The Monte Cristo Challenge

The Monte Cristo ChallengeThe gloriously romantic inspiration for Marseille's annual Monte Cristo Challenge is, as the name hints, Alexandre Dumas' 1844 novel, The Count of Monte Cristo.

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Its hero, Edmond Dantès, escapes from the impregnable Château d'If - where he has been unjustly sentenced to life imprisonment - by swimming to freedom.

Hundreds of swimmers flock to Marseille every year to pay homage to him in an annual swimming race from the island-fortress to the shore. The dates for the 2014 Monte Cristo Challenge are 21 and 22 June.

However, the race doesn't replicate the exact conditions of Dantès' swim in the book. He makes for the islands of Tiboulen and Maïre - having first struggled his way out of a body bag (you'll have to read The Count of Monte Cristo to find out just why).

Thankfully, contestants in the Monte Cristo Challenge aren't required to perform the same feat.

The route, too, is different from that in the novel. It begins on the northern shore of the If island, goes towards the Soudaras lighthouse and continues towards Endoume point.

It then passes for 300 metres / 328 yards along the Corniche JF Kennedy, in front of the Anse de la Fausse Monnaie and La Plage du Prophète.

Map of the route for the Monte Cristo ChallengeThe race ends at the Plage du Grand Roucas Blanc in the Prado beach park just south of Marseille, which is probably the best spot to watch the race as a spectator.

The race is five km / three miles long, but there are shorter races too throughout the weekend. A purse of 3,000 €uros awaits the male and female winners of the main race and each entrant gets a souvenir T-shirt.

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How to Enter the Monte Cristo Challenge

You can enrol for the race in early February on the Monte Cristo Challenge website (the form can be downloaded on the site). It's highly advisable not to delay, as the main race is open to a maximum of 700 swimmers and in the past places have been snapped up quickly. In fact such was the demand in 2014 that the website crashed, forcing the organisers to extend the enrolment period.

Alexandre Dumas pereTaking up the Monte Cristo Challenge costs 35€; the shorter races are cheaper and are limited to 300 entrants. The Junior Challenge, open to swimmers aged 12-15, is free.

This being France, all contestants must be in possession of a recent medical certificate attesting to their fitness. You can swim either with or without flippers (there is a 30-second handicap for the former).

Sadly in 2013 the main race in the Monte Cristo Challenge had to be cancelled because of very high winds. In 2012 the maximum number of contestants entered and most of them did the swim in under two hours. The winners were Damien Cattin-Vidal, who completed the course in 51' 19'', and, in the women's section, Beatrice Pineau (57' 34''). 102 swimmers did not finish the race.

Find further reading and viewing on Amazon

The Count of Monte Cristo image!by Alexandre Dumas père, pictured.

The Count of Monte Cristo (films) image!

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