What: 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.