I’ve never been one for ‘tourist destinations’ however I completely understand and enjoy visiting them when their history or significance has earned them such status.
And outside of the enormous French city Marseille sits Château d’If, constructed by King Francis the 1st between 1524 and 1531 the menacing mound of rock was initially a fortress and stronghold against Turkish and Spanish invasions of the premiere port in France, Marseille. As with many sea-locked strongholds it actually never saw battle and eventually began a new era as a truly imposing prison.
In 1844 Alexandre Dumas opted to make the rock the setting for his novel The Count of Monte Cristo which became an immediate, international success. Its hero Edmond Dantès and his compatriot Abbé Faria were imprisoned inside the structure until Dantès eventually tunnelled through the surly stone and became the first to escape the island.
When you venture onto the island the air is imposing, but not excessively so like some sites I’ve seen where heinous crimes were committed. Without treading into paranormal territory I believe that every place has a feeling, call it what you may but it come from the smell, the thickness of the air and that untraceable impression that simply affects you, although you can’t always ascertain why.
The d’If prison actually held its incarcerated in ranks of importance (and of course, wealth). The monied prisoners inhabited the cells at the top of the fortress and were even offered the luxury of a fireplace (I don’t even have a fireplace! In fact I don’t know anyone who does) whereas their poor counterparts lived in dank stone with very little. I have to admit it’s a bit ingenious, making prisoners pay for their own incarceration..
Today Château d’If is easily accessed by visitors from far and wide. It’s not a spot for those wanting thrills and spills but if you enjoy history and the architecture of old, check it out.
– ferry, departs from the left hand side of Vieux Port (left hand as though you’re looking out into the marina, not back at the city from the water)
Cost 10,10€ for Château d’If OR Frioul / Cost 15,20€ for BOTH Château d’If and Frioul
Check the schedule before you do as the boats depart precisely on time and fill up quickly depending on the time of year.
Choose your ticket for just Château d’If or including neighbouring island Friol, a lovely spot for a hike, picnic and bit of boat spotting.
– comfortable clothing
– walking shoes (seriously no heels, thongs are fine but heels will probably trip you up badly)
– Euro (for souvenirs and entrance fees)
– snacks (there’s no eatery or even corner shop!)
DO / SEE / TRY / BUY:
– traipse your way up the Château all the way to the top and look back on the port of Marseille, it really is extensive, and a little menacing…
– stick your head into the little hole signifying Edmond Dantès escape route and sneak a peak at yourself on the closed circuit feed operating from within. Interesting watching yourself in a deep, dark hole
– pack a picnic and hop off the ferry at Island Frioul. Hike your way through the little seaside strip and around to the far side of the island, pull up a spot of cushy green grass carpet and crack open the bubbly and baguette
– don’t expect that the tour offered for 5€ is available in any language but French. If you don’t ‘parlez Français’, read up on your history before you visit, otherwise you might have a few issues truly integrating with the place
– the souvenir range isn’t fabulously interesting so if you fancy a postcard, go for it, I also picked up a basic version of “The Man in the Iron Mask” to assist in my French-learning
– if you need water, pop outside the Château and off to the right where the toilet block is located, you’ll find a bubbler – free of charge!
So if you’re planning to pop into Marseille on your next sojourn to the South of France I recommend you stop into Château d’If, interesting, menacing, and very fascinating.