Individual pillars were etched from a sample embedding a single plane of GaN/AlN quantum dots, deposited by molecular beam epitaxy on a sapphire substrate. Pillars with diameters ranging from 0.1 to 5 mum were fabricated by electron-beam lithography and SiCl4 reactive ion etching. The PL from a single pillar could be measured by using a confocal microscope, with a spatial resolution of 600 nm. We report an intense PL signal from pillar diameters as small as 0.1 pm at room temperature. By increasing the power of the excitation laser from 0.05 to 200 muW, we induced a blue-shift of the PL energy peak from 2.38 to 2.86 eV, accompanied by a substantial broadening of the PL line. This is explained by the photo-induced screening of the internal electric field, which is close to 10 MV/cm in GaN/AlN heterostructures. Finally we report and tentatively explain a photodarkening effect, i.e., the progressive decrease of the PL intensity over two orders of magnitude, after one hour of continuous laser excitation. However, this effect does not seem to be correlated to the etching process. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.