Meteora is one of the largest and most important complexes of Greek Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mt Athos. Meteora means “middle of the sky”, “suspended in air” or “in the heavens above” and is comprised of six monasteries precariously built on top of sandstone rock pillars near the Pindus Mountains in central Greece. Recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988, Meteora should be a must see on your next visit to the cradle of western civilization.
Caves in the vicinity of Metéora were inhabited continuously between 50,000 and 5,000 years ago. The oldest known example of a man-made structure, a stone wall that blocked two-thirds of the entrance to the Theopetra Cave, was constructed 23,000 years ago, probably as a barrier against cold winds (the earth was experiencing an ice age at the time). Many Paleolithic and Neolithic artifacts have been found within the caves.
In the 9th century AD, an ascetic group of hermit monks moved up to the ancient pinnacles; they were the first people to inhabit Metéora since the Neolithic Era. They lived in hollows and fissures in the rock towers, some as high as 1800 ft (550m) above the plain. This great height, combined with the sheerness of the cliff walls, kept away all but the most determined visitors. Initially, the hermits led a life of solitude, meeting only on Sundays and special days to worship and pray in a chapel built at the foot of a rock known as Dhoupiani. (See above pic)
Although the exact date of the establishment of the monasteries is unknown, by the late 11th century a basic monastic state had formed called the Skete of Stagoi that was centered around the still-standing church of Theotokos (“mother of god”) and by the end of the 12th century an ascetic community had moved to Meteora.
I chose to stay at Hostel Meteora located in a small town named Trikala 20km outside of Meteora for my first 2 nights (13 Euro a night), but you can get 10% off and an arrival gift by showing them your “Best of the Balkans” passport cover. You can easily access Meteora by local bus for 2-3 Euro per ride and they run almost every hour during the peak seasons, though they have different schedules for the weekend (so be sure to check before you leave). Once you arrive in the valley with the sandstone rock formations protruding from the earth you’ll soon realize why this place was chosen by the monks and hermits before them.
After visiting the town of Kalambaka at the base of the rock formations I realized that this would be a much better place to stay for accessibility to the rocks. Walking around for 10 min I found several comparable places to stay in which I’d have my own private room, bathroom and TV for 12.50 Euro a night and I settled on one located in the top floor of a tavern. With a more centrally located room I was able to access the rocks when I wanted, for instance at sunrise and in order to see the stars at night time when the local bus service was no longer running.
After a night there, I moved once again to a smaller and even better located town called Kastraki. There is a camping place called Camping Vrachos (7.50 Euro a night) there offering a great place to set up your tent. Free Wifi, a swimming pool with filter (I’m not sure why they advertise it that way, but they do) and some of the best showers I’ve had in Greece are included in the price. I stayed there for two nights then I had to move back to Trikala due to a large storm that was moving in that night.
You will be captivated as I was once you have walked through the amazing rock formations that make up Meteora. With goat trails heading every which way you can easily get lost if you don’t have a map (and even if you do). I recommend getting a detailed hiking map. I hiked around for several days getting lost in the valley and on the rocks and even following trails, I would find myself at a cliff or a wall of rocks and depending on the situation I would scale them and the trail wouldn’t get much better. This place has been a rock climbers destination for some years now and you can even book some climbing excursions in Kalampaka. If you plan to do some hiking in or around the rocks bring water and food. There are no places that sell food on the rocks except for at the largest monastery. They have a small food truck and it isn’t cheap as you can imagine, so bring some provisions.
Every where you look you can see the natural beauty of this place and exactly why this place was chosen by the monks. There are hidden gems everywhere when you have time to explore the valleys between the rocks, caves, turtles, wildlife and stunning views of the surrounding Pindos mountains.
Aside from the Monestaries there are several other things to see in or near Trikala, such as hiking in the Pindos mountains (they even have refuges in which to sleep), Trikala fort, Stone bridge gate, Koursoum Mosque, and Paliokarya’s stone bridge. Make time to explore the young, affordable and vibrant city that is Trikala and have some Raki and a fresh pork Gyro for me.