5 Reasons to Visit Meteora, Greece
Meteora is a unique mountainous area right near the towns of Kalambaka and Kastraki in Thessaly. Filled with dramatic mountains and rock pillars coupled with precariously placed hand-built monasteries balanced atop, and you have a pretty spectacular destination.
These ‘columns of the sky’ in Greece draw thousands of people every year. If this alone wasn’t enough reason to convince you to visit Meteora, then there are even more reasons this UNESCO world heritage site deserve your attention.
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Meteora’s monasteries were treacherous for the Greek Orthodox monks who built them in the 14th-16th centuries AD. Acess was life-threatening and arduous. Monks built rope ladders or baskets attached to a pulley and rope to transport people and goods to the top of the rocks. Many monks lost their lives making the climb and faith was tested due to the notion that ropes would only be replaced when the Lord let them break.
5 Reasons to Visit Meteora
In this article, I talk about how to get the best photos at these gorgeous monasteries, interesting ways to get to them and other things you can do around the town of Kalambaka that are almost as impressive as the monasteries. Without further ado, here are five reasons you MUST visit Meteora.
1. Climbing up to and going inside the incredible floating monasteries
Amazing! The floating monasteries of Meteora will take your breath away. Before going there I didn’t really know what to expect. I surely didn’t know that you could go inside of them! Six of the eight operational monasteries are accessible to the general public. And the price to enter each one is only a few Euros, so it is worth going to as many that pike your interest.
Each monastery has its own story. For example, in the Great Meteoron monastery, you can meet the former monks at the sacristy, where their skulls and bones are neatly stacked on shelves that reach all the way to the roof.
Or Holy Trinity, which is also the one that is most gruelling to get to with 140 steep steps! However, it is also the most photogenic of them all boasting incredible views from the monastery and also the most impressive visible freestanding rock structure underneath.
But, my favourite was the humble St Nikolaos, a small monastery right at the bottom of the cliffs. This monastery is commonly thought to have been a resting place for pilgrims headed for the bigger monasteries upwards. It was erected on such limited rock surface that it had to be built vertically on all floors. The winding staircases and tiny windows pointing out at all angles made it feel like it was the most dangerous, and therefore the most exhilarating for me to climb!
Each monastery is home to an impressive collection of Byzantine art, in fact, some of the most beautiful frescoes in all of Greece.
2. Seeing the ruins of the cliff-scaling hermits
The first hermits that settled in Meteora had incredible free-climbing skills. They would scale to unreachable caves nestled in the side of the cliff-face using scaffolds propped up to joists wedged into holes in the rock.
Once a base was built, the hermit would not leave again until after their death. For food and water, they relied on the generosity of local religious people to bring to them. Using pulleys and a basket he would hoist donations up into his cave.
These hermit monks were incredibly motivated by religion and faith. They needed to be because the conditions in which they lived were extremely harsh. They were exposed to all of the elements, sleeping on the rock and with little food or water. But they were armed with a strong will and deep faith, and become the very first to lay the foundations upon which the monastic community of Meteora centuries later would be formed upon.
The earliest traces of such hermits arriving in the area are long lost in time, concealed by a thick mist of local myths, legends and traditions. Some indicative dates as to when exactly the hermits first arrived in the area are either the 9th or the 10th century. At the end of the 11th century and early 12th, a small ascetic community had been already established around Meteora.
3. Being lost in the layers of history in the Byzantine Church of Virgin Mary
This church is thousands of years old. It was built in the 4th century AD, long before any of the famous monasteries were even a passing thought. However, it has since lived in the monasteries shadows.
But this amazing church in Kalambaka is definitely worth a visit. And not just because of its age. Built into the church’s walls are the relics of an ancient Greek temple dedicated to the god Apollo. Around the time that Christianity became Greece’s official religion, the Temple of Apollo was demolished. Using the materials of the Apollo Temple, the Byzantine Church of Virgin Mary was built. On the exterior, you can still see the temple’s carvings in the stone.
Inside, the walls are decorated to the roof with frescoes that were painted in the 13th century AD. Below, you can catch small reveals of the older mosaic floor, which is now covered in marble.
It’s easy to see the rich history of this area right there inside of the church. Shrapnel damage can be seen in the church columns, left over from an exploded Nazi grenade. In the centre of the room, a domineering marble pulpit, unique in Greece, almost touches the roof.
4. Meteora is an adventure-lovers’ paradise
There are so many high-energy activities you can do here! Perhaps the most famous is the Meteora rock climbing. That’s right, you can actually climb up these incredible pinnacles! Some climbing routes will even finish at the ruins of one of the 18 monasteries that were bombed in the wars.
Meteora rock climbing
Climbing Meteora is not only doable, but thousands of people flock to this area to rock climb every year. This has given Meteora a reputation as Greece’s adventure capital. Today, there are hundreds of climbing routes in Meteora. Most have an adventurous character and fantastic rewards to the end. Many of the rock climbing routes can be accessed by a short walk from the town of Kastraki.
The Meteora rock climbing routes vary between bolted and traditional and can be used by people at all levels of climbing. The climbs are generally technical, pleasant, delicate and not too athletic unless climbing ‘very hard’ routes.
Via Ferrata (or Iron Road) route
Want something different? Try the Via Ferrata route. It leads to the top of the tallest mountain in Meteora; The Great Saint. Via Farreta is a quarter-mile-high peak equipped with climbing ropes and chains necessary for a safe climb and decent.
Not up to the physical exertion it takes to rock climb? Try a scenery-rich hike instead. There are loads of hiking routes around this area, so take your pick! It is very easy to hike along the road between the monasteries, hitting every viewpoint imaginable, but it will take you all day and could get pretty tiring!
The morning hike with Visit Meteora
There are also hikes to secret monasteries that aren’t open to the public. I did a morning hike with Visit Meteora that I can highly recommend. The hike started near incredible ruins of Pantokrator Monastery where you can also see hermit caves.
Next, you’ll find the hidden Monastery of Ypapanti jutting out from the side of a mountain. You might even be able to enter into with your guide, so please check with your tour operator.
After some incredible views, you’ll come across the ruins of St. Dimitrios where your guide will explain to you it’s fascinating history. Last, you’ll explore Grand Meteora, the largest of all the monasteries.
5. Instagram-worthy photos with incredible monastery views
Yeah, the views are just breathtaking! Limestone cliffs jut out of the clouds, some with an ancient building perched atop. In fact, “Meteora” literally translates to “suspended in air”.
Below, I have compiled a map of all the Instagrammable locations around Meteora with examples of shots that you can get at each place. Check it out ︎↓
Meteora Map for Photographers
Sunset photos at Meteora
The sun sets behind the mountains almost directly opposite all the monasteries. This is great for people wanting to get that perfect Instagram-worthy snap.
There are several hit points along the road used to access the monasteries. But let’s talk about what kind of shot you want.
Are you after pics of you with a sun-kissed monastery in the background like this one?
How about silhouetted Grand Meteora monastery with the sun glistening past the corners of the building? This shot enables you to get some pretty nice lens flare on your camera.
For both of these shots, head to the rock platform between Varlaam monastery and Grand Meteora. Looking at my map above, this is location #4 (Sunset Varlaam Viewpoint).
Want a view of the valley with several monasteries thrown in?
This location is good at any time of day but especially for the golden hour when the monasteries light up with a soft golden glow. The hour before sunset is also the perfect time to get gorgeous-looking clouds and trees that actually radiate! For this shot go to #9 (Sunset / Sunrise observation deck) on my map.
Sunrise photos at Meteora
Sunrise is always a great time to shoot at any location. The lighting is delicate and you’ll have the whole place to yourself. However, the sun rises behind the cliffs that surround Meteora so I found it a difficult place to get right. It was too dark for most of the morning then BAM! Direct sunlight right in my eyeballs! Making the monasteries silhouetted.
On my map, the best sunrise places I went to were #1 (Aghio Pnevma & Varlaam from below) and #9 (Sunset / Sunrise observation deck).
Having said this, sunrise is the time of day that you would get mist surrounding the pinnacles that hold up the monasteries. If there’s fog forecast, make sure you go high to try to get out the top of it!
Meteora in movies
Feel like you recognise these monasteries but can’t quite pinpoint where. It is said that when there is mist, the floating pinnacles of Meteora resemble the “Hallelujah Mountains” of Pandora in the film Avatar.
Ever seen Game of Thrones? (That was a rhetorical question…) Well, rumour has it that Meteora inspired the kingdom of Eyrie, the ancestral seat of House Arryn, Lords of the Vale and Wardens of the East. Perhaps the most famous scene is when Petyr Baelish (Little Finger) throws Lysa Arryn from the Moon Door; a hatch that drops open to the valley below.
Finally, the 1981 James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’ was filmed at Holy Trinity monastery. In my opinion, Holy Trinity is the most impressive monastery to photograph, as long as you get the right angle.
How to get around Meteora
By tour is not the only way to get around Meteora. Although if you are short on time and just want to hit all the main points, I recommend going with Visit Meteora as their knowledge of the local area is fantastic. But here are a few other ways to visit Meteora and surrounds.
Hire a motorbike, bicycle or car in Meteora
There are several local businesses in Kalambaka and Kastraki that rent motorbikes, cars and bicycles to tourists for reasonable daily rates. Motorbikes can be as cheap as 15 Euros per day. A bicycle will cost around 12 Euros per day (might as well get a motorbike, ha ha). While a small car will set you back about 50 Euros per day.
As I explained above it’s very easy to hike the roads connecting all the monasteries. It is about 3km (2 miles) between the two furthest monasteries. If you are looking into hiking Meteora, I would suggest staying in the town of Kastraki, as this town is located at the foot of the Meteora pinnacles and is closest the entry road that accesses them.
Catch a bus to Meteora
Did you know there’s a local bus connecting the Meteora monasteries and the town of Kalambaka? It runs every couple of hours, stopping at each monastery and going through Kastraki. A day ticket is priced at 5.50 Euros, which is pretty damn cheap!
The timetable for the bus between Kalampaka to Meteora can be viewed here.
Currency: Euros €
$1 USD = € .80 cents
I was here: November 2017
Is Meteora on YOUR bucket list?
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