Portmeirion: Perfect for Alice in Wonderland

Why did a collection of Portmeirion “Botanic Garden” pottery in My Kitchen Window, a Fort Langley kitchen accessories shop, make me smile?

The view of Portmeiron

Why did a collection of Portmeirion “Botanic Garden” pottery in My Kitchen Window, a Fort Langley kitchen accessories shop, make me smile?

In 1970s Britain the bold herbal and garden floral motif designs were trendy departures from traditional tableware by celebrated designer Susan Williams-Ellis. It was, however, the memory of Portmeirion, a somewhat outrageous village in North Wales designed by her architect and environmentalist father, Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, that promoted my affectionate grin. You love it, or hate it, but you don’t forget it.

Until a visit last year, I’d forgotten that Portmeirion was not just pottery, but also a quirky village. Perched on a cliff over the stunning River Dwyryd estuary in Snowdonia, North Wales, the village is a staggering architectural confection of clusters of pastel peach, Mediterranean blue, creamy ochre, and white stucco towers and villas frosted with Romeo and Juliet balconies surrounded by fountains, grottos, and lush gardens. The entire collection – interspersed with occasional granite Michelangelo – style relatives – clings to a picturesque hillside. If a White Rabbit had rushed by muttering, “I’m late, I’m late”, or a Cheshire Cat had materialized in the nearest tree during my wanderings, it would have seemed perfectly fitting. Get the idea?

Below the village, at the edge of the estuary, a casually elegant restaurant and hotel take full advantage of an outstanding water view. The rather 1920s aura and style apparently appealed to visitors such as Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, Paul McCartney, Frank Lloyd Wright, and others.

Originally, the main hotel building and related cottages named “White Horses”, “Mermaid” and “The Salutation”,  were part of “Aber Iâ” (Welsh for Ice Estuary), a private estate designed in the 1850s. A foundry and boatyard flourished in the area until late in the 18th century.

For me, it brought back memories of my passion for Patrick McGoohan, star of The Prisoner. The TV series featured British former secret agent McGoohan held prisoner in a mysterious seaside village. His captors spent from 1967 to 1969 determined to find out why he abruptly resigned from his job without explanation. Had I known he was lurking in Portmeirion, I’d have hightailed it out of London post haste to give the poor man a hand. Sir Clough, however, had only agreed to allow the use of the location on condition that it remained a secret to protect the area’s fragile ecology (and presumably hoards of swooning females).

Apart from the inevitable hotel gift shop, a Portmeirion pottery shop stocks well-priced seconds near the walled village entrance. Located near Penrhyndeudraeth, the village is 3.2 km south east of Porthmadog, and (1.6 km from the railway station at Minffordd.

For complete information on North Wales, the area which is home to HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton, go to www.visitwales.com

– Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a writer and photographer. Her travel columns appear here regularly. Contact her at utravel@shaw.caFollow the Cloverdale Reporter on Twitter and Facebook. View our print edition online.