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Enigmatic and timeless, megaliths hold secrets of prehistoric knowledge and beliefs that we like to speculate about but will never fully decipher. To modern druids, these stones are part of the sacred heritage that links us with our ancestors. For historians and archaeologists, they have answered some questions but raised many more. And throughout the ages, story-tellers and poets have found them a source of inspiration.

Menhirs and dolmens are to be found all over France, with a high concentration in the belt from Brittany, down through Vendée, to Languedoc. Menhirs (Breton: ‘maen’ = stone, ‘hir’ = long) stand singly, in pairs, or in alignments of any number from a modest few to several thousand. The tallest in France is the Menhir d’Avrillé in Vendée, towering seven metres above ground. Numerous theories have attempted to explain the origins of standing stones, none totally convincing; but it seems probable that they had ritualistic significance. Dolmens (Breton: ‘taol’, mutating to ‘daol’, = table) served as prehistoric burial chambers and consist of upright stones with horizontal slabs across the top. There are over 4,000 dolmens in France.

You don’t need to be a poet or an archaeologist to find megalithic monuments fascinating. Some of the following examples are world-famous, others are relatively unknown, but each one is located in a delightful area of western France that will beckon visitors to explore further.


The Presqu’Ile de Crozon is a perfect setting for standing stones, especially with rising sea mists lending an ethereal quality to the rugged beauty of the landscape. Within walking distance of the peninsula’s tip at Camaret are the Menhirs de Lagatiar. There are 84 stones on this restored site, arranged in two lines at right-angles to each other, with the highest stone measuring about 2.5 metres.


Once every 100 years, on the Day of the Stones, the Menhirs de Lagatiar bathe in the ocean at midnight, leaving unguarded the treasure buried beneath them. The forfeit, should men raid this treasure, is one human life. On the appointed date the wicked Jakez took his friend and rival in love Ewen with him to steal the treasure – taking a five-leaf clover for his own protection, and conveniently forgetting to warn Ewen about the forfeit. When the stones returned from the sea and demanded payment, Ewen fell to his knees in terror and prayed while Jakez searched his pockets in vain for his talisman ... and Ewen survived to keep the treasure and marry the girl.


Dolmens composed of a series of vertical and horizontal stones with a constant height are known as long barrows or allées couvertes. The largest one in France is La Roche aux Fées at Essé, near Rennes, which is nearly 20 metres long, and, unusually, high enough inside for visitors to stand upright. To create it, prehistoric man transported more than 40 stones, each weighing up to 45 tonnes, over distances of at least four kilometres.


This is the biggest and most famous megalithic site anywhere in the world, and is truly amazing. Some four thousand standing stones extend over a distance of almost four kilometres and are carefully arranged in four separate alignments: Menec, Kermario, Kerlescan and Petit Menec. Legend tells us that the stones are an army of Roman soldiers petrified by St Cornelius.

Guided tours are available and access is restricted; see for details.


Also known as ‘les Minches de Gargantua’, these two stones stand facing each other in the village of Follet, near Rosnay-sur-Yon. At 3.5m and 3.66m the Pierres Follet are dwarfs compared to some Vendéen megaliths, but they have a giant place in French folklore. The nearby Chaos du Piquet, a site of outstanding natural beauty, is equally steeped in legend.


One of Gargantua’s favourite pastimes was playing pétanque with boulders near Rosnay. Although he meant no harm, his careless aim claimed many casualties amongst the villagers, their roofs, their sheep and their cattle. The shepherds’ dogs tried to chase the giant away, but to Gargantua the dogs’ teeth were mere irritations, like fleabites to a cat. One day two exceptionally fierce and persistent dogs buried their fangs in his ankles, drawing blood and refusing to be shaken off. Gargantua hurled a massive stone at each of them, but the dogs dodged and kept on biting until the giant fled, never to return. The two stones remain upright, embedded in the ground at Follet, and local dogs take particular delight in watering them.


A visit to Pornic and a stroll along its coastal path – part of the Sentier des Douaniers that runs from Saint-Nazaire to Mont Saint Michel – provides not only breathtaking Atlantic views but also an opportunity to inspect a trio of dolmens: Mousseaux, Joselière and Pierre Creuse. Some ten kilometres away at Saint-Pierre-en-Retz you can find half-a-dozen menhirs spread across three sites (Pierre le Matz, Platènes and Chevanou), and another stands nearby at La Riveraie.


The Dolmen des Erves holds the distinction of being the oldest listed monument in the Mayenne. During excavations at the site a pick made from deer antler was discovered, from which scientists have established that the dolmen was constructed during the fourth century B.C. It lies at the edge of the charming medieval village of Sainte Suzanne, one of the Mayenne’s ‘Petites Cités de Caractère’ and listed amongst ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’.


Near the cemetery on the outskirts of the village of Passais-la-Conception, the Devil’s Table is an allée couverte at the edge of a forest. A wander into the forest brings you to more megaliths and perhaps an ideal picnic spot on a hot day. Passais is one of the villages featured in the discovery trail ‘Au Pays de Lancelot du Lac’, a 120-kilometre circuit created around places in Manche, Orne and Mayenne with Arthurian connections.


This allée couverte nestles amongst gorse and bracken on a remote, often windswept plateau high above Vauville, on the Cap de la Hague promontory. The steepish climb to reach the spot rewards you with panoramic views across the immense sandy bay far below, sweeping away towards Cap de Flamanville. A plaque beside the monument relates how, in the 1830s, locals stole stones to build a bridge, but were compelled by the authorities to return them.



Two megalithic sites stand along the D176 just outside Colombiers-sur-Seulles, a small village near Caen. One is a tumulus (a barrow, or burial mound), a rare and impressively elaborate construction that has recently been developed into a visitor attraction. The other monument, the Menhir des Demoiselles, is not signposted but can be found at the roadside at the entrance to Colombiers. The name of the stone, and its curious indentations, are explained in local legend.



It has been suggested that menhirs were ancient fertility symbols. There are several legends linked to this supposition, one of which concerns the Menhir des Demoiselles at Colombiers. It was said that if maidens looking for a husband, or bachelors looking for a wife, climbed up this stone and placed a coin on the top, they would be married within twelve months. Although the menhir is only two metres high, clambering up would require a certain amount of effort; and one must assume that fear of the resident deity prevented casual passers-by from helping themselves to the coins left by the young hopefuls.

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