Meteora showcases the perfect marriage of natural and man-made beauty. Crowning the tops of otherworldly rock formations are Eastern Orthodox monasteries — some constructed more than 700 years ago.
Monks trying to escape persecution originally built 24 monasteries here. Over the centuries, weather and neglect took their toll on the structures, leaving today’s six active monasteries. The remaining structures are either closed to the public or in ruin. Meteora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In an age of sophisticated construction equipment, it’s easy to take the construction of Meteora’s monasteries for granted. Yet imagine how difficult it was to carry the building materials to the peak of these rock formations centuries ago, which are on average 300 meters (1,000 feet) high. And, consider the challenges monks faced in getting themselves up there. With no staircases as there are today, some of Meteora’s monks rode up in nets, likely relying on their faith to banish any terrifying thoughts that the rope on which their lives depended might break.
When approaching these magnificent structures for the first time, Shawn and I took the traditional approach – on foot. As we began our journey, we met a few creatures, including a tortoise and a viper snake. Eventually, we glimpsed a few of the majestic monasteries above us. Soon, the evening hours approached. Since we were uncertain which path to take, we decided to turn back.
The next day, George, our energetic tour guide from Visit Meteora, led the way and took us off the beaten path as only a local can do. During an overcast morning, we passed a colorful cluster of wooden beehives, a shepherd and his flock, and a small prayer shrine.
Soon, the clouds burned off, exposing aquamarine skies, patchwork quilt-like tracts of land, and snow-capped mountains. We wandered away from the rock formations a bit, into a landscape filled with an abundance of wildflowers, a shag-like carpet of moss, and mushrooms. Tank-like beetles, mammoth wasps, alien-faced grasshoppers, geckos, and industrious ants also made their presence known.
As we wound underneath an oak tree’s branches, we spotted a monastery that most visitors to Meteora never see – the Ypapanti Monastery. It doesn’t sit atop rock formations, rather it appears to be clinging to the side of one. George explained that the Ypapanti Monastery is one of several monasteries that is no longer active. It is currently closed to the public.
Hiking a bit farther, we approached an odd landscape, realizing that we were actually now walking atop some of the rock formations. Sections of the mountain were smooth, whereas other parts were carpeted with straw-colored grass. George stopped to add a rock to a cairn or makeshift tower, a custom that we’d later see practiced on hiking trails elsewhere in the country.
Like children seeking to find familiar forms in the clouds, we tried to make out faces and shapes in the rugged rocks. Eventually, we just took in the serenity of the spot. Birds soared overhead, showing off their ability to flit from one precarious boulder top to another. We were the only people in sight.
As we continued our trek, we caught glimpses of three additional monasteries. Having been surrounded by nature for the past hours, it was jarring to now see tour buses whizzing by, and visitors being hurried from monastery to monastery.
On the stairway leading toward the Great Meteoron Monastery, we glimpsed thousands of caterpillars rappelling down from the trees, building chrysalises. It seemed fitting that the insects swung on silk cords, not far from where monks once rode up to the monastery in a rope basket.
Several caterpillars tried to stow away with us during the hike down to the village of Kastraki. On the way back, we saw the ruins of monasteries that once graced the tops of the boulders. We even saw two adventure seekers climbing the rugged rocks.
George gave us the option of touring some of the monasteries’ interiors, but we decided to save them for the next day. We then wove our way down a well-shaded trail back to our home away from home, on paths covered by twisted roots. Occasionally, we caught a glimpse of the majestic monasteries, which were now overhead.
Video of this Experience:
Where in the World?
- Meteora is about 4 hours northwest of Athens. To get there, we traveled by bus from Skopje, North Macedonia. (We departed Skopje before sunrise, then journeyed to Thessaloniki, Trikala, and Kalambaka, all in one day. We bought separate bus tickets for the various legs of the journey.)
- It can be easy to get lost when hiking in the remote wooded areas around the Meteora Monasteries. Be sure you have a good map, or consider hiring a guide to find those less-trodden paths.
- The weather was sizzling-hot during our springtime visit, and we were happy to have packed ample water and snacks. It’s possible to purchase refreshments near some of the more popular monasteries, but because the hike can be long, I recommend bringing your own.
- Be sure to check the opening hours for the monasteries that you’re hoping to visit. A different monastery is closed each day to allow the monks a workday without visitors. Visit Meteora is a useful planning resource, and we also enjoyed stopping by the agency’s office in Kalambaka. With a helpful team of staff members on hand, free Wifi, great reading material about the local attractions, and cozy chairs available to the public, it’s a one-stop shop.
- Visit the Kalambaka Tourist Center website for information about the monasteries, as well as other activities that you can do in Meteora.
- Accommodation wise, we stayed at the cozy Guesthouse Patavalis (affiliate link) in the village of Kastraki. The hotel’s owner, Marina, whom we dubbed our ‘Greek mama’, surprised us with samples of tasty, home-cooked Greek food like spanakopita, candied figs, and milk custard pie. In total, we spent about a week at the Guesthouse Patavalis, staying in its Purple Room. We enjoyed the property’s terrace views of the surrounding rock formations, and its convenient location. It made a great hub for exploring some of Meteora’s monasteries.
- Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Greece.
Disclosure & Thanks:
Visit Meteora hosted us for this hiking adventure.
ευχαριστώ πολύ/ A big thank you to George for guiding us. We loved getting off-the-beaten path with you, hearing your insights about these magnificent monasteries and learning more about Greek culture.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. The video is a creation of my husband, Shawn.