Her­itage week­end... Port­meirion

Fol­low the mer­maid mo­tif to find an eclec­tic haven of colourful ar­chi­tec­ture, a coastal Lit­tle Italy with plenty of scenic Welsh charm

Period Living - - Contents - Fea­ture Emily Hawkes

We dis­cover the his­tory, plus where to stay, eat and shop in this pic­turesque cor­ner of Wales

‘Cher­ish the past, adorn the present, con­struct for the fu­ture,’ was the motto of Sir Clough Wil­liams-el­lis, vi­sion­ary cre­ator of Port­meirion – the whim­si­cal clifftop vil­lage set on its own tran­quil penin­sula just south of Porth­madog. Over­look­ing the beau­ti­ful Dwyryd es­tu­ary on the North Wales coast, the vil­lage is a fan­tas­ti­cal cu­ra­tion of colour and Ital­ianate styling, a project that Sir Clough had con­ceived some 20 years pre­vi­ously, be­fore com­ing across the Aber Iâ es­tate near his home – ‘a ne­glected wilder­ness, long aban­doned by those ro­man­tics who had re­alised the unique ap­peal and pos­si­bil­i­ties of this favoured promon­tory, but who had been car­ried away by their grandiose land­scap­ing…’

A found­ing mem­ber of the Coun­cil for the Pro­tec­tion of Ru­ral Wales in 1928, it was the ar­chi­tect’s de­vo­tion to show­ing how a nat­u­rally beau­ti­ful site could be de­vel­oped with­out spoil­ing it that saw him ac­quire and re­name the re­sort Port­meirion – ‘Port’ to sig­nify the coast; ‘Meirion’ the cor­rect spell­ing of Me­ri­oneth, the county in which it’s lo­cated – for around £5,000 in 1925. Sur­rounded by 70 acres of wood­land gar­dens and sandy beaches, the vil­lage was built in two stages, from 1925 to 1939, then once post-war build­ing re­stric­tions had been lifted, from 1954-76. Gate House, which strad­dles the drive­way beyond the old toll­gate, was Sir Clough’s first build­ing, and made a fea­ture of the rugged rock for­ma­tions upon which the house was con­structed. The deep arch, flood­lit at night, con­tains a stun­ning Baroque ceil­ing mu­ral by Ger­man painter Hans Feibusch, who painted sev­eral oth­ers at Port­meirion. The sec­ond phase of build­ing fea­tured clas­si­cal and Pal­la­dian con­struc­tions that con­trast with the Arts and Crafts style of ear­lier struc­tures in the vil­lage.

With its scaled-down man­sions, quaint cot­tages, grot­toes and tow­ers all grouped around a cen­tral pi­azza, Port­meirion feels al­most like a stage set where you can im­merse your­self in iconic ar­chi­tec­ture and scenic views. In­deed, the vil­lage formed the sur­real set for cult TV se­ries The Pris­oner, from 1966 to 1967 – and fans still gather here for an­nual con­ven­tions. The gi­ant plas­ter of Paris Bud­dha also fea­tured in 1958 film The Inn of the Sixth Hap­pi­ness, star­ring In­grid Bergman.

Sir Clough col­lected all man­ner of cu­rios from dis­in­te­grat­ing stately prop­er­ties and set them along­side his own cre­ations to build a unique sea­side utopia and, 50 years af­ter he be­gan,

aged 90, he deemed Port­meirion to be com­plete. Now owned by a char­i­ta­ble trust, the build­ings are all her­itage listed and the site is a Con­ser­va­tion Area – Sir Clough’s life’s work to­day stand­ing as a tes­ta­ment to beauty, some­thing he de­scribed as ‘that strange ne­ces­sity’.

Only 20 miles from Snow­do­nia Na­tional Park, and with Caernar­fon Cas­tle a 40-minute jour­ney away, Port­meirion is now one of Wales’ loveli­est and most pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tions. A net­work of walk­ing paths thread along the coast and through the forested penin­sula, which in­cludes the ru­ins of a cas­tle, and a pro­fu­sion of ex­otic plants, nour­ished by the warm mi­cro­cli­mate. Free guided tours of the vil­lage are held most days, the ‘for­est train’ tour­ing the wood­lands from April to Oc­to­ber. For real rail­way buffs, the Ffes­tin­iog and Welsh High­land Rail­ways take in nearby Porth­madog, whose steam­train line is also con­nected to a rail her­itage cen­tre. And for more con­tem­po­rary pur­suits, Port­meirion of­fers a spa and well­ness cen­tre, as well as be­ing home to arts event Fes­ti­val N°6 ev­ery Septem­ber. For a char­ac­ter­fully nos­tal­gic day out tak­ing in the scenic beauty of the Welsh coast­line, there re­ally is no other more fan­ci­ful and ro­man­tic a back­drop.

Port­meirion is open ev­ery day from 9.30am to 7.30pm. Ad­mis­sion: adult £12, con­ces­sion £10.50, child £8.50 (un­der-5s go free). Please note, no dogs are al­lowed on site. Tel: 01766 770000. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit port­meirion-vil­lage.com.

Above: An aerial view of Port­meirion, the tightly grouped coastal vil­lage on a ro­man­tic clifftop site that its cre­ator, Sir Clough Wil­liams-el­lis, had al­ways en­vis­aged

Clock­wise, from above: A fab­u­lous view­point from one of the many painted arch­ways in the vil­lage; en­joy a stay at the Castell Deu­draeth, where you’ll find Welsh oak, orig­i­nal slate floors and a con­tem­po­rary sea­side mo­tif; the Round House was used as No6’s apart­ment in The Pris­oner

Clock­wise from above: The pi­azza in bloom; The Pagoda is one of the unique ar­chi­tec­tural struc­tures built by Sir Clough; tourists en­joy Port­meirion’s sandy beach

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.