Before I moved to Wales, I'd only read about Portmeirion in various articles that were always entitled '10 Places That'll Make You Choke On Your Coffee When You Find Out They're In Wales', or 'The World's Most Colourful Attractions You Won't Believe Are Real, But Definitely Are'. You know, that kind of thing.
I'd also heard my Mum talking about an old TV show called 'The Prisoner' which, to me, at the age I was when she mentioned it, sounded immensely weird and like something I very much didn't want to watch. Plus, it had a massive killer balloon thing rolling around in it and that would likely have given me nightmares. Or, at very least, have made me think twice about going to any birthday parties for a while.
LIke Tobermory on speed...
Fast forward a few years (ok, more than a *few*) and I suddenly realised that my new hometown of Dyffryn Ardudwy was but a few short miles away from aforementioned colourful prison type place and I realised that this was somewhere I obviously had to check out for myself.
On a cold morning, I dragged husband out of the house and we drove along to the town of Penryhn and followed the helpful brown signs that led us to the bright and cheerily painted ticket desk. We paid around £20 for a couple of tickets but I admit that I had, at that point, no idea what I would find inside and whether I would feel it was value for money afterwards.
I admit to being a little disappointed. Not in the surroundings, but in the time of year we'd chosen to go. I imagine Portmeirion is best visited earlier in the year when the weather is warmer and the sun makes the colourful surrounding really stand out but, even with the dreary weather, it's still very impressive. God, I sound like a moaning minnie, don't I?? It's not intentional, I just genuinely think that you'll get far more value from your ticket in the summer months when you're not impeded by the weather and...well, everything looks better when the sun shines, no? Exactly.
What I didn't know at the time of visiting was that Portmeirion is far more than just a vividly painted village where men are cruelly incarcerated against their will. Oh yes, it also has a hotel, self catering cottages, restaurant, spa and wedding venue, Cafe, ice cream parlour (that left LT craving dairy for the rest of the day when we found it was closed), and the Portmeirion shop, which every high end B&B I've ever inspected bought their table crockery from. I know this because, when I was an accommodation Inspector, I used to upend my plates whenever an owner left the breakfast room so that I could see where it was made.
How sweet is this?
Portmeirion was designed by Sir Clough Williams Ellis over a period of 50 years in the mid 1900s and was built in the style of a Mediterranean village. The name roughly translates as 'port' – from the location of the village, and 'Meirion', which is the seat of the old county of Meirionydd (now Gwynedd local authority) PortGwyn doesn't really have the same romantic ring to it, does it?
The village covers quite an expanse of space and has a wonderful central piazza, complete with Gothic pavilion, a statue of Friga, the Goddess of Friday (which, incidentally, is my weekend name), some Siamese twins AND the piece de resistance: a fabulous statue of Hercules, which was bought in Edinburgh and driven all the way back to North Wales. It might look like a short distance but, trust me, it's the longest 6 hours of your life. And when I drive back from Scotland, I'm not driving along all those winding roads towing a trailer with a massive bloke on the back. Well, not all the time, anyway.
You wouldn't believe this was in North Wales, would you?
The hotel and self-catering accommodation looks like it would be a pleasure to inspect and would make for a lovely, relaxing place to spend a few days chilling out, drinking wine and staring out across the river. However, since I was just there for the day, I wandered around, taking photos, drinking coffee and staring out across the river to see if I could spot my house on the other side. I couldn't. No one can. This is mainly because it's nowhere near the river, but geography has never been my strong point.
Many a celebrity face has been spotted at Portmeirion throughout its colourful history and, as well as being famous for the being the set of The Prisoner, it has also played a starring role in Cold Feet (God, I loved that show), Dr Who (God, I don't love that show), and the CBeebies show, Gigglebiz (never heard of it, but will almost definitely be YouTubing episodes later on). It's also been used in music videos by Iron Maiden, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Supergrass. In other words: it's amazing.
Fountain of Youth. Or water, at least.
One of my current work colleagues used to work in the offices at Portmeirion, doing admin work, and fondly recounts a tale of taking a break from typing to look out of the window and witnessing a man who was completely spray-painted in silver being chased down the road by a massively oversized ball. If that's not the kind of place you want to visit then, quite frankly, I don't know what's wrong with you.