Thursday, 25 August 2011

Brittany: The Stuff of Legends

Most people associate Brittany with the seaside, and it's true that, with its endless jagged shores, peninsulas and little islands, the region must have a spectacularly long coastline relative to its size. But there are secrets to be discovered in the interior too, and especially in the ancient forest of Paimpont or Brocéliande, home of Merlin and the fairies of the Arthurian legends.

Up until recently local people, believing that the legendary sites should be accessible only to those who truly deserved to find them, would hide the signposts to confuse visitors. Nowadays though, tourism has taken over and most of the places are easy to find, although luckily still not overrun with hoards of people.

The Chêne à Guillotin is a 1000 year old oak tree. Its name comes from the Abbot Guillotin, a resistor of the Revolution who hid in its hollow when he was chased by soldiers. The story goes that an intact spider's web covered the entrance to the tree when the revolutionary fighters passed, leading them to believe that nobody could be inside.

The Fontaine de Barenton is known for its magical ability to summon up storms even in times of drought and was where the knight Yvan defeated the terrible Chevalier Noir or Black knight, as well as being the place where Merlin first met the fairy Viviane. Unfortunately, it didn't have much water in it when we went by.

The Val sans Retour, or Valley of no Return, was put under a spell by the fairy Morgane so that unfaithful knights would find themselves lost in the forest and unable to make their way out. As well as the Miroir aux Fées, you can visit the Arbre d'Or.

This golden tree has nothing to do with the Arthurian legends but was planted after a terrible fire in 1991 to symbolise the fragility of nature and attract visitors to the area. The pointed rocks which surround it are there to protect it from people who fail to understand the message and try to take home pieces of its gold-leaf coating as a souvenir.


  1. No way, there's signage now?? We went there not too long after I moved to France eight years ago and we had a good, long laugh about how hard it was to find each of the sites. At the time, it really was a question of persistence like you said!

  2. Did you find the fountain of eternal youth? Strangely enough it still doesn't have a sign post!