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A surreal few days

Portmeirion isn’t exactly easily accessible from Malvern. It’s on the far side of Snowdonia, on the coast, and I’m simply not prepared to drive for 4+ hours through the mountains to get there. It was actually quite an easy journey by train, perhaps because Great Western Railways didn’t feature at all for once.  I changed at Birmingham for the slow train to Pwllheli, on a two-carriage train which appears to stop at every significant oak tree on the Cambrian coast. It took most of the day to get from Malvern to Minffordd, the nearest station to Portmeirion, but on the plus side the views from the train were stunning – sea to my left, mountains to the right, and sheep and lambs frolicking in the fields all around.

I’d phoned ahead to warn the Portmeirion Hotel that I was coming by train, so there was a complementary minibus waiting for me at Minffordd station to take me directly to the hotel. I had booked one of the Village Rooms, rather than staying in the hotel itself, so once I’d checked in, the minibus took me and my luggage back up to the top of the village to my room in Cliff House – perched as you would expect from the name at the top of the hill and within a short walk of all the main buildings in the village.

Portmeirion central plaza

The Village was built from 1925 onwards by the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. I don’t know what he was smoking at the time, but it was certainly effective! The place is really very surreal. It’s now run by a charitable trust, presided over by Sir Clough’s grandson. He’s a Welsh-speaker, and is very keen that the staff speak Welsh too. So that just adds to the sense of unreality of the place. You’re effectively walking around on the film set of one of the most surreal TV series from the 60’s, looking at Italian-style architecture thousands of kilometers from Italy, and can’t understand a word the staff are saying to each other! It was very, very weird!

I think the novelty would wear off if you were staying for a week. You’d have to have a car so that you could get out and explore Snowdonia. Without a car, one really is a prisoner in The Village. But there was plenty to keep me occupied for a weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.