“Suspended in the air”.
That’s the meaning of Meteora
. These monasteries of northern Greece perch on rocky outcrops hundreds of metres above the valley floor, seemingly defying the forces of nature and gravity.
The history of the monasteries
At the height of construction in the 14th & 15th centuries, some 24 monasteries inhabited the peaks.
Their ethos was one of remoteness and inaccessibility. The political instability of the era – rather than an overwhelming desire for the solitude of spiritual contemplation – made isolation a necessity.
The monasteries today
Today, only six monasteries – four for men, two for women – remain in working condition.
Each maintains at least a small chapel, adorned with intricate Byzantine paintings, their dark details picked out by candlelight.
The larger monasteries such as Melago Meteora (Great Meteora) also house mini museums; featuring battles and agriculture of gone eras.
All the monasteries are incredibly photogenic; the views to neighbouring monasteries or the plains below being the mainstay of many a snapshot.
The most memorable elements of Meteora: the majestic setting, the wide vistas, the photo opportunities. This is a place where your photographs will be your memories.
The nearest major town is Kalambaka, around 5-6 hours north of Athens by bus or train. A one-way bus ticket in October 2014 cost €29 via Trikala (where you may need to change).
The pretty village of Kastraki is 2km west of Kalambaka and is the nearest base to the Meteora. There are plenty of food and accommodation options in both Kastraki and Kalambaka, and English is widely spoken.
Tour buses ply the winding roads around Meteora, but going under your own steam means you can find some of the peace and solitude that was the essence of early monastic life here.
It’s possible to explore independently and on foot, over two days from the nearby village of Kastraki. You can walk via the main roads, and there are also some (unsigned) footpaths if you keep your eyes peeled. The latter is a great way to experience the majesty of Meteora’s isolated setting.
Rock climbing is also popular, if you fancy emulating James Bond in the 1981 film, “For Your Eyes Only.”
Getting into the monasteries
Entrance fees are €3 per monastery and each is closed one day per week. Expect a lot of steps, some of them uneven. In days gone by – according to UNESCO’s website – pilgrims were hoisted vertically up the sheer cliff faces.
Leave the shorts and sleeveless tops at your accommodation and dress conservatively. Ladies will need to wear one of the long skirts provided at the entrance to each monastery (or bring your own).
Article by Julie Sykes