The Monasteries of Meteora in Greece
The monasteries of Meteora in Greece may be difficult to get to because of their central location in the country but we think its definitely worth the effort. You can quickly see why the area has been a world heritage site since 1988 as a result of its historical religious signiificance together with its lansdscape.
The meaning of the word ‘meteora’ has a variety of definitions, however it literally means ‘suspended in the air’. You simply need to see the monasteries to believe it, they seem to be glued to the tops of the rocks that they stand on. Meteora is a location that is simply breathtaking and it is seriously difficult to find words to do this place justice.
The Meteora Landscape
Meteora sits in the region of Thessaly in central Greece, close to the town of Kalambaka. It is bordered to the west by the Pindus mountains, known as the ‘Spine of Greece’ as they split the country and have an impact on weather systems which leaves the east drier than the west. These surrounding mountains also provide you with a real dramatic backdrop to the views you get at Meteora in Greece.
The area itself is characterised by huge monolithic sandstone pillars formed by the weather over thousands of years. It is an area largely covered in deciduous trees which consequently provide lots of autumnal colour. Because of this autumn is perhaps a good time to visit. Additionally, there are rare species of wild flowers that helped move the Greek Government to give the area environmentally protected status.
History of Meteora
The monasteries of Meteora in Greece form one of the the largest religious complexes in the country. Only Mount Athos in Halkidiki is religiously more important. Because of this, these monasteries provide you with a lot of history. They were at their peak in the 16th century, although there has been a presence on the site since as early as the 12th century.
When hermit monks first settled here the only means of accessing the monasteries was to be hoisted up in a rope net or basket and by using rope ladders. Legend has it that the ropes were only replaced once god decided they would break. It was not until the 1920s that steps were cut into the rock and bridges built to make access easier. Having said that, you really feel time standing still here. Originally there were 24 monasteries of which only 6 remain working today. All 6 are open for you to visit.
Exploring the Meteora Area
A winding road connects the monasteries but you can also hike on the walking trails. There are some 35 kilometres of trails so there is plenty to choose from. So to get the most from your time here use a local guide if your not already on an escorted tour. They’ll take you behind the scenes to areas not reached by most of the day tour groups. Also, this can include visiting some of the abandoned ruins and hermitages.
Each of the monasteries contain religious icons, painted frescos and manuscripts so there is something to see in all of them. Photos are strictly prohibited in the chapels. Whatever you do, dont try and get away with taking photos insde the chapels. We were witness to someone getting caught and they made quite an example of them.
Length of Stay
Many visitors take a day trip to see the monasteries from either Athens or Thessaloniki and this is certainly enough to give you a flavour of the place. Although, even with the long day its not possible to visit all monasteries at once as their closing days are staggered. Up to 3 in a day would be achievable without too much difficulty. However, to really get under the surface of Meteora you would need 2 or 3 days. If you want to stay longer then in addition to the 6 monasteries there are a number hermitages that can be visited. These aren’t signposted so you really do need a guide to get you to these and get off the beaten track.
If you visit Meteora in Greece don’t feel you have to go just to see the monasteries because the scenery is absolutely stunning in its own right. For tour guides and other bookings try visitmeteora.travel.
Monastery of Great Meteoron
This is the first, highest and the largest of the monasteries at Meteora, though in 2015 there were only 3 monks in residence. At 2045ft in height it was erected in the mid-14th century and was extended in 1483 and 1552. One of its buildings serves as the main museum for tourists.
Monastery of Varlaam
The Monastery of Varlaam is the second largest monastery in Meteora in Greece. It was built in 1541. The old refectory is now used as a museum.
Monastery of Roussanou
We think this is the most spectaclar of all the monasteries as it is perched on top of a narrow column of rock. It was founded in the middle of the 16th century and today it is a flourishing nunnery.
Monastery of St Stephen
This is the only monastery visible from the town of Kalambaka as it sits closer to the plain than the others. If you have a problem climbing stairs this is the easiest one to access. It was shelled by the Nazis during World War II who believed it was hiding insurgents and was then abandoned. The monastery was given over to nuns in 1961 and they have overseen its reconstruction.
Monastery of Holy Trinity
This monastery sits on top of a pillar of rock with cliffs on all sides. It was built in 1475 but has been refurbished a number of times since. You might recognise it as being a location for the James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’
Monastery of St. Nikolaos
Built in the 16th century, it has a small church, decorated by the noted Cretan painter Theophanis Strelitzas, in 1527.
Taking a packed for lunch makes sense and for dinner there are a selection of restaurants in Kalambaka. We ate in Vakhos, a large restaurant on the outskirts of the town. It had a self service restaurant and good views of the rocks
Because of its central location in Greece it can be a journey of over 300 kms to reach the monasteries. If you are looking to travel from Athens or Thessaloniki it is doable in a day trip, albeit its a long day. We travelled by bus from Halkidiki, which is a bit further than Thessaloniki and it was around 4 hours each way. There is also a train station in the town of Kalambaka which you can reach from Athens or Thessaloniki. In addition, some hotels in Kalambaka are available if you are wanting to split the journey with an overnight stay. Alternatively, there are a number of travel companies which do the trip which helps cut the travelling time a bit. This was the option we chose. Try www.lacalcidica.com
Journey from Halkidiki
Okay, so it was an early start at 5.30 am but you don’t do it every day and you can always eat and sleep as you travel. The journey from Halkidiki takes you through Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city and also close to Mount Olympus, the highest point in Greece at 2900m. You wind your way through Larissa, the 5th largest city in Greece and the capital of the Thessaly region.
There is plenty to see along the way to help break up the journey. The route includes taking you past cotton fields with early seasons growth in late May, pomegranate trees, fields of barley and past sheep and goat sheds. You’ll find the route eventally follows the Pineios river towards its source in Meteora.
Meteora in Greece really is a magical destination and if it has not yet made its way onto your bucket list make sure you add it and plan a visit soon.
The Greece Travel Guide
If you are thinking about visiting Greece check out our Greece Travel Guide which will give you a flavour of the country and help you prepare to make the most of your time there.
Looking for More?
If you are looking for some further reading then below you’ll find more of our articles on Greece. For related reading check out the Tag links as well at the bottom of the page.
More Reading on Greece
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