A weekend escape to the quirky charms of Portmeirion village, a wonderfully odd architectural gem which is perfectly positioned on the glorious coast of Snowdonia.
I’ve wanted to visit Portmeirion for years, to walk on the acres of sand when the tide is low, to walk in the woods and to discover this place so loved by Pinterest, travel writers, Jules Holland and the festival-goers who flock to the village’s yearly summer party, the very classy Festival Number 6.
When I got the chance to visit I decided to bring along my coolest travelling buddy – my lovely mum. We started the weekend started well by driving on winding roads through the mountains of Snowdonia, past white-tipped peaks, glassy lakes and sleepy villages.
Entering Portmeirion is like coming into a dream world – drive past a castle and down tree-lined avenues and there are pink tollbooths waiting to greet you, the sand estuary to one site and below you the ice-cream coloured village itself. Portmeirion is like Disney for grown-ups.
The village is small but wonderfully laid out, built into the hillside and winding down to the water as if it grew here organically, perhaps springing up night like a set of bright mushrooms. It leads to the edge of the sea and the Portmeirion Hotel, the first part of Williams-Ellis’ vision to open in 1926. Designed to be an unashamedly romantic seaside resort, it still proudly wears a retro art deco charm, visible in opulent mirrored sitting rooms and parasol-strewn stone terraces made for drinking lazy cocktails with a view of the coast. Agatha Christie could have set a stylish murder mystery here in a flash.
We ate in the hotel’s restaurant, which was an opulent treat. Delicately presented local ingredients came served with perfectly matched wines whilst the lights of the village twinkled on the water outside. The highlight, though, were the charming and knowledgeable staff, who made the whole thing a delight. Well, that and sitting by the roaring fire in the hotel’s sitting room afterwards for coffee and petit fours.
As lovely as the hotel is, it’s the village itself which bewitches. You can choose to stay in the hotel itself but I’d recommend one of the rooms in the village’s cottages – we stayed in Prior’s Lodging, which despite being built in 1929 felt very sleek and sumptuous. Mum and I got a little overexcited about the bottle of port waiting for us – perfect served with a view of the estuary from the room’s huge windows.
There’s a constantly strange, otherworldly feeling to being in Portmeirion. Peerhaps it’s the little details which Williams-Ellis so adored which make you feel you’re in a dreamscape – growling lion statues, painted elf heads atop petrol pumps, a stone statue of the architect himself watching over his creation and perhaps laughing gently at you as you gaze upon it.
Everywhere there’s something delightfully odd. The houses often have trompe l’oeil windows and secret paintings on the walls. Little devils peek out of roofs. Shells adorn a tiny grotto. Bells ring from towers and none of the cottages are quite what they seem. There’s a boat moored in the harbour, you think, until you get closer and realise it’s a concrete vessel built into the terrace of the hotel. And everything is charmingly named – you can stay in Mermaid or Unicorn cottages, buy something sweet from Angel Ices or stroll around Salutation Square, wondering if you’ve stepped into an old kid’s TV programme.
It’s easy to get out into the great outdoors, too – natural beauty surrounds Portmeirion and begs to be explored. Walk through the forest and you’ll reach the beach, where you’ll feel miles from any living soul. At low tide you can walk right across to the land across the estaury. You won’t escape the dream feeling here though – along the footpaths back to the village you might find a Chinese portico next to a little lake, a Victorian dog’s cemetery or a tiny pretend lighthouse.
I loved the village in winter – we ran away from the January blues to a bright splash of welcome colour and to a sense of fun. I’ll definitely be back, although I’d like to see the village in summer next, ideally to lounge by the hotel’s turquoise pool in a vintage bathing cap, right by the house where Noel Coward once sat and wrote Blithe Spirit. Portmeirion is that kind of place.
Check out Welsh Rarebits for more hand-picked places to stay in Wales.