Portmeirion is part rural seaside resort, part working village (yes, people actually live here…and visitors stay here too!), but most of all it’s a whimsical, neo-classical folly, the surreal, decades-long pet project of the architect Clough Williams-Ellis.
Williams-Ellis saw it as a labour of love as he had a bold vision that an aesthetically-pleasing village could be built that would lure in paying customers whilst at the same time blending in with, rather than spoiling, the surrounding countryside; which around here is an area of natural beauty in its own right. Portmeirion, built in the neoclassic-inspired Italianate style, is the bizarre, multi-coloured result.
The village of Portmeirion is also, of course, where the classic, countercultural, hugely influential, and just downright cool 1960s TV series The Prisoner was filmed. If you’re a big fan, like me, then ambling through the streets of Portmeirion is akin to immersing yourself into a living, breathing film set, albeit a weird one.
The Prisoner was all about the struggles of a secret agent, known only as No.6 and played by the late Patrick McGoohan (who also had a hand in creating, writing and directing the series), trapped in a strange and isolated place known only as ‘The Village’ with no obvious means of escape. As No.6 encountered many weird goings on – from giant sea-straddling bubbles that are sent to catch those who try to run away to brightly-coloured human chess matches – postmodern Portmeirion could hardly have been a more apt setting.
Fan of this TV series or not, Portmeirion is undoubtedly something of an oddball treat. The blending of religious and mythological symbolism – statues are in just about every direction you care to look – with all the colours of the rainbow splashed along the walls makes for a compellingly bonkers mix. It does help that the village has the gorgeous Gwynedd coastline as its backdrop, and the manicured lawns and flower arrangements give things a pastoral vibe.
This being a tourist-friendly place, there are plenty of outlets – a pottery shop, tea rooms and, yes, a Prisoner memorabilia store – to help you part with your money. It’s worth emphasising that Portmeirion is a village in the truest sense of the word: with people living there, not every nook and cranny is accessible. In spite of this, Portmeirion is still a wonderfully weird slice of Italianate architecture on the North Wales coastline, and very much worth a visit.
Be seeing you!