When I posted on Facebook that I was going to visit the ‘Italianate Village’ of Portmeirion, in North Wales, I illustrated it with a picture of Portofino. Since then, a lot of people have remarked that ‘it reminded them of Portofino’ but when I visited, I found that … it does, and it doesn’t. Even the architect repeatedly denied claims that his layout was based on that village.
Certainly, the architecture resembles that of just about any town or village on the Italian Riviera. The colours are there; bold and brash in some places; a pleasing pastel in others. There’s even an Italian style campanile. But, I thought, instead, of Spain. Specifically, the Park Güell, in Barcelona. The physical resemblance is only faint, but where they coincide is that they are both the work of one man; Antoni Gaudi in Spain and Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in Wales.
Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978) was an architect. He was concerned, though, with preservation and conservation, as well as sympathetic development. In the 1920s, he acquired some land near Porthmadog, and set out to prove that development of a beautiful site did not necessarily mean it was spoilt.
Some of the buildings were already on site when Williams-Ellis bought the land; others came from elsewhere; sometimes, saved from demolition and re-assembled here. Williams-Ellis himself thought of Portmeirion as a ‘home for fallen buildings’.
‘Portmeirion is a gorgeous visual poem that will melt the hardest heart’ – eulogises the Rough Guide: Wales
But, there’s a lot more to do here than just look. There’s a pottery, cafés, a spa, restaurants … you can even stay at the hotel here. And, of course, shops, selling everything from books to ‘Prisoner’ memorabilia.
In the year 1967, Portmeirion was really put on the map when the TV series The Prisoner was filmed here. The viewing audience was, I think, hooked by the setting rather than the plot. Williams-Ellis himself stipulated that the location should not be revealed until the credits rolled on the last episode.
Whether it was the setting, or the rather obscure plot … the series gained a cult following, and, every year, ‘Festival No 6’ (‘No 6’ was the hero of the series) for the show’s affictionados is held here. This year, 2017, is the 50th Anniversary of the filming of the series … and our visit just happened to coincide with this year’s Festival.
If, however, you’re not into The Prisoner … even if you’ve never heard of it (I’m not sure if it was shown in any other countries … and it was made 50 years ago!) there are 364 other days in the year on which you can come and see. You can stay here, too, in either one of the two hotels or the 14 self-catering cottages. You can even get married here … that, I’m sure, you will never forget.