© Emmanuel Berthier

Cairn de Barnenez

Europe’s largest mausoleum

Overlooking the Bay of Morlaix, the Cairn de Barnenez is the largest megalithic mausoleum in Europe and also one of the world’s oldest – it predates Egypt’s pyramids. At 246ft (75m) long and 82ft (25m) at its widest, the stone burial chamber is a must-visit for fans of ancient history and mystery.

Discover Cairn de Barnenez

The structure, once covered in earth, looks a bit like a Hammerhead shark with stepped sides, which rise to 16ft (5m). There are actually two burial chambers – the first one dates back to around 4500BC and is made of dolerite, while an addition made a few hundred years later was built using granite from the Île de Sterec.

Tomb raider

Inside, there are 11 passage tombs although the cairn’s interior is not open to the public. As a result of the site being used as a quarry until the 1950s, some of the chambers are partially exposed. The cairn was restored between 1954 and 1968, when excavations found Neolithic pottery, axes and arrowheads as well as Bronze Age pottery; some of these finds can be seen in the visitor centre. French speakers can enjoy a 45-minute guided tour of the site while written documentation is available in English for a 30-minute self-guided tour.

Other ancient sites

Symbols carved on the stones in the chambers and passages – wavy lines, axes, bows – resemble those found at other megalithic sites in Brittany. It’s worth driving down to the Gulf of Morbihan to see the Cairn de Gavrinis, the alignments in Carnac and the site at Locmariaquer, where you’ll encounter what was once Europe’s tallest standing stone.

Did you know

The estimated weight of the cairn is 12-14,000 tonnes.

Market day and meanders

Barnenez is about 3.7 miles (6km) from the town of Plouezoc’h, which has a lively market on Wednesday evenings from the end of June to September. The GR34 old customs officers’ path runs around the coast from here and the tourist office has designed three walks ranging from 5 miles (8km) to 6 miles (10km) in the area: No. 2 takes you past the cairn and the islands in the Bay of Morlaix while the remaining two routes take in churches, fountains and manor houses.

Official website of tourism in Brittany