Meteora is one of the most exciting destinations of Greece.
Meteora is located somewhere in the middle of the country, in Thessaly, far from the sunny beaches that most visitors are familiar with, and it is a great place to experience a spectacular landscape and Byzantine monasteries perched on top of steep rocks.
It is also a favorite destination for rock climbers who come from around the world to conquer the unique rock formations.
The formation of Meteora is lost in geological time and over millions of years earth has used an array of forces to sculpt a unique and dramatic landscape that became an awe inspiring spiritual place for humans in recent history.
While ancient sources are sparce on Meteora, the town of Aiginio must have been located in the immediate area. During the Byzantine era the town was named Stages with much a fairly large population. During this time the tops of the steep rocks became the spiritual platform that elevated Orthodox Christian monks closer to the heavens.
The name "Meteora" means "suspended in mid-air", and the name was coined by monk Athanasios in the 14th century CE. Athanasios came from Mt. Athos and founded the first monastery on a rock he named the Megalo Meteoron (Great Meteoron).
Athanasios followed in the footsteps of a number of monks who used the caverns on the face of steep rocks, and the tall terraces for their spiritual isolation from the material world. The first hermits dwelled on rudimentary wooden structures clinging to the faces of the rocks high above the ground as far back as the 11th c. CE.
In the long history since the first monastery of Megalo Meteoro the monastic community moved through different phases of significance and decline. By the 15th c. CE 24 different monasteries were active in the area, but by the end of that century the Turkish occupying authorities closed them all. The monasteries were allowed to open again in the 16th century which saw a time of great prosperity when they acquired a great number of donations in the form of money and land. The buildings were expanded and decorated lavishly, while their libraries grew with rare manuscripts. By the 18th century however the Meteora monastic community had fallen into decline which continued all the way into the 20th century when in 1960 it was revived mostly as a cultural heritage site, and efforts were made to salvage the monasteries and their priceless artifacts.
Today six monasteries are active with a small number of monks or nuns who reside on Meteora and play host to three quarter of a million tourists annually.
The main reason for visiting Meteora is to experience the unique landscape and to visit the Byzantine monasteries that house priceless artifacts and wall paintings.
Meteora is also a great destination for outdoor activities. The steep rock formations of Meteora are an irresistible destination for rock climbers who travel from around the world for the experience.
Although automobiles can take you near the monasteries via asphalt road (prepare for some step-climbing once you park), many visitors opt to combine their visit to the monasteries with hiking. Following ancient footpaths etched under green trees it is possible to visit all the monasteries in one day.
The nearby Penios and Acheloos rivers offer great opportunities for river rafting and kayaking.
Visitors to Meteora opt to stay in either Kastraki or Kalambaka.
Kastraki is a small village located among the Meteora rocks. If you dont have a vehicle Kastraki is probably the best place to stay. From there you can walk to all the monasteries following the footpaths among the trees, and you can watch the rock climbers cling to the face of the rock.
In Kastraki you will find the best view of the Meteora rocks, a number of camping grounds and small hotels.
Kalambaka is about 2 km further to the East of Kastraki and it is a small town with many restaurants and shops, lively squares and some nightlife.
Many hotels are also built outside the town area and all offer various views of Meteora.
During our visit in the summer of 2005 we stayed at hotel Amalia that is built about five minutes east of Kalambaka. It is a spacious hotel with a large swimming pool, restaurant, bar, and friendly staff. It is beautifully decorated in monastic style with wooden wall panels and ceiling beams, but if you don’t have your own car it might be too far for a comfortable visit to the monasteries. It is on the high end of the price scale and very comfortable if you seek a little quiet out in the country and don’t mind not seeing a close-up of the Meteora rocks from your window.
More about Kalambaka
Pindos mountain range can be a destination on its own right with its tall mountains, deep gorges, and beautiful traditional villages, while more cosmopolitan quests can be had in the small town of Trikala.
Once you vistit Meteora you may opt to drive through "Katara" in Pindos mountains towards Ioannina and the west coast of Greece, for some quiet basking by the Ionian sea (perhaps in Parga), or you can drive East to Mt. Pelion for more traditional Greek mountainous holidays. For more Byzantine churches you can visit Arta a little over an hour south of Ioannina.
Driving North towards Grevena, to the modern highway "Egnatia Odos" that leads to Thessaloniki in a about one hour. Thessaloniki is host to a number of Byzantine monuments and a museum of Byzantine Art. Another two hours further East from there will take you to Mt. Athos where you can experience the more splendit Byzantine monasteries (unfortunately only males are allowed there -- it has really remained in Byzantine times).
Moni of Great Meteoro: 2432-022278
Moni Agios Nikolaos: 2432-022375
Moni Agios Stefanos: 2432-22279
Moni Agia Triada: 2432-022220
Moni Roussanou: 2432-022649
Moni Varlaam: 2432-022277