If utopia exists, I am hoping that it bears resemblance to Meteora: Karsts reaching up to the heavens. Silhouettes of jagged giants at night. A calming view of villages from the summit. Red-roofed monasteries that seem to float above the clouds. Silence only broken by the sweet melody of chirping birds and occasional winds. A non-fictional world carved out from an animated film.
This is Meteora. My utopia in Greece. My favorite place in Europe. One of the most striking places I’ve seen in my lifetime.
I haven’t said WOW too many times in my life. And I’m not exaggerating.
Meteora is photogenic in pictures but to see this place in real life is literally a jaw-dropping moment.
It’s a visual treat that will make you go through different feelings like “Is this heaven?”
“How can a place like this exist?”
“There must really be a god out there.”
“I wanna live here forever.”
“I don’t wanna leave this place ever.”
Its literal meaning is “suspended in the air” with its karsts seemingly dangling from the celestial sphere. Its unrealistic beauty was shaped by time, by nature, by the wind, and by different geological processes.
Getting to Meteora
To get to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is not that easy. You need to ride a 5-hour train ride (TrainOSE) from Athens and realize that “Greek time” can be synonymous to “Filipino time.” The train ride offers pretty scenic views of Greece, making the noisy train announcements bearable.
Kastraki and Kalambaka are the nearest places to see Meteora. I chose Kastraki because of the lovely and affordable Guesthouse Vavitsas. I regret not taking photos but it’s clean, it has a balcony with a great view of the karsts, and the staff is very friendly and helpful.
After I checked in Guesthouse Vavitsas, I ate this plate of lamb chops for my late lunch. If you love lamb, Greece offers cheap and delicious lamb (and of course souvlaki!) everywhere ;-)
Devouring that heavy meal made me feel like I needed to walk all afternoon. It’s so refreshing to appreciate nature, nature and nature without bumping into another tourist. After all the crowded spots in France, Spain and Italy, it felt heaven when you only see five other tourists in a span of four hours ;-)
Exploring Meteora is perfect for solo travelers. You can easily walk or hike on your own during the day. You can also join a tour group if you do not have enough time to explore.
There are so many picturesque views to make you trigger-happy.
And thanks to rocks and grasses willing to be my steady tripod, I was able to take some Facebook-worthy solo photos :)
I really wanted to wait for the sunset at 8:30PM but I was scared of walking alone at night and getting bitten by snakes :)) Now I regret to be not brave enough to walk those dark roads :-(
Hiking in Meteora
The next day, I decided to hike the trails of Meteora.
I’m so thankful to have met fellow hiker Dimitris, who lives in Trikala, a town near Meteora.
Thanks to his great hiking memory, we did not get lost in the forest.
He’s also an amazing photographer that’s why I ended up having so many great photos in Meteora. Check out his website here.
Compared to my walks on the road the day before, hiking Meteora’s trails was very different. It offered better views.
And a better companion too!
We also saw some climbers traversing rock walls.
There are plenty of routes you can choose from, depending on the level of difficulty and distance you want to hike.
We hiked and walked about 12 kilometers and it was one of the best hikes I’ve had in my life.
I strongly recommend hiking when you’re in Meteora because of its unique landscapes and relaxing nature. Just be sure to bring a lot of water and food. Remember that you can only find small tavernas and bakeries in faraway downtown Kastraki and Kalambaka. There are no shops to save your worms and dry throat :-D
On the way back, we walked around Kastraki village. It's so laid-back and lovely! I wish I have a home with a majestic backdrop like this ;-)
The next day I decided to walk again to visit the monasteries. I skipped the usual group tours because I wanted to see majority of the monasteries and I really loved walking in Meteora.
There are six monasteries in Meteora. Each monastery has different schedules so be sure to plan your travel before your visit:
Visit Hours: 9:00-17:00 (April-October), 9:00-16:00 (November-March)
Closed: Tuesday (April-October), Tuesday & Wednesday (November-March)
Visit Hours: 9:00-16:00 (April-October), 9:00-15:00 (November-March)
Closed: Friday (April-October), Thursday & Friday (November-March)
Agia Triada/Holy Trinity
Visit Hours: 9:00-17:00 (April-October), 9:00-15:00 (November-March)
Closed: Thursday (April-October), Wednesday & Thursday (November-March)
St. Nikolaos Anapafsas
Visit Hours: 9:00-15:30 (April-October), 9:00-15:30 (November-March)
Closed: Friday (April-October), Friday (November-March)
Visit Hours: 9:00-17:00 (April-October), (November-March)
Closed: Wednesday (April-October), Wednesday (November-March)
St. Stephen Nunnery
Visit Hours: 9:00-17:00 (April-October), (November-March)
For women, be sure to wear appropriate clothes. Ladies are required to wear sleeved tops and sarong (even if you’re wearing long pants). Always remember to wear comfortable clothes and shoes as you need to climb a lot of stairs to reach these monasteries.
All monasteries have drinking fountains so if you want to save money, just bring a bottle and refill it in the monasteries. There are also no restaurants near the monasteries. I only saw a food van near the Great Meteoro Monastery so be sure to bring your snacks if you’re planning on hiking/walking all day.
During the 9th to 11th century, hermits had to seek refuge in Meteora, away from the warriors from Constantinopole, in order to avoid persecution. They had to search for mountaintop sanctuary and found isolated crevices, cliff tops, and caves as their shelter. How did they manage to reach the summit? They scaled these rocks using their hands and ropes.
They lived a very monastic life, congregating with other monks only once a week for prayers.
It was only during the 14th century when monasteries were built. Athanasios Koinovitis was inspired by the hermits residing in caves so he decided to build his place of worship on top of the sandstone monoliths. It’s unbelievable to imagine how they managed to construct monasteries on top of towering cliffs. It is said that it took them around 60 years (almost an entire life span) to build a single monastery. During those times, they had to manually lift or use ropes to transport stone, brick and timber.
The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron
The Great Meteoron is the most popular monastery in Meteora. It is the oldest, the largest and the most important one in Meteora.
Staircases were only built here in 1921. It’s so hard to imagine how monks used ladders and ropes for centuries.
It has the biggest museum and you can learn a lot about their history and religion here. It’s so fascinating to see ancient parchments, manuscripts, costumes, tools, etc.
Aside from the museum, you can visit its refectory, carpenter’s shop and central courtyard.
The panoramic view from its terrace is so magnificent <3
Varlaam (Agioi Pantes Monastery)
Varlaam is another popular monastery because of its lovely terraces and very informative and huge museum.
Its veranda will let you savor this lovely panorama.
From here, you can take photos of Roussanou Monastery and the beautiful greeneries of Meteora.
Agios Nikolaos is smaller than the other monasteries but I love the sceneries from its viewing point.
You’ll get a clear view of Kastraki town, the fields, and these amazing karsts.
Pictures inside the monastery is not allowed but its "on top of the world" views are worth the long climb ;-)
Agia Trias (Monastery of the Holy Trinity)
The Agia Trias monastery from afar is one of the most picturesque views you’ll see in Meteora. Be sure to take loads of photos of it on your way there!
You need a lot of leg power in order to reach the monastery.
The worship room is very small but you can take photos.
The most spectacular part about this place is its viewpoint.
Here, you’d feel how it is to be a bird hovering over the Kalambaka town.
It’s also cool to check out how they transport things using the pulley system.
I skipped going inside this monastery but this is how it looks like from the outside ;-)
In between these monasteries, be sure to stop by Meteora's numerous viewpoints.
You can appreciate Meteora’s timeless beauty from these pitstops.
It’s also beautiful to hang out on these viewpoints at night, on a full moon. I regret not bringing my camera when I went here in the evening. The silhouettes of these karsts are soooo breathtaking at night! It wasn't even full moon at that time but the bright stars made the views so romantic.
Of course, do not forget your selfies! And always ask a photographer-looking stranger to take a photo of you :)) Or else, you'll be forced to put your camera on timer-mode after getting frustrated from blurred shots of kind strangers hehe
Visiting Meteora is THE highlight of my Europe trip. It felt like stepping back in time, in an out-of-this-world mystical place.
And nope, it’s not just about its pretty views. Most of the time postcard-perfect places will give you an “oooohhh wow” moment… and then you’ll move on. But in Meteora, I found myself awed over and over again, almost in a state of disbelief.
No matter where you go, it is pretty in the eyes and pretty in the soul.
I kinda imagine how the monks must have felt when they discovered this place. I am not a religious person but I found myself meditating, unbelievably enchanted and suddenly believing in a proof that there must be a creator out there.
And just like what its name means, I felt like I was suspended in the air— a kind of ‘suspension’ that made me feel humbled, insignificant in this very immense towering world, yet feeling glorious for having the chance to sit on top of its magnificent sandstone peaks.
Ahhh, Meteora. This must be the closest thing to utopia.
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