Sep 25, 2011

Enchanting Trefriw, Portmeirion, and Ruthin, Wales

Portmeirion is a fantasy village that was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 to resemble an Italian village. Today there are shops, a spa, a beach, a pool, excellent dining and delightful accommodations - all of unique design. Surrounding the village are 70 acres of exotic woodlands with easy to follow trails and coastal walks. Pontmeirion is a popular attraction for day visitors but to really savor the ambiance of Portmeirion one needs to spend at least one night. During the day the village is bustling with activity but in the evening a blanket of peace settles over the fairytale land. We loved the special hush that descended over the village when the day-trippers left and it became “our” village. Our room was in the center of the village overlooking the main square. It was magical.

Portmeirion is a destination unto itself but there are several places to visit nearby. I will always remember Wales for its sheep and gardens. It seems that every house is adorned with beautiful flowers. One of the places we visited was Bodnant Gardens considered one of the most beautiful gardens in the UK. I was amazed at how many vehicles were in the parking lots and yet the 80 acres of gardens absorbed the visitors so that wandering the garden paths was very peaceful. The mild Welsh climate makes it possible for the gardens to have plants from all over the world.

Getting lost is part of any trip and sometimes it is the best way to see things. Our unplanned side trip took us along narrow relatively vehicle-free roads and then through Snowdonia National Park with wonderful views of the mountains and valleys. We stopped to visit Trefriw Woolen Mills that has been in operation since 1859 making traditional Welsh bedspreads, tweeds and tapestry. The small village is tucked into a pretty little valley.

From Portmeirion we drove to Llanuwchllyn where we took a train ride on one of the several restored steam trains in Wales. The trip along the lake to the town and back on the narrow gauge train was great. I was impressed with the loving care the volunteers lavished on their train. The conductor had polished the brass to a fare-thee-well.

In Ruthin we stayed in the Ruthin Castle Hotel that started out as a Welsh wooden fort in 1277 and over the years was altered to become the large red fort-like castle of today. According to legend, King Arthur disguised himself for a romantic liaison with his mistress at Ruthin. Unfortunately he was recognized and by an old adversary. Arthur had him executed on a stone block now displayed in the Town Square. The romantic legends are many including one about the “grey lady” who was executed for axing to death her husband’s girlfriend and now roams the battlements.

Walking through the gardens where the peacocks put on their proud display we tried to conger up images of what it may have been like in years gone by. We had a wonderful dinner in the hotel’s restaurant called Bertie’s, named for King Edward VII who was a lover of fine wines, whisky, brandy, champagne and gourmet cuisine. He was a frequent guest at Ruthin Castle. After dinner we went into the village to listen to a rehearsal of the famed, award-wining Ruthin Choir. The perfect ending of a perfect day.