Greece is mainly known for its beautiful islands, but did you know that there is a lot to see in the interior as well? Just a few hours north of Athens you will find the impressive monasteries of Meteora Greece. A place you should definitely put on your bucketlist. Read all about this amazing place in this blog, including many tips to make the most of your stay.
The monasteries of Meteora Greece
A wonderful mix of nature and culture made by human hands. High on the special rock formations of Meteora Greece you will find Orthodox monasteries. Built by monks who wanted to escape from persecution of the Turkish occupiers and found the perfect hiding place on the tops of Meteora. Nowadays 6 of the 24 monasteries are still inhabited and they can also be visited, others are closed to the public or left behind as ruins.
The name Meteora literally means "float" and in winter months you can see the mountain tops above the low hanging fog. At 1988 the entire area has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. After a few days we understand why. There are not many places in the world that can measure up to Meteora Greece.
The construction of the monasteries
It is weird to think about how people once built and lived in the monasteries. A world without fixed stairs, elevator or other modern conveniences. A special system was used to lift building material in a basket, which meant that the building process took many years. Brick by brick and manually. Monks who lived there went up and down via narrow, folding ladders and ropes. A strenuous method that was not without risk and people died after falling down. Fortunately, nowadays we can enjoy all the stairs and bridges that were built afterwards. It makes everything less romantic, but a lot easier.
Getting there, transport to Meteora.
The most convenient way to get to the monasteries at Meteora Greece is by car or by train. You can also take the ride by bus, but this is a lot more time-consuming.
If you travel by train, take the metro from the airport (or from the city) of Athens to the central train station: Larissa on the red line. There are various trains to Kalambaka, the town near Meteora Greece. If you take a direct connection (goes once a day) this is the last station of the train. From the station you will reach the center within a few minutes. The journey takes approximately 5 hours and a ticket will cost you between € 18 and € 30 depending on the route and duration of the train ride. (price in 2017)
If you travel by car, it is approximately 350 kilometers from Athens. You can rent a car in Athens or at the airport. The first part (over the A1 / E75) is flat, followed by a short stretch through the mountains and the last part is flat again. Although there are not many roads, a good navigation system is recommended. The roads are great, there is (when you are out of town) little traffic and it is easy to drive. Pay attention; along the way you will come across some toll roads. The costs for this are approximately € 12 to € 15 Euro.
Where to sleep at Meteora Greece?
There are two places from which you can visit the monasteries of Meteora Greece. There is the small, quiet village of Kastraki. Here you will find various hotels and a few restaurants. In October it is very quiet here, say almost extinct, so I would only recommend the place if you like it to be very quiet or in high season. If you want to camp, you will find the Vrachos Kastraki campsite on the outskirts of the village.
We slept in the larger town of Kalambaka. Here you will find an abundance of hotels, hostels and other accommodation options. Kalambaka has a large main street (Trikalon) and a few pleasant squares, various shops and plenty of restaurants. In the late season we find this a nice option, pleasantly busy but not too much. In Kalambaka you will also find the tourist office, the train station, car / bicycle / moped rental, a few small museums and supermarkets. If you go in the summer months it can be busy and then it is advisable to reserve a place to sleep.
Just outside the city of Kalambaka you will find the new apartment complex of Vaso's Garden Apartments (max 4 people). You can park the car in front of the door and if you like it you can explore everything on foot.
How much time do I need to visit the monasteries of Meteora?
How much time you need depends on how you want to view the area. If you have a car or do tours, you can see a lot in one day. In two days you have all the time for the monasteries and also enough for the area and the village. If you want to hike a lot, like we do, I would personally stretch for a minimum of three days. There is also time enough to enjoy a beautiful sunset, have a drink at a terrace or visit one or more museums.
TIP: watch a nice movie about the area
In the Digital Project center at the Patriarchou Dimitrou in Kalambaka you can watch three movies for free. They are partly filmed and partly animated. Although we occasionally had to smile a little at the animated part, it is definitely worth taking the time to see them. They run every day at 11, 12 and 13:00 and it will take you around 40 minutes. You'll learn more about the origins of the area and you also get to see great shots of the monasteries and rocks.
I would recommend not to watch them on the first day, but if you have already visited the area yourself. This way you get a nice overview of the area and all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
Visiting the monasteries of Meteora Greece
Of the original 24 monasteries, 7 are still open to the public. On the maps and on the internet you will find information about 6 monasteries. Starting 2017 you can also visit the small, abandoned Ypapanti monastery. For all monasteries, with the exception of Ypapanti which is free, an entrance fee of € 3 is requested (price per monastery, in 2017). In each of them you will find a chapel with beautiful frescoes and in some of them a museum.
All Meteora monasteries can be viewed by car. From Kalambaka or Kastraki there is a road around the monasteries of approximately 14 kilometers that you can easily drive yourself. Each monastery has its own parking space, after which it is a short walk to the entrance. Sometimes you still have to climb quite a bit before you are at the entrance. Ypapanti can only be reached on foot.
Note: Keep in mind that all monasteries close one day a week so inquire in advance if the monastery you want to view is open!
Which of the monasteries are open for visitors?
- The monastery of Varlaam is the second largest monastery and built in 1541. There is a beautiful church with frescoes and an old dining room.
- The Great Meteora monastery is, as the name suggests, the largest of all monasteries. It was built in the mid-14th century and restored. In the monastery you will find a beautiful church and a museum with art, clothing and other historical objects. It is the most visited monastery of all and can feel very full.
- The monastery of Rousanou / St Barbara is inhabited by nuns and was founded in the mid-16th century.
- The monastery of St Nicholas Anapausas is built in the 16th century and has a small church. The location at the tip of the rock is amazing.
- The monastery of St Stephen has a small church. In World War II it was bombarded by the Germans and abandoned. Since the 60s it is inhabited again by nuns who have restored it to its old state.
- The monastery of the Holy Trinity is the highest of all monasteries and can only be reached by a steep climb over a staircase from the parking lot. In 1981 a part of the James Bond movie "For your eyes only" was shot here.
- The monastery of Ypapanti is the smallest monastery to visit and my personal favorite. You can only reach it on foot and therefore it is quiet. The monastery is not on top of a rock, but is built inside the rock wall.
Hiking at Meteora Greece
In the area you can make beautiful hikes using ancient paths. You can see both the monasteries and the amazing surroundings of the rock formations from up close. In the valley you regularly walk through small pieces of forest with old oak trees and enjoy a great view over the valley, the village of Kalambaka or the monasteries. Once you reach the top, you unfortunately have to walk some parts of paved road. Keep in mind that you have to climb and /or descend on every hike. An advantage of hiking is that it is wonderfully quiet!
At the tourist information you can get a map of the region. We met people on the way who had received a nice walking map from the campsite and Frank found many of the trails on Google Maps. We hiked three different routes, one with a guide on the first morning. I can heartily recommend both experiences.
Meteora Greece by car
As I wrote above, all Meteora monasteries can be viewed by car. From Kalambaka and Kastraki there is a ring road of approximately 14 kilometers that you can easily drive yourself. Each monastery has its own parking space on the ring road, after which it is a short walk to the entrance.
Viewpoints and a sunset
On the ring road there are special viewpoints at various places where you can see the area. We found one of the most beautiful places from and around the parking lot near Roussanou where you have a great view over the valley.
Are you looking for a nice place for a sunset? The rocks in the area of Agios Stefanos are a perfect spot. If you are unsure where to go, pay attention. You are not the only one here who wants to enjoy the sunset. There are plenty of beautiful places on the rocks where you have an unobstructed view! Is there a better way to end your visit to the monasteries of Meteora Greece?
A special Sunset tour can also be booked. In this tour you will visit a few beautiful viewpoints and even more special places along the way. A real bonus to your visit.
Combining the monasteries of Meteora with other places in Greece.
If you have a car you can combine the monasteries of Meteora with other beautiful things in the region. After a start in Athens, while driving to Meteora, you can first make a stop at Delphi where you will find various ancient temples and a beautiful amphitheater.
The mountains of Pindus start above Meteora Greece. Here you will find the beautiful gorges of Vikos and Aoos and the Valia Kalda valley. Together they form the protected area of the National Park of Northern Pindos, home to exceptional wildlife such as bears and wolves and many bird species.
It is also perfect to start or end your journey with a visit to one or more islands on the south coast. Near Athens you will find the small Hydra, but also islands like Santorini are within reach. A journey where you can unite the best of Greece in one trip!
The best time to visit the monasteries of Meteora ....
Are Spring and Autumn. In summer months temperatures can easily rise to- or even above 40 degrees Celcius.Temperatures are wonderful and it is less crowded. In Winter it can be quite cold. Low-hanging mist in the morning hours and snow often make the surroundings fairy-tale beautiful. The Fall colors, of which we already got a glimpse in mid-October, are also spectacular.
More than one million visitors ......
Visit the amazing monasteries of Meteora. Many of them combine it with a visit to a number of other places in the region and, like me, fall in love with the north of Greece.