Discover why the village of Portmeirion is the perfect place to visit for a quirky day out or a luxurious long weekend in North Wales.
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What comes to mind when you think of Wales? It’s probably the dramatic mountains of Snowdonia, the glorious rolling fields filled with sheep, or the stunning castles that are peppered throughout the landscape.
You probably don’t immediately imagine an Italianate village with colourful buildings, a wild wood, and a luxurious coastal hotel. That is, unless you are thinking of Portmeirion!
I’ve been wanting to visit Portmeirion for years, so I was thrilled when I was invited to visit the village for a weekend, staying in the four star Hotel Portmeirion. It’s certainly one of the must-see things to do in Wales, in my opinion.
I did wonder whether the village would live up to the expectations I’d built up over the years. But as you’ll find out, I discovered that it not only met my expectations, it thoroughly exceeded them.
Portmeirion is the perfect place to visit for a quirky day out or a luxurious long weekend.
The History of Portmeirion Village
In 1925, the architect Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis purchased the site of the village Aber Iâ (meaning Glacial Estuary) and changed its name to Portmeirion. He was passionate about landscape design and conservation as well as architecture, and he’d been considering the construction of a coastal village for some years.
Clough was a passionate campaigner for the environment, and contributed to the establishment of the National Parks of England and Wales. He was personally responsible for the demarcation of the boundary of the Snowdonia National Park.
When he bought Aber Iâ , Clough described the village as a ‘neglected wilderness’. There were just a few houses, the mansion house and Castell Deudraeth on the site at that time. But Clough set to work, transforming it into the village of his imagination.
The first stage of construction of Portmeirion took place between 1925 and 1939. During this period, Clough laid out the site and some of Portmeirion’s most distinctive buildings were added. These include the Gatehouse, the Bell Tower and the Town Hall.
The Second World War brought development to a halt, and Clough resumed work on his village between 1954 and 1976. This phase saw many of the details of the site being filled in, as well as the addition of classical buildings like the Pantheon and the Gloriette.
Several buildings such as the Bristol Colonnade were saved from demolition sites and transported to Portmeirion. The village had become a ‘home for fallen buildings’ in the words of Clough himself.
The Italianate style of these buildings contrasts with the Arts and Crafts style seen in some of the earlier buildings. And with the brightly coloured paintwork, it all adds to the unique style and character of Portmeirion.
Clough’s motto was “Cherish the past, adorn the present, construct for the future”. In Portmeirion, he hoped to prove that developing a naturally beautiful site need not result in its ruin.
Portmeirion now receives around 200,000 visitors each year, who are drawn to its quirky character and beautiful surroundings.
How to get to Portmeirion
The village of Portmeirion sits on the Welsh coast, towards the northern end of Ceredigion Bay. There aren’t any motorways that reach the West coast of Wales, but it’s easy to reach the village by road.
Travelling by car to Portmeirion takes just under 3 hours from both Birmingham and Manchester. This makes it very easy to reach if you’re flying into the UK from either of those airports. And as the route is mainly along major A roads, it’s a fairly simple drive.
Your journey will take you through the beautiful surroundings of the Snowdonia National Park to the village of Minffordd. From there, it’s just a short drive up the wooded driveway to the entrance to Portmeirion.
But if you’re not driving, it’s still easy to get to Portmeirion. The train station at Minffordd is just a mile away, and a taxi can take you the short distance to the village.
I drove to Portmeirion from my home in Shropshire, heading past the North Wales towns of Wrexham and Langollen, and then onwards towards the coast.
How much does it cost to visit Portmeirion village?
Once you arrive at Portmeirion, you can park in their large car park, and then head to the tollbooths at the entrance to the village.
You can buy tickets on the day when you arrive, these cost £12 for adults. Entrance is £8.50 for children aged 5-15 years, and under-fives get in free of charge.
However, if you buy your tickets in advance from the Portmeirion Village website, you can save up to 10% on the standard day ticket.
You can also buy annual memberships, which cost £30 for adults and £15 for children. Gold annual passes are also available which include a host of benefits like discounts on food and spa treatments. These cost £60 for adults.
Annual pass holders also gain free entry to the Portmeirion Food and Craft Fair on 6-8th December 2019.
Spend a day at Portmeirion
There’s a lot to pack into a day at Portmeirion, so I’ve picked out some of my favourite parts of my visit there.
Entering the Village
Once you’re inside the village, you’ll walk past the visitor information shop and down towards the Cliff House and the Grotto.
The platform above the Grotto gives you a wonderful view out over the Dwyryd estuary and down towards Hotel Portmeirion.
Once you’ve soaked in the view, you’ll continue along the pathway and under the arch of the Gatehouse. This is decorated with a fabulous ceiling mural, one of several painted around the village by Hans Feibush.
This is one of the joys of visiting Portmeirion – finding all of the quirky details and decorative flourishes that hide around the village.
Your path continues with beautiful houses lining the route, and then you pass under the colourful Bridge House. Here you can listen a recorded welcome to the village which plays regularly.
Clough intended that visitors to the village would enter via a tree-lined pathway with archways over it.
This semi-enclosed entrance means that when you emerge from under Bridge House into Battery Square, the sense of colour and space is even more intense.
This was when I realised that Portmeirion was going to be every bit as extraordinary as I had hoped.
Quirky details like the black sheep on the Toll House and the bright colours of the Battery are just a hint of what’s to come.
You’ll meander along pathways that take you past landmarks like the Bell Tower, and houses such as Dolphin and the Government House.
Many of the houses and cottages can now be booked as serviced accommodation or as self-catering cottages.
You’ll also walk past the green dome of the Pantheon, which featured in the 60’s TV show The Prisoner. More about that later!
Next up is one of my favourite parts of Portmeirion.
The Piazza was part of the original plans for Portmeirion, but for various reasons it wasn’t built in the first phase of development. In the mid 1960s, Clough’s daughter Susan encouraged him to build the piazza to cover up an ugly tennis court.
The result is an absolute masterpiece. A giant chess board, a fountain pool, Ionic columns topped with golden Mandalay dancers, and the beautiful Gloriette all form part of Portmeirion’s Piazza.
Everywhere you look, there are wonderful sights to take in, and the atmosphere around the piazza is very special.
It’s certainly somewhere you’ll want to stop and linger a while.
The doorway leading up to the Gloriette is accessed from the main road that winds its way around the village. You’ll see the entrance from the road, and it looks like it could lead into an interesting building. But instead, you find yourself standing on a balcony over looking the Piazza!
It just one more twist in a village that is full of surprises.
The Bristol Colonnade
I love classic Georgian architecture, so the Bristol Colonnade is one of my very favourite buildings in Portmeirion.
It was built somewhere around 1760 in front of a bathhouse in Bristol. Bomb damage from the Second World War lead to it falling into decay, and the colonnade was slated for demolition in the 1950s.
But instead it was rescued by Clough and moved brick by brick to his ‘home for fallen buildings’.
Around 100 tonnes of fragile stonework was dismantled, carefully numbered, and moved by road from Bristol to Portmeirion. Then each piece was delicately reassembled piece by piece, overlooking the Piazza. It’s a truly phenomenal achievement.
One decorative piece was left behind in the transfer to Portmeirion. And if you look carefully, you’ll find a portrait of Clough’s head in its place.
Throughout Portmeirion, you’ll see a number of sculptures decorating the buildings. Some are simply hidden in a little nook or cranny in a rock. But one of the largest and grandest sculptures has to be Hercules.
The statue of Hercules was cast around the year 1863 by William Brodie. He started his career as a plumber’s apprentice, and cast lead figures of people for fun in his spare time.
Brodie was encouraged to take his pastime more seriously. After studying at the Trustees’ School of Design, he eventually exhibited his work at the Royal Academy, the Royal Scottish Academy and even at the Great exhibition of 1851.
Clough acquired Hercules in 1960, and drove him from Aberdeen to Portmeirion in the back of a pick up truck.
He now stands at the top of Hercules steps, and can be seen from the pool at the foot of the waterfall near the hotel.
The Prisoner and Portmeirion Village
You can’t talk about Portmeirion without mentioning The Prisoner. Indeed, this might be the very reason why you’re interested in visiting Portmeirion.
The Prisoner was a TV show starring Patrick McGoohan, which aired in the UK, US and Canada in 1967. It’s a very surreal science fiction spy thriller which follows a British spy who is abducted and imprisoned in a coastal village after resigning from his job.
The outside filming of The Prisoner took place at Portmeirion, and several of the buildings feature prominently in the show.
These include the Round House (Number Six’s house), the Pantheon (Number Two’s house) and Hotel Portmeirion (the old people’s home) as well as the Town Hall, the Gloriette and the chess board on the Piazza.
Only one season of The Prisoner. ever aired on TV. And despite its rather bizarre ending, the show has become quite a cult classic. Fans of the show flock to Portmeirion to see the filming locations and soak up the atmosphere.
There’s a bronze bust of Patrick McGoohan (Number Six)in the village as well as a shop selling Prisoner themed gifts and memorabilia.
Want to watch The Prisoner on DVD? Click here to check prices on Amazon*
Where to Eat at Portmeirion
There are plenty of options when it comes to eating out at Portmeirion. To start with, there are four cafes dotted around the village, which are perfect for a light meal or snack.
Caffi Glas offers homemade Italian food in the beautiful setting of Salutation Square. You can watch chefs prepare your meal in the galley-style kitchen, from a menu which includes freshly made pizza, pasta and salads.
During school summer holidays, Caffi Glas stays open later in the evening, serving a selection of local beers and wines.
Or you could choose from a selection of panini, baps, rolls and cakes at Caffi No 6. They also serve a delicious cream tea, soft serve ice creams and a range of local beers and wines.
Caffi’r Angel is Portmeirion’s retro-style Italian Gelateria, which makes its own gelato on -site. Seating is available indoors, or on a sunny day you can sit outside and enjoy flavours including salted caramel and bara brith.
Caffi’r Angel also serves a selection of drinks including barista-style coffees, and a range of freshly made cakes.
And if you’re looking to revive yourself with a hot cuppa and a sweet treat, then head to Caffi’r Sgwâr in Battery Square. Here you’ll be able to relax with a specialist tea or barista-style coffee, and indulge in a scone or cake.
During my visit, I had lunch at the Town Hall restaurant, which is a fabulous 50s-style retro diner. They serve a range of home made food at very reasonable prices, including hot meals, sandwiches, baguettes and salads.
The terrace overlooks the town square, and is a fabulous place to eat on a sunny day.
There’s also a relaxed bar, which serves cask ales, wines and spirits as well as soft drinks and hot drinks.
I really enjoyed my home-made Garden Burger, which was gently spiced and full of flavour. It came with a massive salad and portion of chips plus some delicious onion rings, all for around £10!
If you’re looking for something a little more substantial, then the brasserie at Castle Deudraeth is worth a look. You can choose from a range of delicious sandwiches, or order from the restaurant’s a la carte menu. This showcases fabulous local produce in a wonderful seasonal menu.
It’s worth checking the Portmeirion website for special offers on free entry when you book a table at Castle Deudraeth.
The final option for dining at Portmeirion is down on the coast at Hotel Portmeirion. You can enjoy a light lunch or afternoon tea on the terrace or in one of the hotel’s ornate lounges
Or why not dine in the 2 AA rosette restaurant at Hotel Portmeirion?
This beautiful Art Deco style room has a gorgeous curvilinear front that floods the space with natural light. And the stylish interiors were designed by Sir Terence Conran.
I ate dinner here when I stayed at Hotel Portmeirion recently, and loved their inventive use of local Welsh produce.
This Welsh hake was cooked perfectly, and served with a crisp mustard crust on top. And the ‘Apple Crumble’ below was definitely one of the most inventive desserts I’ve eaten recently!
While it’s lovely to visit Portmeirion for the day, it is also perfect for a longer break. And the four-star Hotel Portmeirion is a wonderful place to stay.
The building that is now Hotel Portmeirion was originally a mansion house which was already on site at Aber Iâ when Clough acquired the village.
Clough realised that his village would need to support itself economically, and tourism was the obvious way to do this. So in 1926, he opened the mansion as a hotel. Over the following years, the hotel was extended and the curvilinear fronted restaurant was added in 1931.
A fire caused substantial damage to Hotel Portmeirion in 1981, but it reopened in 1988 after a brilliant restoration.
The hotel enjoys stunning views out over the Dwyryd estuary, and when I stayed at the hotel recently, I was lucky to have a room with river views.
The hotel’s bedrooms are beautifully decorated, and have luxurious fabrics and Portmeirion china throughout. It’s ideal for a special weekend away.
The rooms downstairs are full of quirky details and vintage touches, and there’s a feeling of luxury throughout.
And the food in the hotel’s Art Deco style restaurant is excellent. Not only did I enjoy a fabulous dinner, but I began the second day of my visit with a fantastic breakfast as well.
With the sun rising over the river estuary, it was the perfect way to start the day.
Other Places to Stay at Portmeirion
There are other options for a stay at Portmeirion besides Hotel Portmeirion itself. You could opt to stay at the four star Castell Deudraeth, which pre-dates the development of Portmeirion.
It was originally an 18th century cottage which was castellated and renamed in the mid-19th century. Clough purchased the Castell in 1931 with the intention of turning it into a second hotel for the village.
However, a series of events including the war and a large fire at Clough’s own home meant that the renovation didn’t happen until the start of the 21st century. Castell Deudraeth finally opened to the public as a luxurious hotel in 2001.
Or perhaps you would prefer to stay in the heart of the village? Several of the houses are available to rent on a self-catering basis, with some sleeping up to 8 people. They would be perfect if you want to use Portmeirion as the base for exploring North Wales.
Things to do at Portmeirion
As well as admiring the architecture and indulging in delicious treats, there’s plenty to keep you occupied during your visit to Portmeirion.
The village has a range of shops and art galleries where you can pick up a souvenir. These include a book shop, a Portmeirion china seconds shop, and Pot Jam, a pantry shop stocking a delicious range of Welsh produce.
You can also take a Woodland Train ride from the stop in Salutation Square, or watch an audio-visual show about the history of the Village.
You can even get married at Portmeirion, and the village will provide the perfect backdrop for your photographs.
The Mermaid Spa
If you fancy a bit of pampering during your visit to Portmeirion, then you’ll be pleased to hear that the village has its very own spa.
The Mermaid Spa at Portmeirion offers a wide range of treatments including body wraps and facials, massages and manicures. The spa’s qualified therapists use the purest vegan-friendly products and all-natural therapies, making it the perfect treat during your stay.
There are also luxurious spa packages which combine relaxing treatments with a delicious lunch at Castell Deudraeth. Or you could combine your spa treatments with an overnight stay at the village.
For more information, call the spa on 01766 772444 or email email@example.com
The Coastal Walk
Once you’ve explored the village centre, why not take a stroll down to the white sands of the Dwyryd Estuary coast?
You can discover hidden caves, gullies and a host of interesting plants, or just paddle in the waters. Or take a walk along the coastal path toward the end of the peninsula. There you can drink in the stunning views of the coast and the mountains of Snowdonia beyond.
Caution is advised when walking across the sands and it is dangerous on an incoming tide.
High tide times are displayed on site and on all admission tickets.
The Forest Walk
Portmeirion also has a beautiful forest walk, which takes you through the 70 acre Gwyllt (meaning ‘the wild place’).
Portmeirion sits in a sheltered position on a peninsula, which gives it a mild climate all year round. This means that there are several species living in the forest which would otherwise need the protection of a conservatory.
You can explore 19 miles of paths through the forest, with its secret coves and coastal views. The forest contains some of Britain’s largest trees, including monkey puzzle, pines and giant redwoods as well as magnolias, camellias, and rhododendrons.
There’s even one variety of rhododendron called ‘Gwyltt King’ which was bred on site in Portmeirion. You’ll be able to spot its vivid red flowers in June.
I loved the Chinese lake with its classic temple and bridge. It’s a very peaceful spot away from the hub-bub of the village centre.
And I also loved Flora’s Pergola, which was the final contribution to Portmeirion from Clough’s daughter Susan in 2006.
Other landmarks to keep an eye out for include the Dog Cemetary, which contains gravestones for the dogs of Adelaide Haig, who lived in the mansion until 1917. And the Japanese Garden has a pagoda and lily-covered lake.
And if you’re staying for more than a day or two at Portmeirion, there’s plenty to see and do in the local area.
Things to do near Portmeirion
Snowdonia National Park is packed full of mountains and beautiful scenery, making it perfect for a walking holiday. Or why not view it from the comfort of a steam train on the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Steam Railway?
The railway’s Portmadog station is just a 10 minute drive from the hotel. From there you can either travel across to Blaunau Ffestiniog in Snowdonia, or journey northwards towards Caernarvon. You can even book to enjoy afternoon tea on board!
Or for an experience at a faster pace, why not visit Zipworld for a ride on the fastest zipline in the world? You’ll reach speeds of up to 100mph as you soar over the Penrhyn quarry. It’s around an hour’s drive away from Portmeirion.
And of course North Wales is famous for its fabulous castles. If you take the steam train to Caernarvon then you certainly won’t want to miss out on a visit to beautiful Caernarfon castle. Or you could visit Harlech castle which is about 20 minutes away from Hotel Portmeirion by car.
Portmeirion: My review
Altogether, Portmeirion is a truly magical place to visit. You’ll probably visit the village because you’ve heard about its colourful Italianate design and quirky architecture. And you can easily spend the day wandering around the streets of the village, stopping off occasionally to indulge in some delicious local food.
But there’s much more to Portmeirion than just the colourful buildings. There’s a real sense of history here, and it’s combined beautifully with the stunning surroundings. The beautiful coastal setting, with the dramatic backdrop of the Snowdonia mountains, really adds a special atmosphere to the village.
I think Clough achieved his dream of developing a small village beautifully but without adversely affecting the surroundings. I thoroughly enjoyed my short stay in Portmeirion, and I know that it’s somewhere I’ll come back to again.
Tel: 01766 772440