I often come across places online or on Instagram, where it’s one look and I immediately want to see it for myself. Meteora was one of those. Over and over, I would see the shots of a cliff top monastery, over a valley and a mountain backdrop. It looked magical, almost mythical. So when I found cheap flights to Greece last December, Meteora was at the top of my list of plans. I knew next to nothing about the place, other than it was in Greece and I wanted to go there.
For example, I didn’t know that Meteora wasn’t the name of a town or a monastery, but moreso a collection of monasteries. Hell, I only thought there was one there, but turns out Meteora has 6 main monasteries of Greek Orthodox faith and plenty more ruins. I didn’t know that Meteora means “suspended in the air”, referring to the magnificent geological formations on which the monasteries are perched. Lastly, I didn’t know how to get there or where to stay. In fact, the nearest urban settlements to Meteora are the small city of Kalambaka and the neighbouring town of Kastraki. Kalambaka is connected to Athens by both the train line that spans the country and frequent buses.
So I chose to stay in Kastraki and after arriving there mid-afternoon went for a wander. It soon became apparent how small Kastraki was, with little to see or do in town. Having spotted a low-lying monastery nearby, I decided to make my way up while there was still some daylight. The monastery itself (not one of the main 6 Meteora monasteries) wasn’t particularly exciting, but it had great views of Kastraki and showed how small the town was in comparison to the rocky landscape. Further up through the forest I reached the Adrachti pillar, a fascinating rock formation lying in on a spur between two high rocky cliffs. Great way to whet my appetite before the real hiking started.
The next morning I set out from Kastraki heading north to start exploring the monasteries. As I left the edges of town, I passed bare grapevines and the road started to head into forest. Everywhere I looked the countryside was decked out in the colours of autumn, despite the brisk winter weather that had me rugged up.
My first target was the low-lying Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas, but I could also spot the Roussanou sitting perched out in the distance. At the gate off the road, a local woman sat selling arts and crafts, clearly not seeing much business come by. After a steep walk up the road and a further climb up its imposing stairs I was inside the historic, petite monastery. Inside was an incredibly lavish and highly decorated chapel that looked like it had been expertly preserved. Sadly I couldn’t take photos of the chapel, but I was able to take photos once I reached the rooftop and saw the exquisite views over the town of Kastraki and the vibrant countryside.
Once I was finished with the Monastery of St Nicholas, I pressed onward up the main road until I came to the hiking trail that would take me to the Great Meteoron Monastery. The trail, littered with autumn leaves everywhere, led me into the forest and worked its way up higher and higher. I was surprised how dense the woods were and how narrow the trail was considering it led to a well known tourist attraction, but it certainly made the hike feel more intimate.
Eventually I reached the top of the path at the foot of the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron. I was a little pained to realise that, even still, there were more stairs required to actually get inside. But I got there in the end and it was well worth it. Compared to the Monastery of St Nicholas, Great Meteoron was considerably larger, with a small museum on the region’s history, gorgeous frescos and a stunning chapel that definitely had a heavy spiritual ambience. Plus, again the views from the monastery’s terraces were terrific, particularly out between a gap in the cliffs towards the monasteries of Varlaam and Roussanou.
Leaving Great Meteoron I headed along the ridge line to the Holy Monastery of Varlaam. Before reaching Varlaam I found a ledge nearby with a great view and spent sometime capturing the awesome scenery and trying to line up as many monasteries as I could in one shot. Once I got to Varlaam, I opted against paying to go inside Varlaam having already been inside two monasteries that morning; plus I wanted a break from all the stairs.
I continued on toward the Holy Monastery of Roussanou, probably the most picturesque monastery of Meteora and most likely the one that inspired me to visit the place to begin with. Walking along the road, I was passed by cars with families and a bus full of school kids but came across very few other people walking. From the road you could see down over the treetops and out over the valley, a truly spectacular scene.
When I reached the turn off for the Roussanou Monastery, I decided to follow the road up the hill looking for a vantage point above Roussanou. A top another rocky outcropping I, along with a few local stray cats, was able to take in everything from a new angle, different monasteries lining up again. It’s curious how different they can all look from above, below or a different side.
As the day grew on, so did my hunger and I decided that 4 out of 6 monasteries was a pretty good effort for the day. I proceeded to take the forest trail down past Roussanou and found the main road again, got back in to Kastraki and got myself a souvlaki.
For my last day in Meteora, the aim was to reach the last 2 of the 6 monasteries; the two that lie out east near the city of Kalambaka. After walking from Kastraki over to Kalambaka and then making my way up the city’s back streets, I found myself walking past some small olive groves and back into the wild. Unlike in Kastraki, here there were locals going for walks and running along the trails that led up into the hillside.
Without too much sweat, I was up at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity and enjoying its rooftop views of Kalambaka and the wider valley in which the city sits. Then, it was a short walk over to the Holy Monastery of St Stephen which was undergoing renovation work at the time. Figuring I had now seen all 6 monasteries, I decided to try and find the elusive angle of Roussanou Monastery that I’d missed out on the previous day.
After quite a lot more walking along the road that weaves through the hillside of Meteora, I found a rocky outcrop that had the view I was after. Hundreds of photos later, I was done with the camera and able to simply sit down and take in the truly remarkable vista in front of me. Not sure how long I spent sitting there marvelling at the mountains, the autumn colours, the monasteries perched so precariously. You know it’s a good view when you’re able to get lost in contemplation like that.
Once I was done being all pensive, I continued on and took a short cut that brought me down to the road below Roussanou and back to Meteora. With that, my grand adventure of hiking Meteora was at an end. I could easily have spent another 3 days exploring the lesser seen ruins but I’m still very content with all I got to see in this wonderful place. Heartily recommended if you ever get the chance when in Greece. Peace!
Have you had the opportunity to visit the monasteries of Meteora? Did you choose to hike? What was your experience like? Please share in the comments below.
This post is part of Weekend Travel Inspiration at Albom Adventures. Please head on over for more great posts.