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Portmeirion: An Italian village in the north of Wales

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Author: Joshua Burns 

Portmeirion is a small village in Gwynedd, North Wales located on the banks of the River Dwyryd. Surrounding the village is the characteristic green landscape that you would expect from Wales. All the villages nearby are filled with normal Welsh shops on normal Welsh streets, selling normal Welsh products. It comes as a bit of a shock then that Portmierion looks like an old Italian village.
The village was designed and built between 1925 and 1975 by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, an architect from England. It’s design bares a striking resemblance* to Portofino on the Italian Rivera but Williams-Ellis denied that it was a copy, saying he simply wanted to pay tribute* to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean.

The village was an on-going project* for many years, patched together* from different demolished buildings in a style that incorporated work by lots of other architects. The effect is strange and nostalgic, more like a movie set* than a real Italian village.
And that’s exactly what it became. In the 1960’s a British spy drama called ‘The Prisoner’ was filmed at Portmeirion, and became very successful. At Williams-Ellis’ request, the location and name of the village wasn’t put on the credits of the TV show until the last episode, and he introduced an entry fee* to stop too many people coming in. It didn’t work, however, and Portmeirion became extremely popular, drawing celebrities like Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman and Paul McCartney.

After Williams-Ellis’ death, the village was owned by a charitable trust, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in North Wales. Most of the buildings in the village are now hotels and you can pay to stay in this charming place. While you can go at any time of the year, the best time is in September when the ‘Festival Nº6’ takes place.

This festival likes to do things differently, where the focus is on getting people to lose themselves* in their own fairytale*. You have a wonderful choice of accommodation: a castle, cottage, boutique tipi* or tent but that’s only the start of the adventure. There is a wide selection of events and activities to choose from; like spoken word* performances, a rave in the Tangled Woods or enjoying yourself on the floating dance floor in the middle of the Chinese lake.

This is just the start when it comes to how bizarre this festival actually is. From mixing musical genres, like the electronic band The Pet Shop Boys playing with the Welsh male voice choir to torch-lit night-time processions, this festival is full of weird and wonderful surprises.

Aside from all the different music and events, there is also a rich variety of food you can enjoy. This isn’t the normal festival food of hotdogs or burgers, but good-quality, high-dining cuisine. At one restaurant, Clough’s, Michelin starred chefs treat guests to the best innovative culinary experience, surrounded by beautiful scenes of the river estuary. If, however, you’re looking for something a bit less up-market, there is also a tasty selection of street food from around the world to try. With over 40 of the finest street-food vendors in Britain present, you can choose from a huge variety of cultural creations sold from small, individual wooden chalets.

Portmeirion is a place unlike any other. Driving through the Welsh countryside and coming across this almost Disney-like Italian town is as confusing as it is enthralling. It’s a testament to what one person with a life-long vision can do and, whether you go in summer or in winter, the beauty and strangeness of this slice of Mediterranean life in the Welsh countryside is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Glossary

  • Bares a striking resemblance – Looks a lot like
  • Pay tribute – To honour something
  • On-going project – A project that continued for a long time
  • Movie set – The place where a movie or TV show is filmed
  • Entry fee –The money you have to pay to get in
  • To lose yourself –  Enjoy something so much you disconnect
  • Fairytale –Old stories you tell children
  • Tipi – A tent in the shape of a cone
  • Spoken word – similar to poetry with an emphasis on performing

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