The Meteora is a formation of monolithic, enormous in size, rounded boulders. A home to Eastern Orthodox monasteries located on top of the hills. Meteora is one of its kind, full of Greek heritage and spirituality. You don’t need to be religious person to admire the breathtaking landscape and rich in artefacts buildings. The place leaves you in awe-inspiring memories. Meteora is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
A bit of history
The rock formations date back 60 millions years ago when mixture of sand stone and conglomerate created the landscape. Water and wind further eroded the rocks to current shape. The inaccessible formations became a shelter to monks seeking retreat from Turkish occupation. The first monastery was created in the 14th century but monks were leaving in nearby caves since 11th. Access to the buildings was deliberately difficult. It took years of hard work and determination to build monasteries using ropes, folding ladders, nets and baskets to carry building materials to the hills’ top.
How to get there
Rocks of Meteora are perched above the town of Kalampaka (also called Kalambaka) and village of Kastraki. You can get there from Athens by bus, train, organized one day trip or by car. The area is so impressive, I would
recommend you to spend here more than one day. We rented a car at the airport in Athens then drove straight to Meteora, spent there two and a half days admiring all its beauty at own pace. Route between Athens and Kalampaka is mainly motorway and takes approximately
4hrs. Refer to my previous posts for more details on driving in Greece.
Kalampaka and Kastraki offers variety of accommodation to suite every pocket. All monasteries are easily accessible and spread over few kilometers distance.
We stayed in Hotel Theatro Odysseon on the outskirts of Kalampaka, just beneath the impressive rock formations. The location is great if you prefer a peaceful atmosphere but still within walking distance to the town centre if you would like to visit it. All hotel rooms are decorated differently and inspired by great play or movie. The building has been renovated recently so all amenities are in top notch condition. The hotel staff is absolutely amazing, creating warm and friendly atmosphere. Our My Fair Lady room was very classy and cosy, with overlooking the town views and with fast wi-fi. I would highly recommend this boutique hotel to everyone.
The variety of good restaurants and taverns that can be found in Kalampaka and Kastraki is another advantage of this region.
The one worth highlighting and recommending is Meteoron Panorama. Located just 2 minutes walk from our hotel. The restaurant has jaw dropping view of Meteora rocks. Make sure to be there just before the sunset to watch the late sunrays lighting the rocks during sun descend. Food served here is tasty and very reasonable priced. Try local wine and wild mushrooms – the region's speciality. Staff is exceptionally attentive and extremely friendly.
If you are visiting monasteries by car, take a detour to Eagle’s Nest restaurant in Vlachava Kalambakas for a lunch with breathtaking mountain view. For direction look for a sing located along the road connecting St. Stephen’s and Holy Trinity monasteries. The place is quite remote and located about 7 km up the mountains. Be wary of obstacle like potholes or school of goats crossing the road making the journey even more interesting. The restaurant itself is a simple, family run tavern with decent food, spectacular views and countryside, peaceful atmosphere. It is worth to add few extra kilometres and visit it.
In the past, 24 of monasteries were a home to orthodox monks who used large basket and nets to haul up people and goods. Lifting ropes were only replaced ‘when Lord let them break’. Only 6 of them still function
and are the biggest tourist attraction of the central Greece. Visiting them nowadays is very simple due to steps and walkways craved into the rocks plus connected bridges.
Appropriate clothing is required while visiting the sacred places. Sleeveless tops and shorts are permitted - women should wear long skirts. Don’t be worried too much though, skirts and shawls are available at the entrance for everyone who came unprepared.
The same, small entry fee of €3 is collected in every monastery but check the schedule out because opening hours and days may differ between them.
If you like hiking then Meteora will keep you busy for few days. If you are short on time though then - in my opinion - car is your best choice. We managed to visit 4 monasteries on the first day and the fifth one on the second, making few photo breaks in-between cat’s cuddling and admiring beauty of this area.
You won’t find any restaurant close by monasteries - only stalls with snacks are available. Wear comfortable shoes, sunscreen and a hat because - even in the shoulder season – temperatures are high. We visited
Meteora in early June and the temperature outside was 32degC.
Most people - especially on the one day tours - visit the biggest monasteries only while my personal favourite one - the Holy Trinity Monastery - is a bit forgotten. It is smaller than the rest and with no museum inside but kept the atmosphere of a modest worship place. On top of that, the surroundings and especially unobstructed views of all boulders around are incredibly beautiful from here.
We started with St. Stephen’s Holy Monastery - the easiest accessible one with only small bridge separating her from road. The monastery is run by nuns and consist of two cathedrals, full of flowers courtyard and spectacular Valley of Thessaly view. Few parking spaces are available outside the main entrance but you can leave your car along the road also. Small food stall is located next to the parking. Monastery opens between 9.30 – 13.30 and 15.30-17.30 and is closed on Mondays.
The next one on our way was the Holy Trinity Monastery with the most dramatic location and - as I had mentioned before – my absolutely favourite one. Leave your car along the road and follow down the pathway leading towards the steep rock. Then climb up the 140 off craved steps to reach the very top of the rock. The monastery is perched on magnificent but really steep boulder what makes it the most exhausting to reach from all monasteries around, but once you get to the top - the panorama is spectacular. There is no museum and most of its historical treasures had been looted during WWII, but you can still admire the 18th century frescoes. Also, the very modest style makes the place more authentic. If you are being tired of overcrowded neighbourhood, I can guarantee, you will find a bit of tranquillity here. What makes it even more interesting is a fact that one of the main scenes in the James Bond movie - For Your Eyes Only – had been filmed here. It is open between 9.00-17.00 and closed on Thursdays.
On the way to Varlaam Monastery we stopped by an unoccupied rock formation to take panoramic photographs of the whole area. My advise is to wear comfortable shoes because there are few places along the road worth stopping by and hiking just few steps up to admire the beauty of nature.
Varlaam Monastery is the second biggest in Meteora. Accessible from parking area by bridge and beautifully winding up stairs. The monastery consists of hospital, museum, chapels and courtyard with nice views. Parking area is quite spacious with food stall and souvenir shop around. The monastery is open between 9.00-16.00 and closed on Fridays.
The most famous of all the Great Meteoron Monastery was the last one we visited on that day but - if your time is limited – you should visit it first. The biggest, the oldest and the most important of all monasteries perched on the most imposing rock. Among chapels, main cathedral and fascinating views from the courtyard, this monastery serves also as the main museum depicting the history of the region. Don’t miss captivating sacristy containing multiple shelves filled with skulls of the monks who lived there over the years. Parking area is quite big with food stall around plus multiple steps craved in rock are leading to the very top. Monastery is open between 9.00-17.00 and closed on Tuesdays.
We visited Roussanou Monastery on the second day of our visit to Meteora. This is a small monastery and is run by the nuns. It has two levels so in order to visit the very top part, you have to walk few
steps and then cross a bridge with some dramatic drop offs. Views from the very top is amazing and - if you are a fridge magnets collector - you will have a chance to buy a unique, hand painted by one of the nuns magnet, with your initials on it. There are
few parking spaces available along the road. Just park your car and walk down the main road to amazing rock formation and take some photos. The monastery is open between 9.00-14.00 and is closed on Wednesdays.
St.Nicholas Anapafsas Monastery is situated very close to Kastraki village. The monastery has very interesting construction due to limited area of the rock’s top. The place was built vertically and consists of three levels. It is open between 9.00-16.00 and closed on Fridays. We did not visit this particular monastery but you can find more information online.
Magical, spectacular, glorious, majestic, extraordinary – there are no words or photos which could describe this place fully. The best way to experience it, is with your own eyes only
The region offers also more extreme activities like hiking, rock climbing, rafting, mountain biking plus maybe less extreme but so worth it - the sunset tours.