crossing5oceans.com | Published April 17th, 2021 | Last Updated May 4th, 2021
All Images © 2021 - Kelly Girouard - Please Contact for Permission to Use
Table of Contents
IN THIS GUIDE:
WHAT TO SEE, COST, OPENING HOURS AND ACCESSIBILITY:
Meteora's monasteries may not top everyone’s travel list when heading to Greece, perhaps because it's located about a four-hour drive north of Athens, but this lesser-known destination should be included on any travellers bucket list.
Meteora means ‘suspended in air,’ and that’s exactly what these monasteries have accomplished. Situated at the top of vertical columns of rock formed 60 million years ago, the brick-faced sides of the buildings blend seamlessly into the pillars they are perched upon. It's quite a sight driving into Kalabaka and witnessing them towering above the village below.
Columns of Rock Formed 60 Million Years Ago then Further Shaped by Weathering and Earthquakes
There are six monasteries open to the public today, and I was fortunate enough to visit five of them; Varlaam, Grand Meteoron, Roussanou, Agia Triada and St. Stephen's. Use the information below to start planning your own unforgettable Meteora experience now!
To reach Meteora from Athens the drive is approximately four hours, and to reach Meteora from Thessaloniki it's approximately three hours. If you choose to take public transportation, this is an excellent article (please ignore the double text link that appears on mobile devices, website developers are working to fix it. The first part of the link still works) that provides information on getting to Meteora by train, bus and car.
If you decided on public transportation, how will you get around once you arrive? A few options involve hiring a taxi, going on foot or using the tour busses that run regularly in the area. If you choose to walk the site, it would require a decent level of physical fitness, and you should have at least two full days to take it all in.
A word about renting a car in Greece; you need to be a defensive driver. Other motorists can be aggressive, especially on motorways and mountain passes. Don't let this deter you; be sure to be safe, be focused and move to the far right lane if you drive slower than other vehicles. If you're unsure about renting a car, you may like the article “Are you Prepared to Drive in a Foreign Country?” to determine if a car rental is right for you.
The Winding Roads that Lead to the Monasteries of Meteora
When to Visit Meteora
Shoulder season is a great time to visit this region to avoid the crowds and the heat that accompany the summer months. Shoulder season for Greece is April to about mid-June and mid-September until the end of October.
It's advisable to book a room overnight so you can experience the beauty of Meteora at sunrise and sunset; this, in turn, will also mean experiencing this beautiful landscape in near silence once the crammed tour busses have left the area.
Be Sure to Stay Overnight to Catch the Sun Setting Over the Monasteries
Dress Code and Conduct
The monasteries are a place of worship, and the buildings you're entering are still inhabited by nuns and monks to this day. Conduct and dress code are especially important regulations that must be followed to be respectful of those residing at Meteora; visitors will see the rules well sign-posted to ensure they are adhered to.
During my visit, clothing was available to borrow at the entrances of the monasteries but it would be best to check and see if that's an option before arriving. Ladies will need to cover their knees; it’s not enough to wear long shorts. You'll be required to wear a sarong, a long dress or skirt. Your shoulders should be covered as well. Men should be wearing pants and be mindful that shirts cannot be sleeveless.
Since it was quite hot during my stay, I had on a lightweight maxi dress, walking sandals and then used the sarong in my daypack to put over my shoulders when entering.
Varlaam was named after a monk who built a chapel here in the 14th century. After he died, the site remained abandoned for almost 200 years. The monastery that stands today took 22 years to complete.
April 1st to October 31st 2021: 9am - 4pm. Closed on Friday
November 1st to March 31st: 9am - 3pm. Closed on Thursday and Friday
Steps to Climb to the Entry: 150
Admission Cost: €3
The Incredible Architecture of Varlaam Blending Seamlessly with its Rock Foundation
The building materials for the construction of Varlaam were hoisted to the top using ropes and pulleys, which is quite the feat considering Varlaam sits 1224 feet above sea level. Before the pathway to reach Varlaam was carved into the rock in 1922, this same rope and pulley system would take the monks to the top, in a trip that took a half hour. It was a terrifying experience as the ropes often frayed and broke over time which meant a number of monks lost their lives during the construction of the monasteries.
Varlaam Looks Quite Different from other Vantage Points Around Meteora
Bridge, Rock Pathways and Exterior Facade of Varlaam
As its name implies, Grand Meteoron is the largest of the remaining monasteries today; it is the oldest as well. This monastery was constructed on top of the largest rock whose name is “Platis lithos,” meaning “wide rock,” and is approximately 2000 feet above sea level.
April 1st to October 31st 2021: 9am - 3pm. Closed on Tuesday
November 1st to March 31st: 9am - 2pm. Closed on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
Steps to Climb to the Entry: 270
Admission Cost: €3
Climbing the Rock Pathway Leading to Great Meteoron Monastery
Supplies....and Humans....Carried by Bucket Transport. Yikes!
Views from the Lookout
There are three chapels located at this monastery and a wealth of treasures in the library. Some of these priceless items include ancient texts of Homer, Aristotle and Sophocles, legal documents, as well as Byzantine-era manuscripts, and books.
Gold Mosaic Tile from Byzantium on the Museum Wall of Grand Meteoron
The interior Details of the Monastery
The Interior Corridor, Ossuary and Wine Room
Roussanou was founded in the middle of the16th century and, as of 2015, had 13 nuns in residence. It's at a lower elevation than the other monasteries but still does require some stair climbing and a bridge crossing to reach the entry.
April 1st to October 31st 2021: 9am - 5pm. Closed on Wednesday
November 1st to March 31st: 9am - 2pm. Closed on Wednesday
Steps to Climb to the Entry: 195
Admission Cost: €3
Roussanou Monastery Perched Above the Village of Kalabaka
Close-up and Far Off Views of Roussanou Sitting on its Rock Pillar
The monastery of Roussanou consists of 3 stories. The top and second level have an exhibition room and reception halls, while the ground level houses the Church of the Transfiguration of Christ with several cells.
Holy Trinity, which is the translation of Agia Triada, sits atop a slender rock column and is only accessible by 140 steep steps. Thanks to its position and the fact that few tour busses stop here, it makes Agia Triada one of the most peaceful monasteries in the area. The valley's incredible views and the surrounding landscape are breathtaking and worth the climb on their own.
April 1st to October 31st 2021: 9am - 5pm. Closed on Thursday
November 1st to March 31st: 10am - 4pm. Closed on Thursday
Steps to Climb to the Entry: 140
Admission Cost: €3
The Open Pathway that Leads to the Monastery of Agia Triada
Interior Details and Church
The Pathway to Agia Triada that was Carved into the Rock was Completed in 1925
Hermit monks may have lived here beginning in the 14th century, but the present monastery was built between 1458 and 1476. Until the 20th century, monks, pilgrims and supplies reached the monastery using only rope-ladders and baskets; then, in 1925, access to the top was made easier by the addition of rock-hewn stairs.
Within the courtyard of Agia Triada, you'll find farming tools and the old winch system used for hauling up baskets. In the church, you will find impressive frescoes and manuscripts that have been well preserved over the centuries.
The earliest construction of St. Stephen's monastery dates back to the12th Century but became almost entirely absent of monks by 1960. In 1961 the monastery became a convent when nuns began to settle at St. Stephen's; there are currently 27 nuns in residence.
This monastery is the most accessible of the six, which also makes it the most popular so try to visit St. Stephen's first to avoid the crowds. There's a parking lot with a small bridge leading to the entrance making it barrier-free.
April 1st to October 31st 2021: 9am - 1:30pm & 3:30pm - 5:30pm
November 1st to March 31st: 9:30am - 1pm & 3pm - 5pm
Closed on Monday year round
Steps to Climb to the Entry: No steps - just a short decline across a bridge to the entry. The photo below shows the location of the parking lot on the left side
Admission Cost: €3
St. Stephen's Monastery with the Village of Kalabaka below
The Interior Stone Courtyard and Gardens
There are two cathedrals inside St. Stephen's, the earliest one built in the 16th century and the later built in the 18th century. Similar to other monasteries in Meteora, St. Stephen's has an impressive collection of painted frescos, manuscripts and relics.
One of the Many Postcard Viewpoints of Meteora's Landscape
Meteora is worth the drive from Athens or wherever you are in Greece. It's one of those magical landscapes that will take your breath away with just a glance. While it may be out of the way, sometimes that’s what travel is all about; it’s places like these that make us reflect on the incredible experiences we've had, and the unusual places we have travelled to.