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Forêt de Paimpont
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Thirty kilometres west of Rennes, the Forêt de Paimpont, known also by its ancient name of Brocéliande, is – according to song and legend – the forest of the wizard Merlin. Medieval Breton minstrels, like their Welsh counterparts, set the tales of King Arthur and the Holy Grail both in Grande Bretagne and here in Petite Bretagne. For all the magic of these shared legends, however, and a succession of likely sites, few people come out here.

Roaming around for a day is easy, with Mauron, reachable by bus from Rennes, making a good place to start. From the hamlet of Folle Pensée, just south of Mauron, it's a circuitous but enjoyable twenty-minute walk to La Fontaine de Barenton – Merlin's spring. The path leads off from the end of the road at Folle Pensée, turning to the right, running through pines and gorse to a junction of forest tracks: here, take the track straight ahead for about 100m, where an unobvious path to the left goes into the woods and turns back north to the spring – walled, and filled by the most delicious water imaginable. After drinking, stroke the great stone slab beside the spring to call up a storm, roaring lions and a horseman in black armour. Here Merlin first set eyes on Vivianne, who bound him willingly in a prison of air.

The Fountain of Eternal Youth is hidden nearby and accessible only to the pure in heart. Another forest walk, more scenic but without a goal, is the Val sans Retour (the Valley of No Return), off the GR37 from Tréhorenteuc to La Guette. The path to follow leads out from the D141 just south of Tréhorenteuc to a steep valley from which exits are barred by thickets of gorse and giant furze on the rocks above; at one point it skirts an overgrown table of rock, the Rocher des Faux Amants (Rock of the False Lovers), from which the seductress Morgane le Fay supposedly enticed unwary boys.

Pages in section ‘Forêt de Paimpont’: Practicalities.

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