Tag: Wales

An Italian Riviera Village… in Wales

An Italian Riviera Village… in Wales

Do you ever feel as though a vacation on the Italian Riviera is just an impossible dream? Well, if you live in the UK, the experience may be a lot easier than you think. Just go to Portmeirion, the Italian Riviera village located in Wales.

Portmeirion wales
The village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales

Sir Clough Williams-Ellis designed and built the village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales, between 1925 and 1975.  He was an architect and environmentalist who wanted to create a functional and attractive private village.  His purpose: to demonstrate how a naturally beautiful place could be developed without spoiling it. As a result, Portmeirion has the perfect combination of natural beauty and stunning architecture.

At Portmeirion, Williams-Ellis paid tribute to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean. While he repeatedly denied claims that Portmeirion was based on the Italian Riviera town of Portofino, he also said, “How should I not have fallen for Portofino? Indeed its image remained with me as an almost perfect example of the man-made adornment and use of an exquisite site.”

Portmeirion wales portofino italy comparison

The Village

At first glace, the village of Portmeirion seems larger than it really is. This effect is achieved by architectural designs that include arches, slopes and varying window sizes. Strolling through the area, you can admire the statues and other whimsical details that fill every nook with interest.

portmeirion wales battery square
Battery Square, Portmeirion

Battery Square contains guest accommodations, an aromatherapy spa and a café with outdoor tables on the cobbles – a great spot to grab a coffee, Mediterranean-style.

The  Hotel Portmeirion is the hub of the village’s quayside.

portmeirion hotel wales
Hotel Portmeirion, Quayside

In June 1981, fire gutted the hotel. It took nearly seven years to restore the hotel to its former glory.  Fortunately, however, the work was so well done that it received a Good Hotel Guide award for “Brilliant restoration of a great hotel.”  In the past, the Hotel has hosted notable people such as H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, and Noël Coward.

Nearby

Outside the main village but within the Portmeirion estate, there is a striking mansion known as Castell Deudraeth.

portmeirion castell deudraeth
Castell Deudraeth

The mansion has a stone façade, tall crenellations and Gothic flourishes.  But don’t let its exterior fool you.  Inside, you will find a hotel with 11 modernized guest rooms and suites.

So, if you fancy a taste of the Italian Riviera without actually going to Italy, maybe you should consider Portmeirion. Admission for a day visit costs £10-12.  Alternatively, you could stay overnight in the Hotel Portmeirion, Castell Deudraeth, or numerous self-catering cottages within the village.

For more information:

Same Language, Still Foreign: How to be a good traveler in the UK

Same Language, Still Foreign: How to be a good traveler in the UK

Over the years, I’ve made three (soon to be four) trips to the UK. There is a great degree of comfort in going there, because even though it’s a foreign country, there is no language barrier.  Going to the UK is easier than going to say, Germany, or China.

However.

It is not wise to get lulled into a false sense of security. Just because we speak the same language does not mean that we use the same names for everything. Nor does it mean that there won’t be cultural differences. Through doing some preparatory research before I traveled and making some mistakes, I learned that there are a few things one shouldn’t do in the UK if one wants to stay in the good graces of the natives.

  1. If you choose to wear one, do not refer to your waist pack as a “fanny pack.” On this side of the Atlantic, fanny is a rather adorable word for butt. On that side of the Atlantic, it’s a crude name for female genitalia.
    guide to uk travel fanny pack
  2. Likewise, do not gasp when you hear someone in the UK mention “fags” or “faggots.” They could be talking about a cigarette, a bundle of sticks, or even a meal.
  3. A zebra crossing in the UK would be called a crosswalk here. Hopefully you won’t actually see a herd of zebras crossing the street in London.
  4. If someone is spelling a word for you and they say zed, it’s a Z.
  5. Do not ask someone where the rest room or bathroom is. Instead, use the British term toilet or lavatory.
  6. When making a V or peace sign with your index finger and middle finger, take care to ensure that your palm is facing out, not toward yourself. If you make this gesture with the back of your hand facing out, it is the American equivalent of giving someone the finger. Particularly when combined with a flicking motion. Hubs made a motion for someone to pass us on the road in this fashion and the other driver was quite insulted. Former President George HW Bush made a similar error when visiting Australia in 1992.
    guide to uk travel peace sign
  7. Don’t tell a Brit that you love their accent if you are both standing on British soil. If you’re both on British soil, you are the one with the accent. Come to think of it, it’s probably not the greatest thing to say on American soil, either.
  8. Be aware of the geography. The UK consists of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. The latter three, sharing the same land mass, can also be referred to as Great Britain. Do not refer to someone who is from Scotland, Northern Ireland, or Wales as English. Only people from England are English.
    guide to uk travel united kingdom great britain england
  9. While I hate to make generalizations, I think most people would agree that Brits are much more reserved than Americans. In British culture, you are likely to raise eyebrows if you do any of the following: shouting, kissing, laughing loudly, shaking hands outside of a business setting, talking loudly on a cell phone, and talking about the value of your possessions.
    guide to uk travel cell phone use
  10. Because Brits drive on the left side of the road, you should look right-left-right before crossing a two-way street. This is the exact opposite of what we typically do here, and it’s hard to break that habit. Bigger cities such as London actually have instructions/reminders about which way to look painted on the ground, so that helps. But it less densely populated areas, you’ll need to concentrate on which way to look before stepping off the curb.

By observing these subtle but important differences between our country and the Brits’, you won’t have to worry about committing a faux pas when you are traveling in the UK.

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Why Wales?

I have wanted to go to Wales ever since I saw Hugh Grant’s movie The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain. In fact, the trip that I’ll be taking next month originally started out as an England & Wales combined trip. Unfortunately, time constraints prevented us from doing both, and Hubs was pretty adamant that he wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall.  So Wales is pretty high on the list of future vacations.

I did a lot of research about Wales back when I thought we would be able to do both. Here are the top ten things I can’t wait to see when I go to Wales.

1. Hay-on-Wye.  This tiny village (population 1600) is known as a book town. In fact, it’s the world’s largest second hand & antiquarian book center. You’ll find book stores on every corner and you’ll even see unmanned shelves of books with an honor system for customers. The largest of the “honesty shops” is a row of shelves lining the castle wall.  Castle + books = I could spend days there!

wales top ten hay on why castle bookshop

2. The Straining Tower at Lake Vyrnwy.  It looks much more romantic than it actually is. Its purpose is to filter or strain out material in the water with a fine metal mesh, before the water flows along the aqueduct to Liverpool. The tower rises 104 feet above water, and is topped with a pointed copper-clad roof with a light green patina.

wales top ten straining tower lake vyrnwy

3.  Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.  The town with the longest name in Britain – 58 letters!  (Oddly enough, it is not the longest name in the world.  That honor belongs to a place in New Zealand.) The name, translated from Welsh, means “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave.”  I just want to go get our picture taken under the name sign and buy a souvenir tee shirt.

wales top ten longest town name

4. Castell Coch.  This Gothic Revival Castle was built in the late 19th century as a country residence.  It is often referred to as a fairy tale castle because of its round towers.  And while the exterior of the castle appears medieval, the interior is high Victorian.

wales top ten castell coch

5. The Doctor Who Experience.  You get to see what it’s like to be inside the TARDIS, for goodness’ sake.  What else could you want?

wales top ten Doctor Who Experience

6. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  You can ride a boat or walk across the aqueduct, which is the highest and longest in Great Britain.  It is 126 feet high and 336 yards long.  From what I’ve read, the views from there are outstanding.

wales top ten Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

7.  Tintern Abbey.  Abbey ruins are all over the British Isles thanks to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century.  I’ve seen in photos of many different abbey ruins, and I think Tintern has one of the loveliest sites.

wales top ten Tintern Abbey

8. Pembrokeshire.  This area of Wales reminds me so much of Cornwall (my happy place). There are many beautiful beaches and small harbor towns.

wales top ten Pembrokeshire

9. Skomer Island.  It is the world’s largest puffin colony.  And, as if that weren’t enough, there are also stone circles and the remains of prehistoric houses.

wales top ten skomer puffin

10. Gladstone’s Library.  It’s a residential library, possibly the only one in the world. Bibliophiles like me can look at books all day, go to sleep when we can’t hold our eyes open any longer, then wake up and look at books again.  Yay!  As an added plus, the room rates are some of the cheapest I’ve seen in the UK.

wales top ten Gladstone's Libary

So, there you have it: my next European adventure, already planned.  I can’t wait to see these Wales top ten places in person!