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by Pam Hobbs

Like most architects, I suppose, the late Sir Clough Williams-Ellis dreamed of building something special for which he would be remembered long after he was gone. The thrust behind his dream was a community that illustrated how land could be enhanced rather than defiled by development. Sensibly, he created his fantasy on practical foundations, and now more than 50 years after it opened, Portmeirion receives 200,000 visitors a year

When he returned from World War l, Sir Clough began searching in earnest for a site. A keen sailor, he looked at some two dozen islands off Britain's coast before settling on Portmeirion eight kilometres from his home. While spectacularly steep terrain might have deterred some, he looked at the achingly beautiful peninsula with towering cliffs and sandy bays and imagined colourful Italian-style villas studding the lush vegetation.

In the early 1920s the village took shape, and since dreams can be costly, the sea-washed mansion on the estuary was converted to a hotel. More guest accommodation was added over the years, with modern conveniences and comforts concealed by magical facades.

Awash with colour, the village core is a graceful piazza enhanced by fountains and formal gardens, interesting sculptures and multi-hued buildings all around. Over time Portmeirion became a refuge for abandoned buildings, pavilions and statues. Although few fit into the Italian theme they blend artfully into the overall scene, so that an enormous gold Buddha and Ionic columns look surprisingly at home.

During the crowded summer season day-visitors do not see Portmeirion at its best. Most shuffle around for an hour or so, look at the shops and have a bite to eat before moving on. That's a pity. To get a true sense of what it is about you must sample the unique overnight accommodation and rise early to the sound of cooing doves. Walk through the gardens when only the most dedicated photographers are up. Hike in the woods where a giddy profusion of rhododendrons grow, or along the footpath around a bay to secluded beaches and princely views.

The original waterfront hotel destroyed by fire in l981 is now more beautiful than ever. Village accommodation is as eclectic as everything else here. Mine, overlooking the estuary, reminds me of Dylan Thomas' Boat House with the tide lapping at its foundations and sea birds hovering outside. My comfort though is more assured than the poet's ever was, and a heated swimming pool on the lawn robs nothing from the natural setting. More guests are housed in self-catering units equipped for two to eight people. All are furnished for full housekeeping.

Although the village has been written up in countless architectural magazines and guidebooks, I believe its pottery has brought even wider recognition. Artist Susan Williams-Ellis began designing the Portmeirion cookware, kitchen and table accessories some 30 years ago. By far the most popular is the series known as Botanic Garden, using boldly painted thistles, herbs, flowers and plants taken from nineteenth-century nature history books.

Room rates in the hotel and cottages in summer are approximately $300 and $250 per night for two people, with reductions for winter and mid-week breaks. The village has several stores, including one selling Portmeirion china (seconds) at reduced prices.

VACATION PLANNER; Portmeirion is roughly five hours' drive from London and l40 km from Manchester airport. For more information or reservations write Portmeirion, Gwynedd, LL48 6ET. Telephone 01766 770228. Or e-mail: