Archive for Bretagne

The Venus of Quinipily, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Castle, Fountain, Gardens, Landscape, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2015 by mysearchformagic

Nestling in a quiet valley in the middle of rural Brittany can be found the romantic ruins of the chateau of Quinipily, an ancient fortress now reduced to just a few sturdy walls and terraces. Today the remains of the castle have been transformed into pretty gardens which are open to visitors throughout the year.

The colourful gardens of Quinipily, Brittany

The colourful gardens of Quinipily, Brittany

It’s not the flowers that attract visitors to this place, however, because it is far better known for its strange statue, a monumental figure of indefinite age now known as the Venus of Quinipily. The 2.2 metre tall Venus stands at the centre of the terraced garden, staring out at the surrounding landscape from her position atop a huge fountain.

The Venus of Quinipily, Brittany

The Venus of Quinipily, Brittany

Until the seventeenth century both the Venus and the huge stone trough that is now situated below her stood in the Breton village of Bieuzy-les-Eaux, on the site of an ancient Gaulish city. Also known by the villagers as Ar Groareg Houar (the Iron Lady) and Groah Hoart (The Old Guardian), the statue was worshipped by the locals, who believed it to have magical curative powers. Pregnant women would visit the Venus, and later bathe in the trough (which can apparently hold up to 3600 litres of water) after giving birth. It was also thought that the figure could help boost fertility, and it is said that some couple indulged in some rather naughty practises beneath the statue. Finally the bishop of nearby Vannes decided to bring an end to such pagan rituals, and in 1661 he had the Venus thrown into the river. Before long, the locals fished her out, and resumed their old religious rites.

The huge stone water trough at Quinipily

The huge stone water trough at Quinipily

In 1670 the statue was attacked and thrown once again into the watery depths. At this point local gentleman Pierre de Lannion stepped in to save the Venus, and shipped her off to his castle at Quinipily, where she has stood ever since. He faced opposition from the Duke of Rohan, who claimed ownership of the statue, but after a long legal battle Lannion won the case and was allowed to keep her.

The monumental form of the Venus of Quinipily

The monumental form of the Venus of Quinipily

The true age and purpose of the Venus of Quinipily have stirred up debate for centuries. Some have suggested that she may be a representation of Isis first erected by Romans who had settled in the region. Another theory is that she is in fact a Gallic goddess, or perhaps Roman mother goddess Cybele. Some sceptics have proposed that this statue is not ancient at all, but a later copy made when the original statue was destroyed in the seventeenth century.

After such a checkered past, the Venus must relieved to have finally found a safe home in the beautiful gardens of Quinipily. Here she is surrounded by huge old trees which have grown up amongst the fragments of castle wall, and althought the spring which fed her fountain has now dried up, the former ponds and cascades are now a mass of foliage and flowers, a bit wild and overgrown, but wonderfully atmospheric. I said earlier that she attracts visitors to Quinipily, but on the day that I visited there was noone else around, and I was able to enjoy the magical ambience of this intriguing place in peace and quiet, a unique experience in an unforgettable place.

The overgrown ponds in the gardens at Quinipily

The overgrown ponds in the gardens at Quinipily

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The Alignements du Petit-Ménec, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Fairy Tales, History, Standing Stones, Woods with tags , , , , , , , on May 13, 2015 by mysearchformagic

The huge complex of standing stones at Carnac in Brittany is, quite deservedly, world famous. With row upon row of huge megaliths running for kilometres across the landscape, it is hardly surprising that these stones have fascinated generations of antiquarians and now attract thousands upon thousands of tourists every year. The large numbers of visitors have inevitably had an impact on the fragile environment of Carnac, and as a result the majority of the stones are now kept behind fences, far from the fingers (and feet) of inquisitive day-trippers. So, although they are an amazing sight, the best-known alignments of Carnac can seem rather distant, untouchable, lacking that certain uncanny atmosphere that I love so much.

The impressive standing stones of Carnac, Brittany

The impressive standing stones of Carnac, Brittany

What few of the visitors to Carnac realise is that there is in fact one set of the stones which remains rather overlooked, and still retains a wonderfully air of magic. The stones of the alignements du Petit-Ménec, which sit at north-easterly end of the complex, might be smaller than some of their better-known neighbours, and may be rather hidden in woodland, but the fact that they remain open and unfenced means that visitors can still wander among them and get a real sense of their unique ancient mystery.

Approaching the alignements du Petit-Ménec, Brittany

Approaching the alignements du Petit-Ménec, Brittany

Although they do appear on most of maps of the complex, the alignements du Petit-Ménec are not properly signposted, and lie quite a distance from the other megaliths beyond a busy main road. This is perhaps why they tend to be ignored by most visitors to the Carnac stones. Whatever the reason, I am rather glad that they are overlooked. Hidden in a quiet woodland, far from the crowds and their cars, the alignements du Petit-Ménec are a magic-hunters dream come true!

The magical stones of Petit-Ménec, Carnac

The magical stones of Petit-Ménec, Carnac

There are plenty of fabulous tales associated with the stones, including the (rather anachronistic) story that they were marching Roman centurions turned to stone by the wizard Merlin. Another legend tells that they are in fact a fleeing army of Pagans literally petrified by Pope Cornelius. All in all there are 101 standing stones in the Petit-Ménec group, with seven rows facing east and a further three facing north-east. Wandering amongst the stones in their peaceful forest, its easy to imagine yourself in some enchanted wood. I didn’t see any fairies, goblins or Korrigans on the day of my visit, but if I had, I am not sure I would have been that surprised. After all, I can’t think of a more suitable place for them than the magical alignements du Petit-Ménec.

Some of the larger stones in the alignements du Petit-Ménec, Carnac

Some of the larger stones in the alignements du Petit-Ménec, Carnac

The Standing Stones of Er Lannic, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Fairy Tales, Island, Legend, Standing Stones with tags , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2015 by mysearchformagic

The Gulf of Morbihan is famous for its mild climate and pretty ports, which are popular with tourists and sailors alike. Today it is peppered with around forty islands of various shapes and sizes, but it was not always this way. Thousands of years ago this huge bay was a much dryer place, and before it was consumed by the sea, these islands were the highest hilltops of a large and complex prehistoric landscape. A number of the islands also feature fascinating megalithic monuments, and one of the most intriguing of these is the stone (semi)circles of Er Lannic.

The island of Er Lannic, Morbihan

The island of Er Lannic, Morbihan

As a protected bird sanctuary, it is not possible to land on Er Lannic, but you can take a boat trip which skirts round its rocky shores. From a distance, the island looks rather craggy and uninviting, but as the boat approaches its southern side an interesting feature emerges. First you notice a huge standing stone towards the top of the island, then more stones pop up and soon a large semicircle of menhirs becomes clear. On the day of my visit, each stone seemed to be topped by its own proud seagull.

The standing stones of Er Lannic, Morbihan

The standing stones of Er Lannic, Morbihan

In fact, many more of these stones lie beneath the waterline, and recent investigations have revealed another stone semicircle below the water. The largest stone measures an impressive 5.4 metres tall, and a number of cists containing bones, charcoal, flints and pottery were also discovered by modern archaeologists. Although the purpose of the monument is not clear, it has been dated to around 3000 BC. My visit to Er Lannic made me wonder what other magical treasures lie under the waves of the Gulf of Morbihan – it is surely monuments like this that gave rise to the local myth of Ys, an ancient city that once stood on the coast of Brittany which was destroyed by the a huge flood after its citizens descended into sin and debauchery.

A Magical Breton Christmas

Posted in Brittany, Christmas, Church, History, House with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2013 by mysearchformagic

This year I am spending the holidays in the lovely French town of Malestroit.

Chritstmas lights in Malestroit

Chritstmas lights in Malestroit

With its pretty medieval quarter dotted with strange sculptures, Malestroit is always a pretty special place. At this time of year the locals decorate the main square with Christmas lights and place a huge tree next to the ancient church. As you can see from these photographs, the results are rather wonderful.

The medieval houses of Malestroit

The medieval houses of Malestroit

On a dark evening, the chill air filled with the sweet smell of wood smoke, the atmosphere here is truly magical.

But the great thing about Christmas is that it can be magical, wherever you are.

The church of St Gilles, Malestroit

The church of St Gilles, Malestroit

So here’s to a happy, and of course very magical, 2014!

Forteresse de Largoët, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Castle, History, Ruins with tags , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by mysearchformagic

The entrance to the Forteresse de Largoët is to be found up a long, winding single-track road. At the end of this road stands a large gateway, a little house next to it decorated with carved rabbits. On the day that I visited the imposing gates were firmly closed. Luckily I spotted the small sign telling me that the castle was in fact ‘ouvert’, and when I rang the adjacent bell a man emerged from the shadowy doorway of the ‘rabbit’ house to sell me a ticket and let me in.

A large stone rabbit on the gatehouse of the chateau of Largoët

A large stone rabbit on the gatehouse of the chateau of Largoët

Next comes a long walk, past a beautifully dilapidated wellhead and along a wooded track.

A finely decorated wellhead on the way to the Forteresse de  Largoët

A finely decorated wellhead on the way to the Forteresse de Largoët

By the time you reach the ruins, you really will feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere. As a result, the huge scale of the castle’s towers comes as a shock as they emerge above the treetops – the main ‘donjon’ is immense, said to be the tallest in France.

The castle of Largoët

The castle of Largoët

A strange air of quiet surrounds the fortress. The atmosphere is disconcerting, rather sad, heavy with neglect and decay. As with many historic sites in this part of the world, the Forteresse de Largoët doesn’t get many visitors, its sense of abandoned isolation only adding to its magical aura. The lake which sits next to the ruins is odd, spooky even, with the bare branches of dead trees emerging from the dark water of its far shore. The castle’s donjon is now floorless, its damp interior thick with moss and lichen, but a spiral staircase inside one of the thick walls leads up, past many empty doorways, almost to the top of the crumbling tower. The views from up there are incredible, but definitely not for those who suffer from a fear of heights.

The mossy interior of the donjon of Largoët

The mossy interior of the donjon of Largoët

It’s only at the top of the stairs that you can really get a sense of the size of this place; in its heyday it must have been a Gormenghast-style warren of rooms, ante-rooms and corridors. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a legend that a secret corridor links the castle with the nearby town of Elven, although the location of the tunnel’s entrance is now long-forgotten. In the 1470s, the castle’s most famous resident Henry Tudor, later Henry VII of England, was held as a prisoner here by Jean IV, Lord of Rieux for two long years.

Once back on the ground, it is worth taking a look at the exterior of the tower, with its intricately carved machicolations and elaborate window frames. The walls look rather unstable nowadays, scarred with a delicate network of cracks and crevices.

The impressive exterior of the donjon of Largoët

The impressive exterior of the donjon of Largoët

Although the castle, which also goes by the rather Tolkienesque name of ‘les Tours d’Elven’, was probably first constructed some time in the 11th Century, this keep dates from the 1300s. The impressive gatehouse and adjacent round tower, which has been more recently re-roofed and restored, were built about a century later.

Submerged trees along the shore of the lake of Largoët

Submerged trees along the shore of the lake of Largoët

After my visit to the castle I decided to explore further and take a walk around the lake, through the pretty woodland which surrounds it. I spotted an elegant heron sitting on one of the tree branches which jut out from the water; stock still and quiet as I approached, it suddenly took off into the air as I walked away. Its wide wings flapping gracefully as it took to the sky, the heron finally broke the silence of the place with a single harsh craw as is disappeared over the treetops.

An elegant heron sits above the lake of Largoët

An elegant heron sits above the lake of Largoët

As a suitably magical end to my visit, I stumbled across the ruins of the castle’s chapel, now choked with bushes and grass, its foundations hidden beneath the undergrowth. Only one gable end remains standing to any significant height, its wall pierced with the elaborate tracery of a gothic window.

The ruined chapel next to the castle of Largoët

The ruined chapel next to the castle of Largoët

http://www.largoet.com/