Portmeirion markets itself as one of the most premier tourist attractions in Wales, attracting over 250,000 visitors each year. As one might expect, admission is not cheap: adult entry is £9, although it drops to £4.50 after 3.30 pm.
Yet, as my wife and I discovered last week, there is an alternative and enjoyable way to get in free (sort of): lunch at the on-site Castell Deudraeth ‘gastropub’ first, collect a voucher when settling your bill after your meal and present it at the Portmeirion ticket office free entry for two adults to the village.
We called the Castell Deudraeth about an hour beforehand and were able, somewhat to our surprise, to book a table for a late Sunday lunch. On arrival, after ordering, we were shown to a table for two in a side dining room; the main conservatory dining room would have been nicer: ask for a table there when booking. My wife’s belly pork on herb mash was nicely done, although the crackling could have been a little crisper. My roast lamb was beautifully cooked and generous in terms of portion size; dauphinoise potatoes made a pleasant alternative to roasted.
Desserts took a little while to arrive but were worth the wait: my wife loved her confection: ice cream sandwiched between two biscuits surrounded by a fan of strawberries, served with a mango sorbet and vanilla sauce. As for me, I’m always a sucker for lemon cheesecake and this one had a suitable tang; a caramel sauce acted as a contrasting sweet foil.
And so on to Portmeirion itself. Said to be modelled on Portofino (does Portofino style itself the Ligurian answer to Portmeirion?), it really needs a dose of sunshine to acquire any semblance of Mediterranean charm. Under leaden grey skies, the pastiche is obvious: rooftop moss and algae, nurtured by frequent rain driven in by our Atlantic jet stream, surely doesn’t grow like it in Italy.
At about 5 pm, after a stroll through the grounds that took in what looked like an oriental water garden complete with red bridge and temple, something remarkable happened: the sky cleared completely, transforming the look of the village. The gaudy colours in which many of the building were painted suddenly made sense: they really needed direct sun to bring them to life. A couple posing for wedding photos were clearly making the most of the opportunity: they must have been away from their guests for nearly an hour.
Most tourists had left for the day by this stage; it was left to us and just a few others to enjoy this enchanted evening. All in all, then, Portmeirion is worth a visit, especially if you lunch there first – and get lucky with the weather!
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