Wales: Portmeirion, a pop of colour

PortmeirionBlog16TheBigForestWhat: Portmeirion, a village in Gwynedd North Wales designed and built by Architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Construction started in 1927 and continued until 1975 however the strong sense of whimsy and nostalgia, the sculptures, the fanciful incorporation of architectural salvage all give Portmeirion a strong feeling of the 1950’s (yay! We love it!).

Our visit: We arrived as the gates opened and had the village almost to ourselves for over an hour. The beautiful sunny day helped light up the spectacular colours. Lunch was our ‘splurge’ meal of the holiday sitting on the terrace taking in the view – the food was excellent and the setting incomparable and then we walked through the grounds to a pretend lighthouse, a quirky dog’s cemetery and a garden pagoda. We had watched the 1967 TV series The Prisoner before we visited. Download it on i-tunes for a tenner, well worth it, very weird and 60’s, and it uses Portmeirion as its location. We had also read up about the history of Williams-Ellis as an architect and are well versed in mid-century design, a bit of prior research definitely helped us get maximum enjoyment from this wonderful place.

Themes: Really this should be three blog posts, we took hundreds of photographs. Key themes are around colour – particularly the wonderful pallet of mid-century ‘contemporary’ colours and Mediterranean hues, whimsy and trompe-d’oeil – several of the baskets of fruit on pedestals, statues etc turn out to be painted on flat metal and finally hurrah for the breath-taking setting.

The case against: Trip Advisor has a fair few reviews from disappointed folk. Either it wasn’t their thing (which is fine) or they completely missed the point (the trompe-d’oeil is described as ‘tacky beyond belief’, the colours ‘like a 1970’s Elton John video’, there was ‘nothing for the kids to do’). Well you can’t please all the people.

We say – you must visit – and give Portmeirion 8/10.

Hint – Look closely at the images, all is not what it seems, the windows on the right of the final house are trompe-l’oeil for example, some of the buildings are just facades, the ‘boat’ is actually part of the river frontage and made of concrete, there is a lot of playing with scale.





About TheBigForest

TheBigForest. A silly artist maker creating in felt and paper construction. Like us on Facebook: TheBigForest. Find us at Twitter : twitter/TheBigForestuk


  1. sam

    I live very close to Portmeirion and mum and I usually go in January, and its deserted and quiet and its just delightful 🙂 Theres also a forest walk that will take you down to a tiny secluded beach, only really big enough for one family. Its quite a hike but well worth it xx

  2. If I were to guess where you went to just looking at your photographs, I’d probably say it was somewhere like Italy (of course omitting the “gentlemen” sign). Seems like a very interesting place. K.

    • He was influenced by Italy but there are lots of English architectural details which add to the sense of the dream like and slightly surreal. It is an interesting place, well worth a visit.

  3. As morbid as this sounds I would have loved to have seen the dog cemetery – I bet it was an unbelievable site!

    • It was all rather gothic but nice with dogs going back to the 30s and messages about how loyal they had been. Not a bad place to snaffle your last bone!

  4. So, is this a real town, where people live, or is it more of an attraction or theme park? It looks very cool!

    • Interesting point and one that took me a while to find out. Orginally designed as an exercise in architecture Williams-Ellis (one mans creative vision) then he made it in to a ‘hotel’ to fund more building in the 1930’s. The main hotel building is by the sea but the rooms are in the buildings and now there are also self catering holiday cottages.

      For us, and many others Im sure, the main draw is the architecture – rather like visiting a historic house – but it is also marketed as an attraction which is where I think the grumpy comments come from. There is nothing to do but marvel at the oddness. Most attractions have activities and interpretation and Portmeirion has very little. So not only is the architecture nostalgic but it has that ‘make your own fun’ feeling of an earlier time.

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