Who has never heard of the legend of King Arthur? It is among these mysterious moors, in the magnificent Paimpont Forest (also called the Forest of Brocéliande) that one of the world’s most famous myths is born.
The ancient and mysterious forest is steeped in legends revolving around the mythological figures of Merlin, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The beauty of these forests, with their small lakes, streams, moss-covered rocks and curiously shaped stones, frames the magical tales that have always made them a pilgrimage destination for lovers of the genre and fantasy. A magical place to discover during beautiful hikes.
The Forest of Broceliande is a legendary forest, imagined by Chrétien de Troyes, a medieval writer who lived at the end of the 12th century. In his Arthurian novel The Knight of the Lion, he invented this forest of wonders drawing inspiration from a place nestled in the Breton hinterland, a forest known for its legends and marvellous tales. Today, the myth of this magical corner is perpetuated in the forest of Paimpont.
In the heart of the forest, hidden from prying eyes, is the Barenton Fountain: its large nitrogen bubbles give the impression that the surface of the fountain is boiling. Sometimes you have to wait a few minutes to see the phenomenon. In antiquity, the fountain was attributed healing properties and eternal youth.
The Barenton Fountain is one of the most famous sites in the forest. Legend has it that it was here that Merlin unleashed thunderstorms in an arcane magic ritual. Even today, it is said that if water is poured on the fountain’s steps, lightning and thunder are instantly unleashed. And also in this place, the magician Merlin is said to have met Viviana, the fairy.
In 1982, the excavation of this megalithic monument revealed a wedge-shaped structure around the tomb: it measures almost 4 m long, 1 m wide and 1 m high.
Dating back to the Bronze Age, the tomb is a megalithic casket whose walls are made of large blocks of red schist, each more than 4 metres long. Formerly surrounded by a mound, the vault is part of a type of burial dating from between 2000 and 1500 BC.
Originally, the tomb was surmounted by another slab that served as a cover and the whole undoubtedly belonged to a pre-existing alignment of menhirs.
Like all characters in mythology, Merlin is the product of an extraordinary birth: he is in fact the son of the devil and a pure young girl. A legendary figure, prophet and holder of knowledge, Merlin appears in 12th century literature in Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s Prophetia Merlini. His characteristics are known throughout the world: druid, enchanter, soothsayer, scientist who masters the symbolic and curative value of plants and even king of metamorphosis, as well as intimate advisor to King Arthur.
Before Merlin’s tomb was partially destroyed in the 19th century, the monument was a megalithic burial ground: a 12-metre-long alley covered with red schist, dating back to the Neolithic period. Only two stones remain today.
It is a religious archaeological site, whose name derives from the legend The Cursed Stones of Tréhorenteuc.
Having fallen into oblivion for years, buried under gorse, the monument was rediscovered between 1983 and 1984 by the archaeologist Jacques Briard and his teams. Trapezoidal in shape, the Garden of Monks is 27 metres long on the north side and 23 metres on the south side, and is formed of huge quartz blocks. The use of white stones is undoubtedly a symbolic and ritual choice: studies have shown that the monument is linked to the archaeological sites of Carnac.
Not far from Merlin’s Tomb, this fountain, surrounded by huge stones, is said to be a Druidic place of worship, linked to the rite of eternal youth.
According to scholars, every year newborn babies were counted by the Druids during the summer solstice, washed in this fountain and entered in the marith, the Druidic register. Parents who had not been able to bring their child to the initiatory rite would register it the following year. The child was then considered an infant and consequently rejuvenated, for the register, by one year. Herein lies the explanation of the fountain of youth.
This Neolithic site consists of a 2.90 metre long and 1.40 metre wide box, bordered by twelve red shale slabs. The tiles that originally covered the torso have been removed.
This place is also linked to Arthurian legends, in particular the figure of Viviana, water fairy and Lady of the Lake.
Due to the incredible beauty of nature, we recommend the hike to the Valley of No Return where, according to legend, Morgana, Arthur’s half-sister, lived amidst magic and spells.
The 4-kilometre-long route is a loop trail: you will be able to admire some places that are considered magical, such as the 7 fairies’ pond, where every tree and every rock seems to be animated by a strange atmosphere. It is said that the lament of the great wizard Merlin, who chose these woods as his last refuge, still resounds here.
Here is also the Rock of the False Lovers: according to legend, the fairy Morgana, after surprising her lover with another woman, in a fury and rage, petrified the two secret lovers.
At 1,000 years old and 9 metres in circumference, the Guillotin Oak is one of the unmissable stops during a visit to the Paimpont forest.
It owes its name to Abbot Guillotin, a priest who, during the French Revolution, found refuge in the hollow of its trunk. To safeguard the oak from damage caused by the growing tourist flow, footbridges have been installed to protect the hundred-year-old trunk.
The forest is not the only attraction in the area, you have other good reasons to include this area in your itinerary.
For all those, young and old, who love fairy tales and magical legends, we recommend a visit to the Door of Secrets. Set up in the old buildings annexed to Paimpont Abbey, the Porte des Secrets exhibition route is a sensory and magical immersion in the universe of the Brocéliande forest.
All along the way, installations recount the various aspects of the forest: the tales and legends, the fauna, the flora, the history of the iron and metal craftsmen and all the mischievous little beings that populate its woods, fairies, gnomes and elves.
The village of Paimpont, with its granite cottages and flower gardens, is the starting point for almost any hiking or horseback riding trip.
Overlooking an almost 50-hectare pond, Paimpont is a small, harmonious village with a restful charm. You can walk along a scenic, very poetic path, thanks to footbridges on stilts, to discover the wet moors and a rare natural environment in France, the peat bog.
This scenic castle unfortunately cannot be visited, as it is private, but it is definitely worth a stop for the enchanting postcard views. In fact, the manor overlooks and reflects on a small lake.
Moreover, isolated on the edge of the Brocéliande forest, with its purple stones and its lugubrious appearance at night, the castle has always tickled the imagination, with a terrifying story of the ghost of the White Lady: a mysterious woman buried alive in the castle garden, whose spectre still roams the estate at night and who often appears on the castle roofs on full-moon evenings.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
The forest of Brocéliande is very extensive and the various points of interest far apart. The best way to visit it is certainly to reach it by your own transport, to have freedom of movement.
The forest is approximately 55 minutes from Vannes (N166 plus D724), 1 hour 20 from Saint-Malo (D766) and almost 4 hours from Paris (A11, A81, N24).
If you are in Paris, you can organise an excursion by TGV to Rennes: in three hours you cover the 350 km distance to which you must add the journey by bus line 1a (direct Rennes – Paimpont) with Breizhgo.
The village of Paimpont is tiny but in the area surrounding it, there are plenty of accommodation options, ranging from all types and budgets: hotels, B&Bs, campsites and hostels.
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The Paimpont forest, also known as Broceliande, is located in the French municipality of Paimpont, near the city of Rennes.