Why a Trip to Meteora Should Be at the Top of Your Wish List
A trip to Meteora in Greece offers a unique blend of spectacular landscapes, dramatic history, awe-inspiring architecture, and admiration for man’s resilience and ingenuity.
- Never heard of Meteora? You are not alone…
Most travelers to Greece focus on Athens and popular islands like Santorini, Mykonos, or Crete and largely overlook the rest of the country. Nonetheless, every time I convince clients to include a trip to Meteora in their travel plans, the overwhelming feedback is that this had been an absolute highlight.
- A true hidden gem in the heart of Greece
To go to Greece and not visit Meteora would be like going to Turkey and skipping Cappadocia! Tucked away in the Thessaly region in central Greece, far away from the busy coasts and islands, Meteora’s mountain-top monasteries are truly out of this world spectacular and enchantingly mystical!
The second-largest Eastern Orthodox monastic complex in Greece after Mount Athos, Meteora (meaning ‘suspended in the air’) is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as a cultural monument, for its historic architecture, and as an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement.
- Hermit monks first took a trip to Meteora to find solitude
In the 9th century, recluse monks first climbed the sandstone pillars (formed over millions of years by earthquakes and erosion) to find seclusion and be closer to god in the area’s caves and hollows. Meteora gradually became home to a thriving ascetic community and dozens of these hermitage habitats remain today, but are not easily found as they are not marked or signposted.
The first monasteries were built atop the massive rocks (some reaching a height of 1,200 ft.) in the 14th century to offer the monks and pilgrims refuge from the invading Ottomans. The only access back then was via rope ladders which the monks would pull up whenever there was a threat, or by way of large nets or baskets used to hoist people and goods up and down. It was not until the early 20th century when steps were cut into the rock.
- Incredibly, building materials for the monasteries were manually hoisted up to the top of the rocks
With time, more than 20 monasteries of all sizes were built and the monastic communities in Meteora flourished. The monks grew grapes, corn, and potatoes in the fertile soil among the rocks and even had flocks and herds. To escape Ottoman persecution, Greek scholars, poets, and philosophers sought refuge in the monasteries thus turning them into centers of Hellenistic culture and learning.
By the 18th century, many of the monasteries had been raided by bandits, destroyed by the Ottomans, or abandoned, and later the area was heavily bombed in World War II. Today, only 6 of are still active – 4 occupied by monks and 2 by nuns. They are all open to visitors and offer a discreet but unique glimpse into traditional monastic life. Some of the churches house well-preserved medieval religious frescoes.
- Planning a trip to Meteora? Hope the following tips will come in handy!
- The town of Kalambaka is the gateway to the rock monasteries.
- Most of my clients traveling to Greece include a trip to Meteora alongside ancient sites like Olympia and Delphi when touring continental Greece with a private car & driver. This is by far the most comfortable and hassle-free way.
- From Athens, there are regular trains to Kalambaka taking 5 – 7 hours (depending on the number of connections). From Thessaloniki, the train journey is shorter – 3 – 5 hours. You can search local train schedules here.
Where to stay:
- My first choice would be the Dellas Boutique Hotel. This is a small, charming, and elegant property with rooms and suites featuring classic décor, many with balconies with gorgeous views of the Meteora rocks.
- There are almost no signs or trail markers in Meteora, so having a knowledgeable local guide to help you not get lost and with choosing the best walking route based on the time available and your fitness level.
- Guided hiking, mountain-biking, rock-climbing, and even whitewater-rafting tours are available in the area.
- You will need at least 2 days to visit all 6 monasteries and more to explore other sites like the Theopetra cave, the Badovas hermitage, and the Holy Spirit rock.
- Each monastery is closed on a different day of the week, so check the opening hours in advance!
- Accessibility to the sites varies. You will have to climb 140 steps to reach the Holy Trinity Monastery while St. Stephen’s Monastery with its waling bridge is the most accessible.
- Hiking is the best (and often only) way to explore the unique rock formations and monasteries and you will be spending most of your time outdoors, so be prepared with proper hiking footwear, bottled water, snacks, sunscreen etc.
- As you will be visiting functioning monasteries, dress appropriately! Sleeveless tops, bare shoulders, and shorts are not allowed and women are required to cover their heads with a shawl before entering.
I hope I have managed to convince you to consider a trip to Meteora’s stunning monasteries as part of your next visit to Greece!
Wandering whether a trip to Greece would be right for you? Read ‘7 Reasons to Travel to Greece Now‘!
Need help planning a trip to Greece? I’d love to hear from you!