, take the short but scenic hop to Porthmadog, perhaps continuing north to Caernarfon via the Welsh Highland Railway. Find out more about the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways.