Forests: Brocéliande (Paimpont) and Huelgoat
Just 18 miles (30km) west of Rennes, the existing forest of Paimpont is all that remains of the original vast forest that covered ancient inland Brittany, as known as Argoat. Legend has it that the 25 square miles (40km2) of woodland is also the location of mythical Brocéliande, the forest of King Arthur.
Start your exploration at the turreted Château de Comper near Concoret, which houses the Centre de l’Imaginaire Arthurien with scenes from Arthurian legends; in summer there are associated exhibitions, events and themed walks. Next to the castle is a lake, underneath whose waters apparently lives the fairy Viviane in a crystal palace built by Merlin the magician, and beside this the Fontaine de Barenton, by which it is said rain can be summoned if you throw some of its water onto the slab in front of it. Visitors may also find the Fountain of Eternal Youth hidden nearby.
Southwest of here, near Tréhorenteuc, is the ominously named Val Sans Retour (‘Valley of No Return’). It’s here that the sorceress Morgan le Fay, half-sister of King Arthur, is said to have imprisoned unfaithful youths – and high above the valley, the Rocher des Faux Amants (‘Rock of False Lovers’) is the spot where she enticed her prisoners. As well as several megalithic sites, visitors should note the golden tree at the entrance to the valley; it was erected in 1991 to commemorate the great fire that ravaged the forest in 1990.
Paimpont itself is an attractive little place with a main street of stone cottages, and is a good base to explore the area. It is best known for its 13th-century lakeside abbey which, as well as ancient books and religious silverware, holds summer exhibitions and concerts.
Imagine a day out that involves descending to the ‘Devil's Cave’, clambering to the heights of the ‘Great Trembling Rock’, passing by the ‘Chaos Mill’ and rushing streams… in the Huelgoat forest, there are so many legendary spots and breathtaking sights that you’re spoilt for choice. Nestling at the heart of the Arrée mountains in the Parc Naturel Régional d’Armorique you'll find the town of Huelgoat, bordered by a 37-acre lake on the outskirts of a state-managed forest that extends over some 2,500 acres. An astonishing array of rocks and giant moss-covered boulders follow the course of the River d'Argent through the forest; best of all, the land is free to explore and perfect if you have children in tow.
Beech, oak and chestnut trees dominate the Huelgoat landscape and ferns flourish in the uniquely humid conditions. Some of the plant life here is exceptional and unique in Europe. Begin at the watermill, from which you can freely follow any of the signposted pathways or even opt for a guided visit to learn more about the magic of the forest. Follow in the footsteps of painters and writers who have been inspired and fascinated by this place… you'll soon see why.