Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Château d'If & Frioul Islands: Paying homage to the Count of Monte Cristo

What remains of Château d'If 

Château d'If, the "Alcatraz" of the Mediterranean, rests on a 3 hectar island called Île d’If which is approximately 3.5 kilometers west of the Vieux Port in Marseille. The smallest island in the Frioul archipelago, If can be spotted from a distance from its lighthouse and what remains of the Château. Before the Château d'If and the Île d’If was immortalised in 1844 through the pages of the literary classic, Le Comte de Monte Cristo (The Count of Monte Cristo) by Alexandre Dumas, the Château d'If was a fortress. Built in 1524-31 on the orders of King François I, the 16th-century fortress eventually was turned into a prison due to its ideal isolated location and dangerous offshore currents. 

A view of Marseille from Île d’If 
Throughout the years the prison housed political prisoners, along with hundreds of Protestants in the 17th-century and in the 18th-century heros of the French Revolution. But of course the prison's most famous inmate was the romantic fictional literary character Edmond Dantès, i.e., the Count of Monte Cristo. After fourteen years locked in prison (unjustly), Dantès makes a daring escape from the island, finds the burried treasure on the Island of Montecristo (thanks to his only friend and prison-mate Abbé Faria) and with his new found wealth makes his way for Marseille to take revenge on all those who have wronged him. Today you can visit the Château d'If and take a guided tour. The prison visit ends at a small hole, through which the Count of Monte Cristo was said to have escaped to freedom! 

Frioul If Express boats leave for Château d'If from the Vieux Port of Marseille. Over 15 daily departures in summer, fewer in winter (€10 return, 20 minutes). The Château d'If is open from 9.30am-6.30pm May-Sep, to 4.45pm Tue-Sun Oct-Apr.

In the warmer months, many locals and visitors alike take their sailboats, speed boats, banana boats, tug boats and yachts for a day (or days) around the Frioul archipelago. The archipelago is made up of four limestone islands: Pomègues, Ratonneau, If and Tiboulen. The Frioul Islands are home to many rocky inlets, beaches and sandy creeks. Between the islands are many different places to anchor your boat making it the perfect location to chill out, swim and enjoy the warm Mediterranean sea and sun. 

Whether you are hitching a ride back from Château d'If or Frioul Islands with smugglers like Edmond Dantès, or taking the world's fastest schooner...just remember to hold on and don't fall out of the boat!  

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