Portmeirion was created by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis from 1925 to 1976. He wanted to show how a naturally beautiful site could be developed without spoiling it. Today, Portmeirion is one of Wales' premier visitor attractions, welcoming over 200,000 visitors every year.
Portmeirion first came to my attention when I’d seen a photo on a friends Instagram a few months ago, it caught my eye because of how colourful and distinctive the buildings were. At first I thought they were on holiday in Italy or somewhere similar until I looked further into it and realised Portmeirion was only a few hours drive away from Manchester, in Wales!
It had been at the back of my mind as somewhere to visit ever since and with the last warm weekend forecasted for the year I took my chance for a day out!
I looked into Trip Advisor reviews of Portmeirion a few days before. There were lots of mixed reviews ranging from people who had visited for nostalgia purposes, because they came when they were a child, or families visiting for the first time but like any negative reviews I tried not to let them influence me.
A few of the reviews mentioned that the ticket price was quite steep for what you get so I looked on the website to see where you could buy tickets from, it was advised that you bought them on the website ahead of your visit. The tickets were £11 per adult, which seemed quite steep but I went ahead and booked them online. You didn’t need to print your ticket and could just take your reference number with you which made a nice change from the usual panic before setting off if you’d printed your tickets!
Getting to Portmeirion was really straight forward, the post code given took us straight there and took around 2 hours drive. The only thing is that there weren’t any signs advertising Portmeirion until you actually turned into the road that leads to the village itself. Surely missing out on a chance to grab any passing traffic?
The road, or seemingly the driveway, that lead to Portmeirion itself was quite long and again not well signposted so you weren’t too sure whether to stay on the straight road or turn off at the various smaller roads leading off it, more signage would have been beneficial to get you into the car park.
Once arriving in the carpark, the actual entrance again wasn’t too well signposted, maybe they’d tried to stay away from becoming too commercialised with the signage but a little push would have been helpful.
Getting into the village - there were two ticket huts either side of a walkway, there was nobody to check tickets as you entered, I saw people walking around with maps so I approached one of the huts, gave them my booking reference and in return they gave me my tickets and a map. I felt like we were left to figure the rest out on our own. They didn’t advise us on which direction to head in, give us any information about the village or give us any expectations of what was ahead.
I’d read on the website that audio tours were provided too, but there was nothing said or suggested about this upon getting the tickets. This made me think of other ticket entrances, at a theme park or zoo you’d be given your tickets, a map, be told which direction to head in to get into the park and maybe even be told about events starting soon. But this entrance fell very flat and felt pretty empty.
Portmeirion itself was gorgeous, a real hidden gem! The buildings were really well maintained, the village was clean and tidy and there was lots to see.
However again, I felt a little bit lost. Walking through the beginning of the village, there was a faint speaker playing what sounded like it could be the story of Portmeirion, but you couldn’t really hear it and you felt like you were blocking the walk way by stopping to listen to it. A real shame since it would have really set the rest of the visit up to know the history behind Portmeirion and why it’s there.
I feel like they really missed a trick here, even little touches like information boards with a bit of a story or signs telling you which direction to walk in would be helpful.
Portmeirion isn’t the place to go for a family fun day out, I wasn’t too bothered because I just wanted to walk around however if you had children I could see it being hard to keep them entertained.
There was a train that took you around Portmeirion on a tour but I never saw any times for the train and where they ran to, there was no information, I just saw a few people waiting at what I figured was the trains starting point. Even the shops were lacking information, it wasn’t clear if they were shops or not and if you were allowed in! The shops weren’t your usual touristy tat shops, they were selling expensive kitchen wear and china, Portmeirion china!
There were a few walking routes highlighted on the map I was given, I decided to follow the coastal route to the lighthouse as I thought it would be nice to walk down on the beach. It wasn’t too clear where the walk started, again some signage would be beneficial as you had to walk through the hotel grounds to start the walk so I immediately felt like I had taken the wrong turn and was in the wrong place. I instantly thought of walks like ‘The Gruffalo Trail’ at Delamere forest where you follow signs with the Gruffalo on, a simple way to keep the kids entertained and to know you're on the right path.
There were several cafes and restaurants in the village. I stopped at one and sat outside with a coffee and a scone (complete with local jam and clotted cream of course) however there were wasps everywhere and although this was out of their control, it was really difficult to sit there and enjoy your food. Later on in the visit I visited a little Italian themed café, the food was lovely, a bowl of creamy pesto gnocchi set you back £11, the same price as a ticket in! But it was delicious, there was an open kitchen so you could see what was going on behind the scenes and the staff were lovely.
Similar to the arrival, there was nobody to say goodbye when you left. There was a sign in one of the flower bed saying ‘be seeing you’ but that was it and it felt extremely impersonal. And again, much like the arrival, getting out of the car park was an unsigned mystery.
The actual physical appearance of Portmeirion really saved it, the novelty of visiting and walking around is enough to make you visit but there really isn’t much that’s making them stand out.
The Portmeirion website talks about ‘experience the magic’ and I think that Portmeirion does have magic, especially on a sunny day, but unless they amplify and make the most of what they’ve got, they won’t become a fully magical experience for guests, it could really be seen as an Italian escape in the middle of the Welsh countryside but instead it’s falling flat.