When I travelled through Brittany, I stopped off in the Brocéliande Forest, which is associated with the legend of King Arthur. That name possibly conjures up thoughts of England, Camelot, knights of the round table, Merlin, and Lancelot. Here’s what I discovered.
Le Forêt de Paimpont (Paimpont Forest), also known as the Brocéliande forest, is located in the north-west interior region of Brittany, approximately 88 kilometres south of St. Malo. There is some debate as to whether there is any truth to the legend that was first written about in the late 1100s by poet, Chrétien de Troyes.
Is Brocéliande real?
Did some of the characters from the Arthurian legend reside in the Brocéliande forest?
You may want to believe that it existed. It’s all in the fun of “believing”.
King Arthur And The Brocéliande Forest Legend
Before I share with you what I discovered in the forest, here are a few facts about the Arthurian legend. There are countless stories about the characters and I could not even begin to share them all; however, here are a few:
- King Arthur was a leader who defended Britain in the 5th and 6th century against Saxon invaders
- Arthur had a magical sword, named Excalibur. It was given to him by Vivien, also known as Lady of the Lake. Legend has it that only a true king would be able to pull the sword out of a stone. That person was Arthur.
- Merlin, know as the “Wizard of the Woods” was the king’s advisor. He became infatuated with Vivian and gave her magical powers which ultimately were used against him.
- One story written in the 1800s talks of a love between Merlin and Vivien, who locks him up inside an oak tree. Another story says he was imprisoned in rings of air.
- Lancelot spent his childhood in the forest of Brocéliande. He was a Knight of the Round Table and confidant to King Arthur until his love affair with Queen Guinevere was revealed. (Be sure to check out the movie musical, “Camelot” starring Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Harris, and Franco Nero)
The Forest of Brocéliande
Exploring an area that might have some truth to the legend was worth a visit. While it’s a lovely area for a walk, the springs and rocks would be meaningless without the signposts and descriptions (in English and French) talking about the legends. You can walk for hours and there are direction signs and interesting sites on your journey, some related to the legends.
My Walk Through The Forest
- Numerous poets and writers have mentioned Brocéliande and they talk of knights, the wizard Merlin, and stones that can create storms
- Merlin’s Tomb: one legend has it that he was put under a spell and imprisoned in a tree, by Vivien. In the Brocéliande forest, supposedly Merlin is buried in this tomb.
Fountain of Eternal Youth: is located near Merlin’s tomb and folklore mentions the magical powers of the waters. It is a fountain of youth only on summer solstice, at midnight, and some other secret conditions established by druids.
Le Val Sans Retour (The Valley Without Return): legend has it that a spell was put on this valley by the sister of King Arthur who was betrayed by her lover. Any unfaithful lovers in the area would be imprisoned in the valley.
L’arbre d’Or at the entrance to Le Val Sans Retour: quite the sight to see a gold tree (first photo in this post) in the forest. After a major forest fire in 1990 which destroyed 400 hectares, this sculpture was commissioned and 500,000 trees were planted to symbolize the renewal of the forest.
Mirroir aux Fées: Legend of the Fairies. Legend has it that fairies chose to hide out from humans in this body of water. They would only come out at night to admire their reflection.
Door To The Secret World of Brocéliande
I highly recommend you get a ticket to the La Porte Des Secrets (Door To The Secret World of Brocéliande) experience (headphones provided with English commentary). It takes place in a wing of the Abbey of Paimpont and I am unable to show you any photos as they weren’t allowed; however, here is a clip of the audiovisual experience that helps you understand the magic behind Broceliande. The cost is 7.5 Euros.
Le Forêt de Paimpont is a very large area. In fact, it is the largest forest in Brittany and covers 7500 hectares; so big that you can/should drive to various areas to do exploring. I began my exploration at Paimpont, where I visited:
- the tourist office
- the Porte des Secrets
- Merlin’s Tomb
- the Fountain of Youth.
I then drove to Tréhorenteuc to see the Golden Tree and Valley Without Return. You could spend days walking through the forest and along the paths. I wish I had had time to visit The Centre of the Imaginary Arthur, which is set in the Château de Comper. It provides more insight into various legends related to King Arthur.
Check out some other unique experiences in Brittany such as:
- Seeing Is Believing: Sculptured Rocks (Rochers Sculptés) In Brittany
- Discover France’s Version Of Stonehenge: Carnac’s Megalithic Alignments
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Keith Van SickleAugust 5, 2017 at 2:16 pm
Nice article! I need to get to that Fountain of Youth soon!
JanAugust 6, 2017 at 9:27 am
I hear you!
AnitaAugust 14, 2017 at 1:43 am
Your post makes me want to go back and watch “Camelot” and it was interesting to find the legend of King Arthur and Merlin was also shared in France. The walk is lovely and your picture of the gold tree sculpture among all the natural beauty of the forest really stands out!
JanAugust 14, 2017 at 10:15 am
That golden tree certainly was the most memorable part of the forest.
Anne-SophieFebruary 22, 2018 at 3:03 pm
Thank you for your post. Came across it while planning our trip to Brittany and we just had to add Paimpont to the itinerary. Is it possible to just spend one day there? And is it accessible or do you need to be a confirmed hiker? Thanks.
JanFebruary 24, 2018 at 6:03 pm
Thank you for your comment. You only a whole day if you want to visit the various areas in Paimpont. There isn’t really any hiking in the true sense. It’s flat and easy to walk around.
Cindy McCainDecember 10, 2019 at 9:01 pm
I have taught the King Arthur legend for thirty years and would live to see this!