Time spent in Meteora: 3 nights, 2 days
Just a year ago, I had never heard of this stunningly beautiful place on Earth called Meteora, located in Central Northern Greece. This was one of the stops on our road trip loop on Mainland Greece in July, 2017, and one of the most stunning places I have ever seen in the world. We stayed at a place called Aeolic Star Hotel, which is situated just below the cliffs in the main part of town. (That’s our hotel balcony on the top right of the photo!)
Meteora was jaw dropping! I had no idea that such interesting rock formations existed in Greece, and I truly had no idea what to expect of mainland Greece in general. When you type in “Greece” to Google, the main places that show up are beaches and Santorini. There certainly isn’t enough attention given to parts of Greece that should be featured more in tourism publications. I’m always fascinated when natural Earth wonders are integrated with man-made architectural phenomenons.
We spent two nights in Meteora and used the first day to visit three of the Monasteries and take photos at the lookouts, and the second day for hiking around the area. The first day was perfect for photos because the clouds were interesting and ominous, forming a unique shot rather than the typical clear blue skies and direct overhead sunshine. Also, since the weather wasn’t great, there were fewer people.
Meteora literally means, “suspended in the air” or “high in the heavens” (what an appropriate name!) The area is made up of monolithic rock formations and boulders that dot the sky with a presence of great magnitude. The rocks are made up of sandstone and conglomerate, including mud streams that flowed into a delta at the edge of a lake over millions of years. A series of earth movements pushed the seabed upwards, creating the plateaus, fissures and fault lines that we see today.
As early as the 11th century, the caves in the rocks were occupied by Monks , but the Monasteries atop the cliffs were not built until the 14th century when Monks sought a hiding place to protect them from Turkish attacks. At that time, the only way to get up and down into the Monasteries was by rope ladders and pulleys. Now there are modern staircases and ramps to allow tourism access to each Monastery. This particular photo was a bit eerie because at first glance, it looked like tourists in brightly-colored clothing. However, with my camera’s zoom lens, I realized that it was laundry drying outside, which leads me to believe that somebody perhaps lives inside of this cave, even though there appears to be no way to access it… *shudders*
Meteora is located in the area of Kalambaka. Most of the tourists were from France and Russia. There were originally 25 Monasteries, but after natural disasters and deterioration over time, only six now remain; four are Monasteries (men only), and two are nunneries (women only). Each Monastery costs €3 per person, so if you want to see all six, you will pay €18 total per person. Because the Monasteries are high up on the cliffs, it requires a bit of physical capability to walk up and down all the stone steps. It’s a great workout and completely worth the efforts!
(Click on each photo to enlarge it)
Men and women must cover their shoulders (no tank tops). Men must wear long pants (shorts will not suffice) and women must wear long skirts that cover the knees (pants will not suffice). There are no requirements to cover the head as in many churches. Because these are active Monasteries, the dress code is strict. However, not to worry as each Monastery provides pants for men and wrap around skirts for women.
In Meteora there are several bakeries serving baklava and halva, a local dessert with butter, toasted almonds and sugar. It had a mochi-like gelatinous consistency and the top part tasted like flan. It was delicious and so fattening!
We discovered a taverna just a block away from our hotel, and we liked it so much we ate there three times! (Hey, we’re all about trying new things, but when the variety is so limited and an area tends to serve the same exact menu items cooked a bit differently and you find something you like with excellent food, service and ambiance, you frequent it multiple times!) I love that depending on the region of Greece in which you are visiting, the local fare differs. For example, food on Crete Island was very different from right plop in the center of Greece (no seafood, and because of the higher altitudes and cooler climates, olives aren’t as prolific.) Some popular food dishes here include briam (a mixture of fresh vegetables in the oven, cooked in tomato sauce), grilled cheese with balsamic vinaigrette, lots of fresh meats (usually lamb, pork and chicken), Greek meatballs in tomato sauce, and stuffed zucchini with minced meat, onions, rice dill & oregano. And of course, you can always count on a Greek salad tasting the same pretty much anywhere you go. I think by this point in our trip, we have eaten around 30 Greek salads.
Our second day in Meteora consisted of exploring some of the hiking trails, which were phenomenal. My favorite part of traveling is not museums, rather seeing the natural beauty for myself and being fully physically, mentally and emotionally present in the moment.
Hiking in Meteora
You can easily hike on your own, though there are several guided hiking tours, including scrambling guides as well! (Excellent for climbers, not for the faint of heart.)
We discovered a great trail that wandered through the lowlands with views looking up at the rock formations, which was spectacular. This is one of the thousands of reasons I love travel; because it makes you realize what a small place you occupy in this great world and humbles you. We simply parked our car and took off. (PS: I think there may be more cats in Greece than humans. You’ll see this scene a lot):
Watch out for extraordinarily dangerous, large, beastly and aggressive wildlife, such as this menacing guy! 😉
We were afraid someone was going to step on him, so Sasha picked him up and moved him to the other side to safety.
The trail comes out to a plateau where you can view a Monastery only accessible by foot (there is no road where you can just drive and walk up to it.)
After the plateau, the trail goes directly through the road to The Grand Meteoron, the largest and most visited Monastery of all six. After passing through the main road, the trail continues inconspicuously down a cobblestone path and back into the forest. These are the trails that were used hundreds of years ago to remain unnoticed by potential enemies. After a few hundred yards, you will reach a cave!! Thank goodness there are no mosquitoes, but there are bats!
As we returned to the small town of Kalambaka to check out of our hotel, I saw two bicycles with heaps of gear on the back and a tanned guy in a helmet. I asked him where he was headed to on the bike, thinking he might say a neighboring country such as Bulgaria or Albania. To my shock, he said “Thailand”. My jaw dropped. “I’m sorry, did you just say you are biking from here to THAILAND?!” thinking perhaps I needed to clean out my ears from all the sea water. He confirmed that I had heard correctly. By his accent and name (Stefan), I guessed that he was from Germany. I was correct.
I asked him how long he thinks it will take, and he said about one year and a half. The guy on the left of me (Andy) is originally from Nebraska but hasn’t lived in the states for over ten years, so his accent is all kinds of crazy. He spent four years living in Medellin, Colombia (where we visited at the start of our journey) and traveled all over South America and Europe. He ditched his backpack in Madrid, bought a bike, and hasn’t looked back. They started out as solo adventurers but met each other on the road and decided to bike together since they both miraculously happened to have the same destination. What an incredible journey! I just had to take a photo with them (they smelled pretty “Earthy”) but these guys are my heroes.
Later on when we arrived at our Airbnb, we told our host the story (he was from Belgium but married a Greek woman and has been living here for ten years and speaks six languages fluently). We expected at least a little bit of a reaction, but he just casually said, “yep, that’s pretty common in these parts.” Just like that! I’m just going to bicycle thousands of kilometers across two continents, no big deal. Europeans and their views towards travel and taking time off from work are AMAZING!!! Sometimes I feel like I should have been born in Europe. Then at least I could have dual citizenship like Sasha.