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BRETON MYTHS & LEGENDS

Megalithic stones at Carnac © Shutterstock

Explore Brittany and the Breton legends

Legends, myths & history of Brittany

With its Celtic roots, Brittany can often feel more like some parts of Britain than France. Home to wild untamed moors covered in ancient rock formations and a jagged coastline that whispers of many mysteries in times gone by, Brittany has built up a strong storytelling tradition.

There is much to enchant, from giants and fairies to stories from Arthurian legend - Arthur, Merlin, Morgan le Fay and Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, are amongst some of the key characters with various rocks, springs and more that are said to have mystical ties to them. All are great fun to explore, with the great outdoors offering plenty to see and do for kids and adults alike across Brittany.

Wander the forests in Brittany, especially Brocéliande and Huelgoat, and feel like you are walking into a fairy tale. The megalithic sites of Brittany, such as the astounding stone alignments at Carnac, are a marvel of human ingenuity and the ancient menhirs and dolmens hold many stories of the past.

Breton legends are populated with a tangled cast of pixies, saints, mermaids and many more fantastical creatures. Some make the dramatic granite rock formations their home so be sure to keep an eye out for them!

Brittany's best mythical and historical sites to visit

CARNAC STONES

One of the wonders of the Neolithic era in Europe, the stone alignments at Carnac are estimated to have been created around 6,000 years ago. The Carnac stones' history is a mystery - these huge chunks of granite were manoeuvred here for an unknown purpose. Some suggest that they are an astronomical observatory whilst the legends make the more fantastical claim that they are the remains of a Roman legion that the wizard Merlin turned to stone.

Standing stones at Carnac © Shutterstock

Standing stones at Carnac

The three alignments stand just outside the town of Carnac with thousands of stone menhirs in rows and circles as well as dolmens and cairns. The visitor centre provides guided walks in the summer but in the winter you are usually free to walk around the stones by yourself.

DOL-DE-BRETAGNE

Overlooking the magical bay of Mont St Michel, this hilltop town is home to many local legends. The rocky outcrop of Mont Dol itself is supposedly where St Michel fought the devil, who left gashes in the rock here, and it is often described as an island on land. So there are plenty of things to do near Dol-de-Bretagne and plenty of legends to discover. 

Aerial view of the hill at Dol-de-Bretagne © Teddy Verneuil, BRTC

Aerial view of the hill at Dol-de-Bretagne © Teddy Verneuil, BRTC

These include the mysterious Champ Dolent menhir, a huge standing stone that is nearly 10 metres high and is the tallest menhir in Brittany.

The menhir has several legends related to it including how it was dropped from the heavens to separate two battling brothers, that it was thrown by the devil when he saw St Samson building a cathedral nearby and, rather pessimistically, that the stone sinks into the ground every time someone dies and the world will end when it disappears.

Pay Dol-de-Bretagne a visit and let your imagination run wild with all the legends and myths surrounding the town. 

FOUGÈRES FOREST AND CHÂTEAU DE FOUGÈRES

Discover some magical ancient history in the forest of Fougères where you'll find the Cordon of the Druids, a row of 50 menhirs carved from quartz as well as lots of other remnants of its mystical past. Amongst the pretty beech trees, there are the tombs, called dolmens, of ancient kings and also a secret underground room, the Celliers de Landean, which were once said to have had stairs to the Château de Fougères.

The Château de Fougères © Shutterstock

The Château de Fougères

The chateau itself looks like it has come from the pages of a fairy tale - like many of the chateaux across France. The Château de Fougères is a medieval fortress covered in towers that is one of the largest in existence in Europe. One of these towers is named after the fairy, Melusine, who features in many legends in western France and who supposedly married the Count of Anjou.

HUELGOAT FOREST

One of the most enchanting forests in Brittany, the forest of Huelgoat has inspired many legends relating to King Arthur and some Christian myths. Visit the Grotte d'Artus, where it is said that King Arthur hid his treasure, and marvel at the huge granite boulders that were apparently hurled by giants.

Boulders and signpost in the forest of Huelgoat © Donatienne Guillaudeau, BRTC

Boulders and signpost in the forest of Huelgoat © Donatienne Guillaudeau, BRTC

With charming streams, fairy pools and fascinating rock formations - there's even one that looks like a huge mushroom - the forest is a playground for those who love a world of fairy-tale fantasy.

CAIRN DE BARNENEZ AT MORLAIX

Looking to explore the megalithic sites of Brittany? Europe's oldest and largest megalithic mausoleum, built in 4500 BC, the Cairn de Barnenez stands quietly on the Breton coast overlooking the bay of Morlaix.

Cairn de Barnenez © Centre des Monuments Nationaux Paris, P. Berthé

Cairn de Barnenez © Centre des Monuments Nationaux Paris, P. Berthé

Inside are two burial chambers with 11 tombs and, although visitors are not allowed inside the cairn, some of the tombs are partially exposed from the outside. Some of the stones of the cairn are engraved with various different symbols such as wavy lines and axes and bows, which you'll find at other megalithic sites in the region.

The visitor centre contains some of the Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery and tools that were found inside the cairn when it was excavated and restored in the 1950s and 1960s.

MONTS D'ARRÉE AT ARMORIQUE REGIONAL NATURAL PARK

The Armorique Regional Natural Park covers a large section of Brittany and encompasses some of its most spectacular landscapes - from the magical forest of Huelgoat to the windswept coast of the Crozon Peninsula.

Beautiful landscape at Roc'h Trevezel in the Monts d'Arrèe in Brittany © Yannick Derennes, BRTC

Roc'h Trevezel in the Monts d'Arrèe in Brittany © Yannick Derennes, BRTC

One of the most unmissable natural landscapes in Brittany, however, is the mystical Monts d'Arrée that form a spiky spine through Finistère. This wild vista has its own unique picturesqueness and is best explored by hiking the criss-crossing paths over the moors.

Discover the remote chapel of St Michel atop the lonely Montagne St Michel, which overlooks the boggy marshland of Yeun Elez, said to be a gateway to Hell. 

BROCÉLIANDE FOREST - THE FOREST OF PAIMPONT

Step into the world of Arthurian legend at Brocéliande, the fabled Breton forest in the legends, which is today the Forest of Paimpont. This bewitching woodland is full of magical streams and fairy pools amongst the twisting oak trees and the granite rocks that litter the forest floor.

Trees in the forest of Brocéliande © Yvon Boëlle, BRTC

Trees in the forest of Brocéliande © Yvon Boëlle, BRTC

Visit the Valley of No Return where Morgan le Fay imprisoned unfaithful men until Lancelot lifted her spell and freed them, or find the legendary Fountain of Youth.

Arthurian tour maps are available from the Tourist Office so you'll have somewhere to start in your explorations and see what else you find along the way!

GAVRINIS IN THE GULF OF MORBIHAN

This wonderful bay is almost like a little sea, in fact, that's where the name Morbihan comes from in Breton. 42 islands sit in the Gulf of Morbihan and many are owned by celebrities but the larger islands are open to visitors and Gavrinis is the one you really want to visit if you're interested in mystical ruins.

Neolithic art at Gavrinis © Emmanuel Berthier, BRTC

Neolithic art at Gavrinis © Emmanuel Berthier, BRTC

On the island is an impressive burial chamber, often considered Brittany's most impressive Neolithic site because of the carvings which adorn the walls on the inside and out.

There is a guided boat tour from Larmor-Baden so make sure to book your place. Nearby on the mainland is the Grand Menhir Brise, the largest known standing stone erected in Europe that now lies in four pieces. You'll find it at the megalithic complex at Locmariaquer alongside the Table des Marchands and and burial ground of Er Grah.

ILE DE BATZ

Right on our doorstep, the Ile de Batz is just off the coast of Roscoff with regular boat trips out during the day. It's one of many magical islands off Brittany.

Woman enjoying the scenic view from the Ile de Batz © Yvon Boëlle, BRTC

Scenic view from the Ile de Batz © Yvon Boëlle, BRTC

The perfect place for a day trip, you can enjoy fantastic scenery and pretty beaches with a dash of the fantastical at the Trou du Serpent, a hole in the rock said to have been created when St Pol cast a dragon that had been terrorising the island into the sea.

The island is famous for its exotic gardens and inside the Jardin Exotique Georges Delaselle is a Bronze Age burial site that was unearthed when building the gardens. Take a picnic and spend the day exploring this captivating island.

ILES DE HOUAT ET HOËDIC

Shaped like two little ducks nestling off the coast of southern Brittany, Houat and Hoëdic are charming and secluded islands. Houat, the larger of the two, is known for its beaches but Hoëdic is the destination with more to see.

Pretty coastline at Ile de Houat off the coast of Brittany © Ronan Gladu, BRTC

Pretty coastline at Ile de Houat off the coast of Brittany © Ronan Gladu, BRTC

The island is home to two prehistoric sites, which date all the way back to 5000 BC - the four metre high Menhir de la Vierge and the burial chamber, the Dolmen de la Croix. Find both of them on the eastern side of the island and admire the views.

If you can’t wait to explore all the secrets of Brittany and discover magical places with mystical pasts then book your next adventure with Brittany Ferries. With so much history to explore across Brittany, there is something for everyone in the family!

If you can’t wait to travel again then know that you can holiday with confidence with Brittany Ferries. Our 2021 selection of ferry-inclusive holidays come with free Covid-19 cover and free amendments too.

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