The gloriously romantic inspiration for Marseille's annual Monte Cristo Challenge is, as the name hints, Alexandre Dumas' 1844 novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. In it, Dumas' hero, Edmond Dantès, escapes from the impregnable Château d'If by swimming to freedom.
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Hundreds of swimmers flock to Marseille every year to pay homage to Dantès in an annual swimming race from the island-fortress to the shore.
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 novel to find out just why). Thankfully, contestants in the Monte Cristo Challenge aren't required to perform that feat.
The route, too, is different. It begins on the northern shore of the If island, goes towards the Soudaras lighthouse and continues towards Endoume point.
It then passes 300 metres (328 yards) along the Corniche JF Kennedy, in front of the Anse de la Fausse Monnaie and La Plage du Prophète.
The 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 starts from the Château d'If on Sunday 23 June at 10.00am and is five km (three miles) long, but there are shorter races too throughout the weekend. A purse of 3,000€ awaits the winners 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 from 1 February on the Monte Cristo Challenge website or by mail (the form can be downloaded on the site). It's advisable not to delay, as the main race is open to a maximum of 750 swimmers.
Taking up the Monte Cristo Challenge costs 33€; 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.
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The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas père, pictured.
The Count of Monte Cristo (films)