10 of the world's most scenic marathons

Harriet Letherbarrow
11 June 2014

Not all marathons are run on concrete and follow a city circuit. Some take you across arctic glaciers, over desert plains and through some of the most spectacular scenery the world has to offer, says Harriet Letherbarrow

1. North Pole Marathon
When? April
Widely regarded as 'the world's coolest marathon', this extreme race is not for the faint-hearted. Competitors must steel their nerves for sub-zero temperatures and numbing exhaustion as they battle their way through 26 miles of the world's most stunning desolation.

2. Volcano Marathon, Chile
When? November 
Blistering heat, low oxygen levels and live volcanoes — sound like fun? It won't just be the altitude (14,682 feet) that takes your breath away on the world's highest marathon; views of the 10 volcanoes set in the heart of the deadly Atacama Desert along the way should do it.

3. The Athens Marathon
When? November
Follow in the fabled footsteps of Athenian messenger Phidippides, who unknowingly invented the marathon over 2,500 years ago. In this modern marathon, which is 20 years old this year, contestants race into the ancient heart of Athens, where they are welcomed by bronze statues and the looming shadow of the Acropolis. 

4. Le Marathon du Médoc, France
When? September 
This late-summer marathon in the Bordeaux region is a gourmand's paradise. Costume-clad runners sip the finest Médoc wine along the way and are invigorated by oysters and ice cream. Five star refreshments are offered along the marathon route, which winds around over 50 stunning chateaux.

5. Swiss Alpine Running Festival
When? July 
The highest mountain marathon in Europe takes place in the Swiss Alps, around the town of Davos. There are a range of distances, including a bucket-list-level 48-mile 'ultra marathon'. Racers navigate lakes and viaducts as they cross a spectacular fairy-tale landscape and journey through scraggy Alpine pastures.

6. Great Wall Marathon, China
When? May
Most people walk the Great Wall on a visit to Beijing, but every year 2,500 brave souls decide to run it instead — including its 5,146 steps. Competitors choose from a six or a seven-day package that also allows them time to explore both rural and urban China. 

7. Two Oceans Marathon, South Africa 
When? April
This South African spectacular has earned the reputation of world's most beautiful marathon — and rightly so. Named after a 35-mile 'ultra' route that takes runners from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, alongside beaches and across bays, the beautiful surroundings make every mile worth the effort. 

8. Snowdonia Marathon, Wales 
When? October 
A home grown marathon set in the UK's magnificent Snowdonia National Park. Runners steadily make their way towards the mountain village of Llanberis. With a route circling the foothills of Mount Snowdon, this marathon is a great way to see this dramatic natural landscape.

9. Big Five Marathon
When? June 
Take a walk on the wild side — literally — with this marathon route around South Africa's northern Limpopo province. This unbelievable race takes contestants right through the middle of a game reserve, with absolutely nothing between runners and the big five: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino.

10. The Gozo Half Marathon 
When? April 
One for those softies that can only manage a (still respectable) 13 miles. Most commonly known as the island where Odysseus was held captive by a nymph in Homer's epic, this small rural island next to Malta plays host to hundreds of ambitious runners every year. Its half marathon takes you through the ancient town of Xaghra and across the island's scenic hills.  

More travel adventures: 10 of the world's best city running spots and six surprising surf spots in Africa.