June 16, 2013

After packing our bags and organizing the car we set off for Portmeirion. Initially the roads were narrow, so driving was slow, but soon we found the wider roads and made good time. Our route passed through mid-Wales for quite a while, and here there were a lot of Red Kites overhead. Our final count was eight. And then we suddenly found ourselves in the mountains of North Wales.

Before going to Portmeirion we continued on to Porthmadog. We had decided to take a ride on the Ffestiniog Railway, one of Wales’s many narrow-gauge steam trains. We all liked steam trains, especially Neil who was apparently a bit of a train-spotter in his younger days. We found a parking spot close to the station and bought our tickets, and since the next train was scheduled to leave at 1:35 pm we found a bench at the station and ate our lunch there.

The trip to Blaenau Ffestiniog took a bit over an hour, stopping at several little stations en route. The views were good so it was a fun trip. In the open country we could see the remains of the slate mines which were originally the reason the railway was built. And there were huge flowering rhododendron bushes everywhere. They are an invasive species but nevertheless they are a welcome contrast to the dark gray slate aspect of the area. Once there we only had 20 minutes before the train left for the return trip, so we just walked up to the main road in the town and then headed back. We could have waited for the next train down, but it was getting late in the afternoon and we wanted to get on to Portmeirion. The return journey went by quickly and before we knew it we were back in Porthmadog.

We hopped into the car and headed for Portmeirion, which was just around the corner. Arriving at the gateway we checked in with the concierge at the gate—Neil had made the reservation—and he directed us down to the hotel. We did the check-in formalities, and then he led us back up to our room, where we moved all our bags in from the car. And finally Neil moved the car to its allotted parking space. We were staying in a two-bedroom suite called the Prior’s Lodging. It was located above the spa, at the base of a tall tower, and it overlooked the river. Beautifully decorated, the main room had a king-size bed plus some comfy chairs to sit in, while the smaller room had a single bed.

We went right out to look around. Portmeirion is one of a kind, jaw-droppingly beautiful. It’s much better to see it personally than to look at photographs of it. The village is a collection of Italian-style buildings of various kinds, painted in bright colours, all fitting in to a classical style. Everywhere you look there are little ornamental features which you might call eclectic, except that they were all completely suited to the style of the site. Everything was tasteful but surprising, and all we could say was “Wow!”

Rosemary had planned to buy a gift for an upcoming wedding here, so we went over to the shop to look for it. But the staff just looked blank when she described the pattern she wanted. There was a “seconds” shop too, but we had no luck there either. So we would have to work on Plan B.

Our dinner reservation wasn’t until 8:30 pm, so Neil and Paul went out for a walk in the gardens while Rosemary stayed in the room to have a shower and try out the L’Occitane products in the bathroom. At this time of year the rhodendrons and azaleas were all blooming, not the invasive ones from outside but several cultivated varieties. They had dropped their white, pink, violet, and crimson flowers into huge carpets. Neil and Paul found the dog cemetery, which is still in use, and after a long ramble came to the Ghost Garden. It hardly seemed like a garden at all, but perhaps all the plants had white or green flowers or no flowers at all. Meanwhile Rosemary wandered around the ornate village, photographing the buildings and statues. There were Roman gods and a large Buddha and a variety of other decorative stone work everywhere you turned.

We met up at the room, and then headed down to the hotel for dinner. Like everything in Portmeirion, the interior of the hotel was elaborately decorated and very beautiful. Our dinner was more expensive than we had expected, but it was very good. Everything was very precise: the plates were always served with the Portmeirion logo at the top, the pork medallions were all the same size and stacked neatly, and the cooked carrots were cut into spheres, not cubes. The highlight was the dessert, which was a blueberry and praline macaron with lavender ice cream. Back in the room we toasted a successful trip with the sherry which was provided in our room and then chatted for a while before going to bed.

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