For me, there's just nowhere better than Portmeirion in north Wales. This Italianate village – the setting for Patrick McGoohan's sublime 1960s' spy fantasy TV series The Prisoner
– is, as creator Sir Clough Williams-Ellis put it, 'an exercise in architectural good manners'.
Williams-Ellis devoted much of his life to Portmeirion and spent 50 years planning, designing and acquiring buildings and architectural features of merit to use in its creation.
Therefore, when the in-laws offered to pay for an overnight stay for my wife and I in the Hotel Portmeirion, there was no hesitation in accepting the invitation.
The journey down from Helmshore in Lancashire was not the best, and we ground to a halt at Queensferry as the motorway was squeezed from three lanes into two, with far too many on-ramps for my taste.
On arrival after our three-hour journey, we decided to wash away the trail dust with a dip in the hotel's heated outdoor pool. This is accessed through a gate with a combination lock, the code of which I'm not going to reveal.
Overheating day visitors to Portmeirion looked on in envy and, I imagine, some admiration as I displayed my lung capacity by engaging in a fast crawl over the length of the pool on a single breath.
Two lengths was out of the question. I casually lingered at the pool's edge, gasping for breath, and employed a far more casual breast-stroke for the return journey.
After 30 minutes of me demonstrating my decidedly unorthodox tumble-turn – which leaves me feeling somewhat light-headed and unable to differentiate between the bottom of the pool and its surface – we decided to shower, change and go for a stroll around The Village, as it is known in The Prisoner
We've visited Portmeirion on and off for the past 20 years but have never seen it looking lovelier (the sunshine helps, of course).
The gardens are well-tended and the buildings freshly-painted. The fountains splash away happily and the shops and cafes are clearly doing a brisk trade.
The house belonging to Number Six – McGoohan's character in The Prisoner
– sells memorabilia from the series, from postcards and jigsaws to retro telephones and even reproduction costumes.
On our return to the hotel, we decided to take the minibus to the nearby Castel Deudraeth –& #8194
;a Victorian interpretation of a medieval castle – and sat outside in the sunshine, drinking wine.
A pleasant American gentleman, clearly overdressed in windcheater and hat, sat nearby, reading.
Another American, a woman, sat inside, also reading, by the open fire that was unnecessarily blazing away.
Feeling suitably mellow, we ambled back to the village, where the number of daytrippers was clearly beginning to thin out – rather like my hair, I've noticed.
Back in our room, the TV's Prisoner Channel was busy playing every episode of the series, in original broadcast order, for those keen to know more about the show. Owning The Prisoner
on DVD meant we had no need to immerse ourselves in this, although we grinned lazily to see McGoohan being pursued along the beach by what is clearly a weather balloon.
Tea-time beckoned – although it's a posh hotel, so I'll use 'dinner' from now on – and, with only a couple of hastily-scoffed beef butties inside me, I was starving.
I ordered monkfish to start, my wife opted for broccoli soup, and we both chose a main course of turbot.
I have to say, I've never eaten food as good as this.
The monkfish is an ugly little chap but, my word, he's certainly a tasty fellow.
Likewise, the turbot was fabulous and, accompanied by asparagus, was simply perfect.
The following morning, we dined on eggs florentine and a full Welsh breakfast, which is clearly identical to its English cousin (guess which one I had).
From there, we embarked on a stroll in the wooded gardens that surround Portmeirion.
Pathways criss-cross the gardens but, owing to the density of the vegetation, it's quite easy to lose your bearings – although that's all part of the fun.
There are many diverse specimens on display, such as bamboo, huge redwoods and ferns, and scent hangs heavy in the air along the dazzling Azalea Walk.
It's not often that you can experience complete silence but, here in the woods, the outside world simply melts away. Other than the sound of birds foraging in the undergrowth or calling to one another, there's just nothing to be heard.
There a several places for weary explorers to rest their feet, and signposts show the way to dazzling viewpoints over the estuary.
You can descend to the beach from here and walk back to the village along the sands, tides permitting.
All this natural beauty puts me in a poetic mood. On the beach, we noticed flashes of silver in pools of water left behind by the retreat of the sea. In the pools, dozens of fish patiently circled their drastically diminished world.
Reality sets in and from here it's just a quick scramble up the rocks to the causeway which leads back to the hotel.
Eleven o'clock looms – check-out time – and it is with heavy hearts that we carefully nose our way through the Portmeirion daytrippers as we embark on our journey home.
I'll never understand why Number Six ever wanted to escape from here.
72786 - 2023-01-26 02:04:58