Portmeirion is the renowned Italian style coastal tourist village designed and built by the famous Welsh architect, Sir Clough Williams – Ellis, between 1925 and 1975. It has been the location of several films and dramas, including the 1960s television show The Prisoner and it also appeared in the last episode of the TV drama Cold Feet in 2003. Portmeirion is now owned by a charitable trust, and along with the hotel, there are shops, café, tea-room and restaurant.
Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, Portmeirion’s designer, denied repeated claims that the design was based on the fishing village of Portofino on the Italian Riviera. He stated only that he wanted to pay tribute to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean. He did, however, draw from a love of the Italian village stating, “How should I not have fallen for Portofino? Indeed its image remained with me as an almost perfect example of the man-made adornment and use of an exquisite site.” Williams-Ellis designed and constructed the village between 1925 and 1975. He incorporated fragments of demolished buildings, including works by a number of other architects. Portmeirion’s architectural bricolage and deliberately fanciful nostalgia have been noted as an influence on the development of postmodernism in architecture in the late 20th century.
The very minor remains of a mediaeval castle (known variously as Castell Deudraeth, Castell Gwain Goch and Castell Aber Iâ) are in the woods just outside the village, recorded by Gerald of Wales in 1188 were bought from his uncle, with the intention of incorporating it into the Portmeirion hotel complex, but the intervention of the war and other problems prevented this. Williams-Ellis had always considered the Castell to be “the largest and most imposing single building on the Portmeirion Estate” and sought ways to incorporate it. His original aims were achieved and Castell Deudraeth was opened as an 11 bedroom hotel and restaurant on 20 August 2001.
The grounds contain an important collection of rhododendrons and other exotic plants in a wild-garden setting, which was begun before Williams-Ellis’s time by the previous owner George Henry Caton Haigh and has continued to be developed since Williams-Ellis’s death.
Portmeirion is now owned by a charitable trust, and has always been run as a hotel, which uses the majority of the buildings as hotel rooms or self-catering cottages, together with shops, a cafe, tea-room, and restaurant. Portmeirion is today a top tourist attraction in North Wales.
Portmeiron, has been described as an artful and playful little modern village, designed as a whole and all of a piece … a fantastic collection of architectural relics and impish modern fantasies. … As an architect, [Williams-Ellis] is equally at home in the ancient, traditional world of the stark Welsh countryside and the once brave new world of “modern architecture.” But he realized earlier than most of his architectural contemporaries how constricted and desiccated modern forms can become when the architect pays more attention to the mechanical formula or the exploitation of some newly fabricated material than to the visible human results . Mumford referred to the architecture as both romantic and picturesque in Baroque form, “with tongue in cheek.” He described the total effect as “relaxing and often enchanting” with “playful absurdities” that are “delicate and human in touch”, making the village a “happy relief” from the “rigid irrationalities and the calculated follies” of the modern world.