La-Roche-aux-Fées is a 64ft (19.5m)-long passage grave, which is 20ft (6m) wide and 13ft (4m) high. The purple-hued stones were mined about 3000BC in the forest at Theil-de-Bretagne – 2.5 miles (4km) to the south of Essé; each one weighs several tonnes and the ensemble is thought to weigh around 500 tonnes. And that’s how the structure got its name – since the stones were so heavy, it was thought that fairies brought them to the site. The dolmen is aligned with the sun’s first rays at Winter Solstice (21 December).
Step back in time
The main reason to visit Essé, which is surrounded by verdant countryside, is to take a look around the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires, where you’ll find out about rural arts and traditions in the early 20th century. In Thourie, the Musée de la Ferme d’Autrefois has a large collection of old tractors and objects relating to now-forgotten trades.
If you want to get away from it all for a few hours, head to the lake at Marcillé-Robert. As well as opportunities for walking, boating and fishing, the site is a designated ornithology reserve since it attracts migratory and nesting birds; there’s an observation point on the road to La Guerche-de-Bretagne.
The Pays de la Roche-aux-Fées is made up of 19 communes, which are criss-crossed by 124 miles (200km) of walking and cycling trails. The 6.5 miles (10.5km) Château de la Rigaudière trail starts at the dolmen in Essé and takes you past ancient manor houses, alongside waterways and through shady woods.
Kids are not forgotten in Fairy Country. Enigmaparc in Janzé invites French-speaking youngsters to solve riddles and find their way through labyrinths across different countries and eras. There’s supervised swimming in the river in Brie in summer as well as games and a picnic site.