The Monte Cristo ChallengeThe romantic inspiration for Marseille's annual Défi de Monte Cristo (Monte Cristo Challenge) swimming race is, as the name hints, Alexandre Dumas' great classic 1844 novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. logoClick here to book a hotel in Marseille

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

Thousands of swimmers flock to Marseille every year to pay homage to him in an annual race from the island-fortress to the shore.

Created in 1999, it has become one of the most important sea swimming events in the annual calendar. The dates for the 2019 Monte Cristo Challenge are 21-23 June.

However, the race doesn't replicate the exact conditions of Edmond 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.

Map of the route for the Monte Cristo ChallengeThe route, too, is different from the one 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 the plage du Prophète beach. This is a very beautiful strip of coast.

The race ends at the plage du Petit Roucas Blanc in the Prado beach park just south of Marseille, where there's a pop-up village, the Village Monte Cristo. This is the best spot to watch the race as a spectator.

Alexandre Dumas pereThe race is five km / three miles long. There are shorter races too throughout the weekend. A generous purse awaits the male and female winners of the main race and each entrant gets a much coveted souvenir T-shirt.

And don't worry if you're not in the race: there's plenty of action on land too. You can usually count on a disco at the Village Monte Cristo with DJs and live music.

Pictured: Alexandre Dumas père, the writer whose legendary novel inspired it all.

How to Enter the Monte Cristo Challenge

You can enrol for the race in early January on the Monte Cristo Challenge website (the form can be downloaded on the site).

You can swim either with or without flippers. Until recently there was a single race with a handicap for flipper-wearers but now, in order to accommodate more swimmers, the Challenge consists of separate races. Various shorter races have gradually been added too, extending the whole challenge to a three-day event.

Still, it's highly advisable not to delay with your application. Places are very limited and in the past (as with the equally iconic Marseille-Cassis half-marathon in the autumn) they have been snapped up instantly. Over 4000 swimmers from 30 different countries participate in the race.

Taking up the Monte Cristo Challenge costs 53€ in 2019; the shorter races are cheaper. All contestants must be in possession of a recent medical certificate attesting to their fitness.

Bear in mind that the Monte Cristo challenge is at the mercy of local weather conditions. In 2013 the race had to be cancelled altogether because of very high winds as did the events on the first day in 2018. In other years a shorter route has been offered when this has happened.

Find further reading and viewing on Amazon

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

The Count of Monte Cristo (films)


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