Portmeirion and past: the fairytale of north Wales | Discover Wales’ epic shores

Back within the 1970s, a great 20 years earlier than the appearance of low-cost airways made brief European breaks as low cost as a visit to the native seaside, my household made common jaunts to an Italian village that was solely two hours, door to door, from our home in Manchester. The place was the peak of exotica: it had a campanile and a pantheon, palm bushes and fountains, a cluster of brightly painted homes on the clifftop overlooking the lagoon, and the locals spoke one other language. Only the climate punctured the phantasm that we have been on the Italian Riviera or the Amalfi coast; as a result of we have been, in reality, in Wales.

But in my reminiscence the solar usually shone in Portmeirion: and after I returned final month with my teenage daughter, to point out her the place I spent so many holidays, there was sunshine once more (a number of the time). My daughter, it’s honest to say, was sceptical about our expedition. Holidays for her have a tendency to start with a brief prepare experience from our home in south London to Gatwick; this one began with a five-hour drive by way of a cloudy Wales. But after we reached Snowdonia the clouds lifted, the day brightened, and out of the blue Catriona was being wowed by vistas of inexperienced and blue mountains, fields stuffed with sheep and cows, and tantalising glimpses of lakes. There have been occasional animals on the roads, however hardly another automobiles.

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Portmeirion, Wales

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We breezed into Portmeirion, crossing the brink I bear in mind so effectively into the magical kingdom based by architect Clough Williams-Ellis within the 1920s. Williams-Ellis was an eccentric who first began to dream of establishing the place as a toddler of 5 – 6, earlier than going looking for the proper island on which to web site it within the early 1920s. But no island appeared fairly proper; after which he found a rocky promontory outdoors Porthmadog, and set to work. First got here Hotel Portmeirion, which opened in 1926; throughout the years that adopted got here the gatehouse and the battery, the prior’s lodging and the campanile, the roundhouse, and pastel-coloured cottages with names resembling Dolphin and Angel. As the place grew, its fame expanded, and it quickly turned the “It” location for A-listers resembling George Bernard Shaw, Daphne du Maurier and HG Wells. Noel Coward got here right here to jot down Blithe Spirit; a part of the Inn of Sixth Happiness, with Ingrid Bergman, was filmed in Portmeirion’s pagodas; and it was the Village within the 1960s cult sequence The Prisoner, alongside Patrick McGoohan, who starred as “Number Six”. But topping all this, for Williams-Ellis himself, was the go to of Frank Lloyd Wright, who declared its creator a real architect.

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The village at the moment is strictly as I bear in mind it, with the scrumptious addition of an Italian gelateria; Catriona thought that it was like a extra upmarket and vibrant Center Parcs, set by the waves reasonably than amongst bushes. We ate focaccia laced with Anglesey salt and feasted on the tenderest assiette of Welsh lamb with shallots and turnips within the opulent eating room of the primary resort, beside a financial institution of home windows overlooking the estuary, earlier than wandering up the hill to our room in Castell Deudraeth, uncared for throughout my childhood however now reinvented as a cooler and extra laid-back model of its large sister by the shore.

Workers on the Welsh Highland Railway, Wales

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Day trippers are welcome at Portmeirion, however a part of the enchantment when you’re staying is to see the village empty of tourists, both at first mild or when it’s floodlit. By day we headed off to discover north Wales past Portmeirion: and first cease was the station at Porthmadog, assembly level of two narrow-gauge heritage railways, the Ffestiniog and the Welsh Highland traces. We opted for the latter, and as we chugged by way of the countryside wrapped in billowing steam I used to be transported again 40 years. “This is exactly how it was when I was young,” I advised Catriona; and to my shock (as a result of this was not the sunniest second of our journey) she mentioned she was loving it too. By this time she had found that Snowdonia has the quickest zip wire within the world, and was begging me to guide our subsequent holiday right here as we couldn’t match it in on this go to. First, although, there was Beddgelert to discover, eight miles and 40 minutes down the road from Porthmadog: it’s an image postcard village named after the grave of a canine referred to as Gelert, hound of 1 Prince Llewelyn who, the story goes, killed it after mistakenly blaming it for mauling his son. In reality, the canine had fought off a wolf making an attempt to do exactly that; when the stricken Llewelyn realised his mistake he rushed again to his trustworthy good friend, who gamely licked his hand with its ultimate breath. A superb story, agreed Catriona with tears in her eyes, even when it’s extra more likely to be folklore than reality.

Our ultimate cease was Criccieth, the place we wandered alongside the seashore at nightfall, having fun with the views of the 13th-century fortress that sits on a hillside excessive above it. Lloyd George, although born in Manchester, is the native hero, as he spent his childhood from 1864 to 1880 in a home that’s now a museum: you may see the long run prime minister’s college desk, and the workshop the place his uncle made footwear.

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Staff from the Blue China Cafe in Criccieth, Wales


Criccieth has the texture of a reasonably conventional Welsh seaside city, however its eating scene is pukka 21st century for the reason that reopening of a sweeping art-deco-style glass-fronted constructing designed by Williams-Ellis and used within the 1950s for tea dances. Today, we’re consuming at Dylan’s, considered one of a trio of seaside eating places specialising in native meals and a neighbourly conscience: there’s an indication promoting the subsequent seashore clean-up on the gate, recycled plastic bottles have been changed into a surprising fish mosaic above the doorway, and the menu options mussels from the Menai Strait and lobster from Morfa Nefyn throughout the peninsula. And whereas the meals is likely to be native, the vibe is unashamedly large metropolis hustle and bustle – an ideal mixture, so far as my teenage daughter was involved.

Photography: Jon Tonks

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