There are no words to describe the beauty of Meteora, a timeless world suspended in the air, high above the small town of Kalambaka in central Greece. My visit to this magical place is something I will never forget and, whenever life tries to pull me down, this is where I escape to – I close my eyes and relive the wonderful feeling of freedom, love and peace I experienced as I walked in the mystical clouds of Meteora.
While most people know about Greece‘s beautiful islands and incredible remains of a once glorious ancient civilisation, few are aware of the spectacular tall sandstone rock formations of Meteora where hermit monks found their refuge more than a thousand years ago.
The word “méteora” is Greek for “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens” and it really is not hard to understand why the monks felt so drawn to the solitude and mystery of this place.
When you stand at the foot of these rock towers and look up, you feel very small and in awe of God’s creation. And, when you stand at the top of this otherworldly landscape, and are shrouded by clouds in the early morning, or admiring the endless views over the fertile valley far below, time comes to a complete standstill.
The monasteries of Meteora
The first monks took refuge in holes and fissures in the vertical rock formations and very few people knew of their existence. In the 14th century, the first monastery was built and, as the Turkish occupation of Greece expanded, more followed.
Meteora served as the perfect refuge – the tall rock pillars were very hard to access and the hermits were left alone. It is said that there once was a total of 24 monasteries. Today, however, there are only six functioning monasteries left, while the rest lies in ruins.
It is mind-boggling how the monks could have managed to build anything on these tall smooth sandstone rock towers. Some of the rock formations are up to 550m (1,800 feet) tall. Until the early 1920s, you could only reach the monasteries via ropes and removable ladders. Food and anything else was transported in big baskets that were lowered from the monasteries. In the 1920s, steps were carved into the rock to make the monasteries a bit more accessible.
Exploring Meteora on foot
The best way to experience the magic of Meteora is on foot and I recommend starting at the highest monastery and slowly working your way down. You can get to the top via a hike from Kalambaka town (or the nearby small village of Kastraki), a Meteora-bound public bus which operates from May to September, or a taxi ride.
Since I wanted to enjoy the magic before the arrival of other tourists, I took an early morning taxi (which was surprisingly affordable) to Great Meteoron, the highest, largest and oldest of the monasteries. This early morning experience was incredible – I was enveloped in clouds, the air was cool and it was very quiet – it felt as if I was in another world.
I felt completely safe walking from one monastery to the next and enjoyed stopping along the way to admire the beautiful natural surroundings. Visiting Meteora was an absolute highlight of my Greek holiday. It is a place I simply cannot get out of my mind and I hope to return there one day.
Getting from Athens to Meteora
The easiest way to reach Meteora is by train. It will take you about five hours to travel by direct train from Athens to Kalambaka and three hours if you travel from Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city. More information is available on the Greek Railways website. (Click on “en” in the left-hand corner for the English version.)
I recommend staying over in the Meteora area for at least two nights. You can find very affordable accommodation if you book early. Choose from small hotels or B&Bs in the town of Kalambaka or opt to stay in the small village of Kastraki, which is about 2.5km from Kalambaka. I opted to stay in Kastraki as it is really close to the Meteora and away from potential tourist crowds. It is a very charming little traditional village and the perfect place to relax and unwind.
Have you ever visited Meteora in Greece? What were your impressions? Would you like to go there some day?
(Pure weekly photo challenge)