meteora

Meet the monks who live amongst the sky

Image de Profil, Avril is Away
Let’s play the riddle game today: what complex of six monasteries standing atop rocky pillars is named “middle of the sky” and was the inspiration for the Eyrie of the Vale in Game of Thrones ?… Have you got it ?… Well yeah, obviously you do, since it’s the name of the article you just clicked upon ! About that Game of Thrones thing, just look at that image from the show:

And compare it to this photo I took during my stay :

Avril is Away at Meteora, Thessaly Greece, epic pose, blue hair

Both have pretty similar landscapes right ? 🙂

What is Meteora ?

In shorts, Meteora is a very peculiar formation of mountains constituted of many vertical pillars where monks have been building and maintaining monasteries since the 12th century. Altogether, it creates an astonishing and otherworldly landscape that would easily qualify on my “top 5 places to see before I die”.

Meteora is a peculiar place as it was not formed by lava emitted by a volcanic eruption or by the clash of two opposed tectonic plate but rather by the gradual weathering of a large underwater plateau. In other words, Meteora used to be a sea, approximately 60 million years ago, and sediment gathered at its bottom for such a prolonged period that they eventually turned into sandstone and conglomerate of rocks. After a chain of earthquakes, the seabed was raised above the ground level and the sea started pouring out into what is now the Aegean sea whilst the water dragged rocks away and weathered the whole formation, leaving only the most cohesive pillars standing and bringing the rest down.

This explains why so many smaller rocks seem to be sprouting from the mountain’s surface as you can see in this picture. The great thing is that it makes climbing that much easier !

Between 50,000 and 5,000 years ago, Meteora was frequently occupied by cave dwellers. The region was more or less abandoned afterwards until monks started settling on the pinnacles in the 9th century, eventually building whole monasteries up on the rocks as soon as the 12th century.

Such enterprise required quite the leap of faith, as the rocks (ranging up to 500 meter high) first had to be climbed manu militari for a ladder to be installed. This ladder would then become the only entrance to the monastery, through which every kind of supply had to be carried to the top by a monk.

Until the 1920’s, access to the various monasteries relied on ropes, nets and baskets, which were deliberately perilous to ensure the peace and safety of the monk communities from political upheaval but also to represent the fragility of the traditional order of life the monks were entitled with.

How to get there ?

Meteora is situated in the plains of Thessaly in mainland Greece, near Trikala. The two closest city to Meteora are Kalambaka (aka Kalapaka) and Kastraki.

Kastraki is only accessible by road, meaning that you won’t be able to get a train there but you can either walk to the city from Kalambaka (which should only take half an hour), drive there, or get a lift.

Kalambaka on the other hand is a slightly bigger town that can be accessed through the national bus and train system.

Regardless of the transportation method you choose, getting to Kalambaka from Athens or Thessaloniki, the two biggest cities in Greece, takes up to six hours and should cost you from 15 to 30€ way depending on whether or not you qualify for discounted tickets (for example, if you’re a European student with your student ID, etc …).

Map of the OSE railway network in Greece
Wherever you come from, you'll probably have to change at Paleofarsalos to get to Kalambaka

Concerning train rides, you can book your tickets online in advance through OSE’s website (OSE being one of the two railway companies operating in Greece) here: https://tickets.trainose.gr/dromologia/.

The bus tickets can be bought on KTEL’s website here: https://kteltrikala.e-ticketing.gr/Pages/Destinations.aspx

(Disclaimer: I am in no way related to any of those companies and only included those links in the article because I struggled to find relevant information in English on the web when I myself was trying to book my trip in Meteora so I figured that could be helpful to you ^^)

Where to stay ?

Kalambaka and Kastraki are moderately developed towns and thus feature a very decent amount of choice when it comes to accommodation. Both are completely fine to stay and the only real difference between the two is that Kastraki is closer to most of Meteora whilst Kalambaka is a more dynamic city.

In other words, if you only have a day or two in Meteora, maybe you should consider staying in Kastraki so that you save some time getting up and down the rocks, but if you have a bit more time or if you’d like a change of atmosphere in the evening, Kalambaka is perfectly fine, especially as you’ll find many bars, restaurants and even a club there.

HOTELS

I won’t go into details about Hotels because I simply don’t stay in them so I’d have no idea where to guide you to, so you’ll have to do some more research, sorry ! ^.^

AIRBNB

I had originally planned to stay at an AirBNB place in Kalambaka because it seemed like the cheapest option, and I’m pretty sure you can find great places to rent on the platform if you book it in advance. For those who don’t know yet, AirBNB is a platform which allow people to rent parts or the whole of their apartment or houses. It’s pretty popular all around the world as it is very flexible and, as a traveler, I use it quite often. If you’re interested in AirBNB and you don’t have an account, you can create one using my affiliate link to get 25€ worth of credit upon inscription: www.airbnb.fr/c/avrild6.

(Disclaimer: If you do register using this link and end up booking a trip one day, I’ll get 15€ worth of credit on my account, which will help me fund my travel and this blog, so it’d be a win-win! :D)

Hostel Central Meteora Bar Avril and Andy with a glass of Bailey
Fooling around with our glasses of Bailey's in the bar of the Central Hostel
HOSTELS

In the end, I decided we’d stay in an Hostel in Kalambaka, and I can say I do not regret this choice a second ! There are obviously plenty of hostels you can choose from so do your research, but I would recommend Meteora Central Hostel after staying there for nearly a week.

(Disclaimer: I have not tie with the establishment apart from a great pile of cool memories ^^)

Here’s what I liked about this hostel: firstly, it is indeed very central: it’s right in the middle of Kalambaka, five minutes away from the railway station, it’s also literally in front of the bus stops where you can get a lift to the mountain tops and it’s surrounded by convenience shops, restaurants and bars. What’s more is that the owners know what they are doing, they know everything about the region, from the history of it to the timetables of buses and trains, but even more importantly, they are lovely human beings. They helped us a lot throughout the week, taught us some Greek words, gave me pills when I got intoxicated by shady mountain water and even insisted that almost half of the freddo cappuccino we ordered during our stay were on the house.

I mean really, those cappuccinos are a big deal ! x) The two of us (Andy and I) usually had at least 4 of them every day, for 6 days (8 x 6 = 48 cappuccinos in total, approximately 20 of which were given to us by the owners). Multiplied by the price of each single cappuccino which must have been 2,50€ each, they offered us the equivalent of 50€!

Anyway, let’s leave the math for now, just keep in mind that the owners are great, so I’d recommend Meteora Central Hostel (you can search it on Instagram to see the rooms and all, by the way).

Oklm Sur un flanc de montagne ^^

Une publication partagée par Avril (@avrilisaway) le

How to get around ? What to do ?

GETTING UP THE ROCKS

Okay, so now you’re near Meteora, you’ve left your stuff in the comfy room you booked, what do you do?

Well, you’ll probably want to head off to the Meteors themselves to get that beautiful view in, right ?

There are multiple ways you can do that, either by walking along the roads and trails that go from both Kastraki and Kalambaka to the top of the rocks, or by having a bus drive you to the top.

Local rides to the Meteors leave a 9AM, 11AM, 1PM and 4PM from the center of Kalambaka and drive to the Great Meteoron and St-Stephen before coming back. A one-way ticket costs 1.80€ whilst a return ticket costs 3.30€.

If you want to make the most out of your time, I’d suggest getting up early in the morning to be ready by 9AM when the bus arrives in order to spend the day on the rocks and in monasteries, and coming back using a trail just after the sun sets (don’t be too long as it can get dark pretty quickly).

KEEP IN MIND

Make sure you bring all the necessary gears with you if you intend to spend a lot of time up there:

You’ll at least need food, plenty of water, and probably some sunscreen. There are a few kiosk-trucks up on the monasteries’ parking but they mainly sell bottled beverages, souvenirs and shitty sandwiches so don’t rely on them.

Finally, the trails can be a bit tricky to find (especially after dark !) so I suggest you get some info on that before you decide to stay until the sun sets. Andy and I spent an hour climbing down what we though was a trail only to realize it only led to a 200-meters-high cliff above Kalambaka and that we’d have to climb back up to find the actual way home.

In the end, we got lost for approximately two hours until we found the trail, but that was a funny experience anyway ^^

MONASTERIES' OPENING HOURS

Last but not least, keep in mind that the monasteries are all open at once during the weekends only, meaning that each of them closes on a certain day of the week. 

Don’t worry though, I’ve made a chart with the timetables for all the monasteries because I’m nice like that ^^

Monastery

Opening Hours

Closed on …

St. Nikolaos Anapafsas

09:00 to 15:30

… Fridays

Great Meteoron

09:00 to 17:00

… Tuesdays

Roussanou

09:00 to 17:45

… Wednesdays

Holy Trinity

09:00 to 17:00

… Thursdays

Varlaam

09:00 to 16:00

… Fridays

St. Stephen

09:00 to 13:30 & 15:30 to 17:30

… Mondays

PS: It does say on the map that the “visiting hours may change without a warning” so hey, the information I provide here was perfectly accurate as of April 2018, but although I don’t think it’ll change any time soon, you should definitely double-check before any important decision ^^

Can you spot Andy in Meteora's sea of rock ? 😂

Une publication partagée par Avril (@avrilisaway) le

Should you pay for activities and tours?

TAKING A TOUR IN METEORA: IS IT WORTH IT ?

Andy and I didn’t invest in any guided tour of the monasteries because I had done my research previously. Although we did understand the significance and history of the monuments, I feel like going on a guided tour would probably have helped us learn more about the monasteries and life inside them.

I cannot recommend any since I have not tested any, but I think going on one of those tour could be a great idea, especially if you haven’t research Meteora’s thoroughly.

CLIMBING IN METEORA

There are many other activities to do in Meteora, amongst which is climbing. As an intermediate climber (meaning that I know the basic techniques of belaying and such since high-school, but I don’t do climbing on a regular basis), I feel like Meteora is a great place to do climbing because the rocks sprouting from the cliffs make for great things to get a grip at and the view you get from the top of the mountains is fantastic. Moreover, there is more than 800 climbing path that are installed and maintained throughout the Meteors, which means that there must be one that corresponds to your ability and that it won’t necessarily be the same for you as for others, making your trip unique!

If you’ve seen our epic travel video from Greece, you already know that I surprised Andy by taking him climbing for his birthday (if you haven’t, it’s okay, you can still check it out here, don’t worry, I still love you 🙂 )

I booked our session from the Tourism Office in Kalambaka and it was a great guy named Kostas Liolos who took us climbing. The guy is a great climber, obviously, and he has climbed mountains all over Europe. What’s more is that he is very knowledgeable about Meteora (he was the one who taught me how the Meteors were created in the first place!), so I’d definitely recommend you send him a mail if you’re interested in doing some climbing, I’m sure he’d be glad to take you up a mountain if you told him you came from Avril. Who knows, he might even give you a discount !

KOSTAS LIOLOS : ksts_liolios@yahoo.com (Yet another disclaimer: I have no business with Kostas, I just think he does an amazing job at taking people to the top of mountains the hard way ^^)

FINAL WORDS

Anyway, apart from climbing, there are plenty of other activities you can do near the Meteors, ranging from visiting restaurant’s kitchen to learn about local food to the museum of icon-making, et caetera …

When you get to Meteora, you will probably be handed a map similar to the one which you can see on the photos above. You’ll find all the important locations (like bus stops and everything) in there, along with ads for different types of activity. 

You can read more about activities and Meteora itself on the Tourism Office’s website here: https://www.visitmeteora.travel/

Sunset over Meteora Greece monastery Varlaam Great Meteoron

Anyway, I hope this article will help you plan your trip to Meteora or that – even better – it will have inspired you to go, as it is a truly beautiful place that I am deeply thankful I was able to visit !

If you liked the article, please share it with your friends: they might enjoy it too, and it’ll help me a lot 🙂

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