Portmeirion – North Wales, Wales

One Man’s Dream

On a wooded hillside on its own little peninsula with romantic views of sand, sea, and mountains, the tiny town of Portmeirion is more redolent of southern Italy than of North Wales. Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis—inspired, it is said, by a trip to Portofino—built this unique Italianate folly of a town piecemeal, from 1925 until its completion in 1975 on his 90th birthday.

Although predominantly Mediterranean in feel (think campanile, piazza, fountains, and arcaded loggia), the village’s more subtle architectural influences range from Asian to traditional English, reflecting Sir Clough’s light-opera approach. Down beside the sea, removed from curious day visitors, is the Hotel Portmeirion, one of the architect’s early ven­tures.

Inaugurated in 1926, it reopened in 1990 after a major fire, as exuberant as first envisioned. It is known for its spirited interior, both opulent and informal and something of a treasure chest: rooms might be done up in Indian—or Victorian Welsh. Some guests find it magically escapist (Noel Coward was inspired to write Blithe Spirit, his most ethereal play, while staying here); for others, it’s a bit like visiting a dotty aunt.

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