Megaliths and Menhirs
Like modern-day tourists, prehistoric man was drawn to southern Brittany for reasons which remain shrouded in the mists of time.
Carnac – capital of the megaliths
The countryside around Carnac is rich in Neolithic remains, erected by early settlers who put roots down in the area 6-7,000 years ago. World famous for its avenues of megaliths – legend has it they were Roman armies turned to stone – there are also several dolmens (tombs) in the area. These giant, table-like structures are all that remains of Neolithic burial mounds; some, like the restored Table des Marchands (Locmariaquer), well-preserved Gavrinis (Golfe du Morbihan) and Pierres-Plates (Locmariaquer) contain elaborate stone carvings. Not surprisingly, such impressive monuments have contributed to local folklore and given rise to much superstition down the centuries.
Despite the best efforts of archaeologists, their origins remain unclear. Were they an early form of solar calendar built to mark the passing of each season and observe the heavens? Was there a religious function, with pilgrims travelling from afar down the stone avenues to attend sacred rituals? The Musee de Prehistoire (Carnac Ville), with its rich collection of prehistoric artefacts, and House of Megaliths visitor centre, near the famous Kermario alignements (Route de Kerlescan), explore some of the theories put forward by scholars.
Get up close and personal
Debate also rages over how best to preserve the megaliths. Once grazed by sheep with open public access, some of the most impressive sites are today fenced off to protect them from erosion. However, it is still possible to get up close and personal with many of these monuments without inflicting damage. Sunrise and sunset can be the best times to visit and photograph the stones, before other visitors arrive and light levels contribute to their other-worldly atmosphere.
A particular favourite of mine is Pierres-Plates which, fortunately, survived the building and subsequent destruction of Second World War fortifications on the Pointe de Kerpenhir peninsula (near Locmariaquer), a stretch of coastline now under the protection of the Conservatoire du Littoral.
Note: Menhir denotes a single standing stone, megalith can be single or one of a group.
Select Villas offer a selection of holiday rental within each reach of Carnac. Click here to see our southern Brittany cottages with pools.
If you’re thinking of travelling to the area, why not take a look at our latest Travel Guide to the region.