It's not often you find a retreat where many diverse interests can all be satisfied on site. But the fantasy Italianate village of Portmeirion is one. Located in a remote corner of northern Wales on Cardigan Bay in the Irish Sea, it is about a five-hour drive or four-hour train ride from central London.
Fans of the surreal 1970s cult TV series The Prisoner will recognize it right away, as this was the filming location. Everything seems familiar. Patrick McGoohan's character, the British secret agent known as Number Six was held captive here. Should you not be familiar with the series, the property's Hotel Portmeirion runs it on TV continuously on, but of course, channel 6.
The compact village, which was inspired by architecture as diverse as that found in Portofino, Italy and also in Austria, was built over a long period stretching from 1926 to 1972. The Victorian mansion on the shore that was converted into the resort hotel was chic from the start and visited regularly by writers George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Bertrand Russell. Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit while holed up here for two weeks in 1941, and Frank Lloyd Wright visited in the 1950s.
The hotel has forty rooms and suites. Fourteen are in the main building, and the rest are scattered throughout the village. Filled with exquisite furnishings and decorations, the main hotel is fascinating to explore. Its dining room has the expected sea-front views, offers a gourmet dinner menu, and is particularly nice at breakfast.
Among the village boutiques is the Prisoner Shop and Information Centre. Not surprisingly, it specializes in Prisoner-related souvenirs. The shop operates inside cottage 6, the corner room that served as Number Six's apartment.
Also, two large shops sell Portmeirion Pottery--that charming crockery composed of unmatched pieces decorated with a variety of lovely Victorian-style fruits, flowers, and fauna. One shop displays and sells the entire line, while the other offers seconds at bargain prices. The tie-in is that this pottery is designed by village founder Clough Williams-Ellis's daughter, Susan Williams-Ellis.
A delightful day can be spent exploring the village's stairways and passageways leading to the surprise of grottoes and courtyards and fountains. You might even be able to imagine the big bouncing ball and bizarre circus characters from The Prisoner frolicking about.
The relatively unknown but interesting Gwyllt gardens surrounding the village are also a draw. The peninsula's mild microclimate allows plants to grow here that aren't usually seen in Wales, including many rare Himalayan flowering trees introduced in the late 19th century. The garden is designed to open up in front of you like a lotus flower as you walk deeper and deeper in on the 15 miles of original Victorian pathways. Trails lead through 70 acres of subtropical gardens and woodlands dotted with magnificent views of the sea. Plantings according to seasons put the winter closest in, then spring, then summer farther out.
And, unlike Number Six, you are free to move on to other delights in Wales as you please.