Set on its own tranquil peninsula reaching into the estuary, Portmeirion Village is a fantastical collection of colourful buildings with a heavy Italian influence, masterminded by the Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Starting in 1925, Clough collected bits and pieces from disintegrating stately mansions and set them alongside his own creations to create this weird and wonderful seaside utopia. Today the buildings are all heritage-listed and the site is a conservation area.
Fifty years after he began, and at the ripe old age of 90, Sir Clough deemed Portmeirion to be complete.
It's really more like a stage set than an actual village and, indeed, it formed the ideally surreal set for cult TV series, The Prisoner, which was filmed here from 1966 to 1967. It still draws fans of the show in droves, with rival Prisoner conventions held annually in March and April. The giant plaster of Paris Buddha, just off the piazza, also featured in the 1958 film, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman.
A documentary on Williams-Ellis and Portmeirion screens on the hour in a building just above the central piazza. Sir Clough's lifelong concern was with the whimsical and intriguing nature of architecture, his raison d'être to demonstrate how a naturally beautiful site could be developed without defiling it. His life's work now stands as a testament to beauty, something he described as 'that strange necessity'. He died in 1978, having campaigned for the environment throughout his life. He was a founding member of the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales in 1928 and served as its president for 20 years.
Most of the kooky cottages and scaled-down mansions scattered about the site are available for holiday lets, while other buildings contain cafes, restaurants and gift shops. Portmeirion pottery (the famously florid tableware designed by Susan, Sir Clough's daughter) is available, even though these days it's made in Stoke-on-Trent (England). A network of walking paths thread along the coast and through the private forested peninsula, which includes the ruins of a castle (a real one, not one of Sir Clough's creations), and a profusion of exotic plants, nourished by the warm microclimate of the peninsula. Free guided tours of the village are held most days, and from April to October the 'forest train' tours the woodlands.
Portmeirion is 2 miles east of Porthmadog; public transport isn't great, so if you don't fancy the walk, you're best to catch a taxi. Admission is reduced by 15% after 3.30pm.