A guide to visiting the monasteries of Meteora

When I told people that I was going to Greece, most people assumed I was off to the Greek Islands. And while I would love to visit the islands one day, they were not on the itinerary this trip.

No, that’s because I had something much more special in mind for my first visit to Greece. The monasteries of Meteora.

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About Meteora & its monasteries…

Meteora, which means “one who floats”, refers to the actual cliffs; the town beneath these impressive monoliths is called Kalambaka, where I stayed. The 8 monasteries still in existence (down from 24) are perched on a series of magnificent limestone towers. The legend around the formation of the cliffs speaks of an almighty battle between the Gods and Titans, and when the Titans were eventually defeated, the Gods turned them into stone, where they still stand today. The real story behind their formation has more to do with tectonics than titans, but that doesn’t diminish their impressiveness.

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So between the 10th – 12th centuries, hermits lived unorganised in caves until the first church was built for the common meal, with the Great Metereon monastery being the largest & oldest still in existence, built in 1340. Six of them are still working monasteries, with two run exclusively by women, including St Stephen’s, one of the monasteries we visited, and also the setting for a James Bond scene…

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Visiting Meteora

Kalambaka is about 5-6 hours north of Athens by direct train. There’s 2 of these a day, you’re best to pre-book your ticket because they can sell out (online ticket sales close 24 hours before departure). You can also take a bus (change at Trikala) which takes a bit longer, but also has more frequent departures.

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It’s pretty much impossible to self-tour without your own car, so you’ll need to book a tour. I joined the Meteora Sunset Tour with Visit Meteora for €25. They’re the biggest tour operator in Meteora/Kalambaka, and are enthusiastic & knowledgeable professionals. Plus, the guides are all born & bred locals; they were baptised in the church you’ll visit and grew up climbing the mountains, so you’ll get a really unique perspective.

We had a small group of about 12 and took our minibus to visit St Stephen’s (€2 plus sarong hire if needed); the Byzantine church (€2), as well as the best vantage points along the cliff, perfectly timed for some epic sunset shots.

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If you’ve got time, I would recommend staying for at least two days. Not all the monasteries will be open on any given day (they need to close for, ya know, praying), so you can’t see all of them in one day. But also, you can tackle one of their more adventurous tour options such as hiking, rafting or rock climbing, which is kind of a second religion here. Plus, Kalambaka is a great little Greek town that makes a nice change of pace from the hustle of Athens.

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Meteora was one of the most moving and incredible places I’ve visited in my entire life; a place I would recommend everyone visit sometime in theirs.

Have you ever visited Meteora? Let me know what you thought about it!

 

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