Yesterday was the beginning of spring. The chickadees are chirping, the cherry blossom is already starting to fall – largely because of a torrential downpour of rain last night that sounded like it was coming through the roof – and I’m sitting here coughing away as I nurse a cold/flu. Scott is home iterating some sort of complicated lighting system with tacs and bits of Harvest Crunch cereal box (living with an industrial designer is always an education) so I thought I would do something passively constructive and take a trip back in time to five or so years ago when I visited Portmeirion village with my family. It is the most outrageously pretty and unexpected spot you’ll find in Gwynedd, North Wales, on the estuary of the River Dwyryd. I didn’t take a lot of photos then, too busy walking and enjoying the misty, soft air, but there’s enough hopefully to get the idea.
Portmeirion is a bit mad really but with a supremely sane reason for its existence. It’s an Italian style village built by the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975. Williams-Ellis was inspired by the Mediterranean and maintained that buildings should enhance rather than detract from the surrounding environment; he wanted something more romantic and appealing to the senses than the usual mechanistic mode of construction. Fake facades to buildings, carefully painted windows that don’t open, a ‘ship’ constructed into a pathway so you can walk on and off the ‘deck’, statues, fountains, flowers, bright colours and acres of wooded walks that lead to the estuary.
Oh, those walks! The smell of mulchy leaves underfoot, the floweryness of the flowers we stumbled upon, the mossy greenness of the trees. It’s all a bit Gerard Manley Hopkins, or perhaps more Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: ‘last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again….’ without the drama and mystery, although…….the hotel did tragically burn down in the 80’s and had to be completely rebuilt (an accident rather than a mad housekeeper destroying a family mansion). Back to the walks though…..one trail runs through a ‘haunted’ area, rhododendrons run amok in wild garden settings and create arbours of flowers to walk under, other paths twist and turn, double back and generally try to confuse the heck out of you. I always loved trying to find the way back to a particular spot; sometimes it was a Japanese garden or movingly a graveyard for dogs where pet owners had written tear-inducing tributes to their companions who used to bound happily through the trees.
At almost every turn there is the unexpected, the cheeky and the fantastical, all created with beauty foremost in mind. What results is a lyrical, magical and imaginative environment. It obviously nurtured the imagination of others too: Noël Coward wrote Blithe Spirit whilst staying in the village, the cult 60’s show The Prisoner was shot there, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright visited as did George Bernard Shaw, Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. I imagine they too took long walks on the sand revealed at low tide…
Truth be to told I’ve been there a few times with family during my childhood. We all loved it, including my grandfather, not a fan of the fantastical. A couple of generations of our pet dogs have been too. You can rent one of several self-catering cottages for a more budget friendly and independent trip (the way we always did it) or stay in the subtle luxury of the Hotel Portmeirion. We would treat ourselves occasionally to a coffee in front of the lobby fireplace or an evening meal in the dining room overlooking the estuary……a little of Italy in the wilds of Wales.