Although it may seem that the visually impaired may be missing much that Portmeirion has to offer, the incongruity of an Italian village in a North Wales landscape, there is still much to feel, the atmosphere to soak, some of the lowest air pollution levels in the country to enjoy, or the delightful fountains and peaceful repose of the Central Plaza and Battery Square to soothe and relax by.
Portmeirion is a tourist village in Gwynedd, North Wales. It was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village, and is now owned by a charitable trust. The village is located in the community of Penrhyndeudraeth, on the estuary of the River Dwyryd, 2 miles (3.2 km) south east of Porthmadog, and 1 mile (1.6 km) from Minffordd railway station. Portmeirion has served as the location for numerous films and television shows, and was "The Village" in the 1960s television show The Prisoner.
Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, Portmeirion's designer, denied repeated claims that the design was based on the fishing village of Portofino on the Italian Riviera. He stated only that he wanted to pay tribute to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean. He did, however, draw from a love of the Italian village stating, "How should I not have fallen for Portofino? Indeed its image remained with me as an almost perfect example of the man-made adornment and use of an exquisite site." Williams-Ellis designed and constructed the village between 1925 and 1975. He incorporated fragments of demolished buildings, including works by a number of other architects. Portmeirion's architectural bricolage and deliberately fanciful nostalgia have been noted as an influence on the development of postmodernism in architecture in the late 20th century.
The main building of the hotel and the cottages "White Horses", "Mermaid", and "The Salutation" had been a private estate called Aber Iâ (Welsh: Ice estuary), developed in the 1850s on the site of a late 18th-century foundry and boatyard. Williams-Ellis changed the name (which he had interpreted as "frozen mouth") to Portmeirion: "Port-" from its place on the coast; "-meirion" from the county of Merioneth (Meirionydd) in which it was sited. The very minor remains of a mediaeval castle (known variously as Castell Deudraeth, Castell Gwain Goch and Castell Aber Iâ) are in the woods just outside the village, recorded by Gerald of Wales in 1188.
In 1931 Williams-Ellis bought from his uncle, Sir Osmond Williams, Bt, the Victorian crenellated mansion Castell Deudraeth with the intention of incorporating it into the Portmeirion hotel complex, but the intervention of the war and other problems prevented this. Williams-Ellis had always considered the Castell to be “the largest and most imposing single building on the Portmeirion Estate" and sought ways to incorporate it. Eventually, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund as well as the Wales Tourist Board, his original aims were achieved and Castell Deudraeth was opened as an 11 bedroom hotel and restaurant on 20 August 2001 by Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel.
The grounds contain an important collection of rhododendrons and other exotic plants in a wild-garden setting, which was begun before Williams-Ellis's time by the previous owner George Henry Caton Haigh and has continued to be developed since Williams-Ellis's death.
Portmeirion is now owned by a charitable trust, and has always been run as a hotel, which uses the majority of the buildings as hotel rooms or self-catering cottages, together with shops, a cafe, tea-room, and restaurant. Portmeirion is today a top tourist attraction in North Wales and day visits can be made on payment of an admission charge.
Architecture critic Lewis Mumford devoted a large part of a chapter of his 1964 book The Highway and the City to Portmeirion, which he called "an artful and playful little modern village, designed as a whole and all of a piece ... a fantastic collection of architectural relics and impish modern fantasies. ... As an architect, [Williams-Ellis] is equally at home in the ancient, traditional world of the stark Welsh countryside and the once brave new world of "modern architecture." But he realized earlier than most of his architectural contemporaries how constricted and desiccated modern forms can become when the architect pays more attention to the mechanical formula or the exploitation of some newly fabricated material than to the visible human results. In a sense, Portmeiron is a gay, deliberately irresponsible reaction against the dull sterilities of so much that passes as modern architecture today. ... [I]t is prompted by [the] impulse ... to reclaim for architecture the freedom of invention — and the possibility of pleasurable fantasy — it had too abjectly surrendered to the cult of the machine.
Mumford referred to the architecture as both romantic and picturesque in Baroque form, "with tongue in cheek." He described the total effect as "relaxing and often enchanting" with "playful absurdities" that are "delicate and human in touch", making the village a "happy relief" from the "rigid irrationalities and the calculated follies" of the modern world.
The village of Portmeirion has been a source of inspiration for writers and television producers. For example, Noël Coward wrote Blithe Spirit while staying in the Fountain 2 (Upper Fountain) suite at Portmeirion. In 1956 the village was visited by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and other famous visitors have included Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman and Paul McCartney. Musician Jools Holland visited whilst filming for the TV music show The Tube, and was so impressed that he has had his studio and other buildings at his home in Blackheath built to a design heavily inspired by Portmeirion.
Television series and films have shot exterior scenes at Portmeirion, often depicting the village as an exotic European location. Examples of this include the 1960 Danger Man episode "View from the Villa" starring Patrick McGoohan, the 1976 four-episode Doctor Who story titled "The Masque of Mandragora" set in Renaissance Italy, and an episode of Citizen Smith in which the eponymous hero visits Rimini. In 2002 some scenes were filmed there for the final episode (at the time) of the TV series Cold Feet. The town of Wiggyville in the Cbeebies series Gigglebiz is shot in Portmeirion as well.
Siouxsie and the Banshees used Portmeirion as a setting in their 1987 music video for "the Passenger". Portmeirion was the setting of the inaugural Festival N°6, which took place in September 2012 and featured headline acts Spiritualized, Primal Scream and New Order. Since then, this festival is celebrated each year in September at Portmeirion. The 80s Scottish band Altered Images used Portmeirion in their video "See Those Eyes".
In 1966–1967, Patrick McGoohan returned to Portmeirion to film exteriors for The Prisoner, a surreal spy drama in which Portmeirion played a starring role as "The Village", in which McGoohan's retired intelligence agent, known only as "Number 6", was incarcerated and interrogated, albeit in pleasant surroundings. At Williams-Ellis' request, Portmeirion was not identified on screen as the filming location until the credits of the final episode of the series, and indeed, Williams-Ellis stated that the levy of an entrance fee was a deliberate ploy to prevent the village from being spoilt by overcrowding.
The show, broadcast on ITV in the UK during the Autumn of 1967 and CBS in the United States in the Summer of 1968, became a cult classic, and fans continue to visit Portmeirion, which hosts annual Prisoner fan conventions. The building that was used as the lead character's home in the series currently operates as a Prisoner-themed souvenir shop. Many of the locations used in The Prisoner are virtually unchanged after more than 40 years.
The first mention of the original Castell Deudraeth was by Geraldus Cambrensis in 1188: "We crossed the Traeth Mawr and the Traeth Bychan. These are two arms of the sea, one large and one small. Two stone castles have been built there recently. The one called Castell Deudraeth belongs to the sons of Cynan and is situated in the Eifionydd area, facing the northern Mountains."
The present Castell Deudraeth is one of a series of nineteenth-century mock-castles strung along the north Wales coast. Its 1850s conversion was rather late for a Gothic castle-house, but the building was an expression of the owner's belief in his noble ancestry. Sited within the grounds of Portmeirion, on the Penrhyndeudraeth promontory, it is set upon a level site, with the ground rising to the rear and falling to the front between the Glaslyn and Dwyryd estuaries. The property is approached over the main driveway through the Portmeirion estate.
Mike Gardens Apr 2007 008The whole is set with an adjacent gravel forecourt, with lawns to the front linking to a formal garden to the left or west. The whole is set in parkland, two large fields created by amalgamating several smaller fields at some time around 1850 to create what Clough called North Park and South Park known locally as Cae Dreif (Drive Field) and Cae Mawr (Big Field). Clough's plan for the garden dated 1911 is his earliest surviving drawing relating to what would become the Portmeirion estate. Unfortunately as this plan was never carried out it has not proved possible to implement it under current HLF regulations which only allow for existing buildings and gardens to be restored.
The purchase of Castell Deudraeth and its grounds in 1931 added substantially to the size of the Portmeirion Estate. Clough wished to protect the woods and farmland that surrounded his village from outside development, as he had done at Plas Brondanw five miles to the North East. Here he had added the Parc and Croesor Estate to his holding: "I added a couple of adjoining and very beautiful properties that include the twin mountain summits of Moelwyn and Cnicht and the seventeenth-century manor house of Parc, since they had been widely advertised as promising areas for mineral prospecting and development. Some day it is to be hoped, really informed and sympathetic State protection may make natural beauty less precariously dependent on private piety."
Soon after aquiring Castell Deudraeth Clough wrote in his guide book "Portmeirion Still Further Explained", Fourth Edition, April 1939: "The park, lawns and terraced flower gardens [at Castell Deudraeth] have now been brought back to their last century perfection, whilst the Castle itself has been most thoroughly reconditioned, so that with its generous central heating, main water supply, electric light and many bathrooms, it rivals, and in some respects actually surpasses, Portmeirion itself as a place to stay at."
Dedicated parking spaces for disabled visitors are provided in the main car park, close to the main entrance. There is also a disabled parking space next to Caffi Glas in the village centre and two disabled parking bays in front of the main Hotel building. There are a number of disabled toilets and a mapped wheelchair access route.
With the exception of special service dogs (i.e. guide dogs) Portmeirion will continue its policy of excluding pets from the village and its grounds to help assure a quality visitor experience and help protect natural resources on site. This does not apply to public rights of way.
They do not charge admission for children under 5 years of age. They charge the adult rate for anyone over 16 years of age, however they can offer a concession rate for students or those attending full time education. A two course lunch at Castell Deudraeth (or three courses if you prefer) includes a free entry voucher to Portmeirion for use after lunch. Lunch bookings can be made on 01766 772400 but are not essential, however you may have to wait for a table if you arrive without a booking. Pre booked Sunday lunch at The Hotel Portmeirion includes free entry to Portmeirion village. We regret that this does not include vehicle access into Portmeirion village as there is very little parking space however we have free parking near the entrance.
Location : Portmeirion, Gwynedd, LL48 6ET
Transport : Porthmadog (Arriva National Rail) then Bus. Bus Routes : 99B from Porthmadog stops here
Opening Times : Daily, 09:30 to 19:30; Shops until 17:00
Tickets : Adults £12.00; Concessions £10.00; Children £7.00
Tickets : £1.00 discount per ticket if purchased online.
Tel : 01766 772311