8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Metéora
On the Plain of Thessaly in mainland Greece, you'll find an extraordinary group of vertical rock formations, standing up to 300 meters high, which have been weathered by erosion into a variety of bizarre forms. Perched on these rocks are the monasteries of Metéora, which take their name from their setting - ta metéora monastíria, the monasteries hanging in the air. Originally accessible only by ladders and winches, the monasteries have now been brought within the reach of visitors by the construction of modern roads and flights of steps; but it should not be forgotten that these are places of peace, prayer, and meditation, and visitors should conduct themselves accordingly.
The monasteries were built from 1356 onwards. There were once 24, but decline set in during the 16th century, and only six monasteries are now still occupied. The best way to explore Metéora is on foot, hiking from monastery to monastery (wear good walking shoes and bring a bottle of water and a camera). Metéora has been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1 Great Meteoron Monastery
The biggest and most visited monastery, in a glorious setting with fine views across the surrounding landscape, the Great Metéoron was founded by Athanasios the Meteorite in 1356 and enlarged in the second half of the 14th century by his disciple and successor Ioasaph, son of Serbian King Simeon. The tombs of both Athanasios and Ioasaph are in the frescoed church. Standing below the monastery, you can see traces of earlier ladders on the rock face, and at the top, the little tower-like building with a timber roof, which still houses the winch once used to haul up visitors in a net but now serving only to hoist up supplies. The museum, besides displaying religious icons and books, highlights the role of the Orthodox church in Greece's struggle for freedom from the Turks, and also illustrates the Greeks' resistance to the Germans in WWII. It is easily accessible by car and excursion coach, so it does get very busy in peak season.
2 Monastery of Varlaám
Perched atop a 373-meter cliff and reached from the other side by climbing 195 steps, Varlaam is the second biggest monastery, after the Great Metéoron. The monastery was founded in 1517, on the site of the old hermitage of the hermit Varlaam (from whom it takes its name). Inside, you can visit the serene 16th-century church complete with frescoes, and the old refectory, which houses a small museum.
3 Monastery of Ayía Triáda (Holy Trinity)
The Monastery of the Holy Trinity is approached by climbing up 140 steps. It is the monastery that featured in the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only (1981), in the hanging-basket scene. Founded in 1438, its main church is much newer, dating from 1798. From the open space behind the church, on the edge of the crag, there are magnificent views over the Plain of Thessaly.
4 Monastery of Áyios Nikólaos Anapafsás (St. Nicholas)
The closest monastery to the village of Kastraki (one kilometer away), St. Nicholas is approached up a steep hill, followed by a flight of steps. Founded in 1368 and enlarged in 1628, it is much-loved for its tiny church decorated with incredible frescoes, painted by the Cretan artist Theophanes in 1527, the most memorable depicting "Adam naming the Animals."
5 Monastery of Rousanoú (St. Barbara)
The Monastery of Rousanoú stands boldly perched upon a slender pinnacle of rock. Dedicated to the "Transfiguration" but honored to Saint Barbara, Rousanou was probably built in 1288 and renovated as a monastery in 1545. It became a convent in 1988, and is inhabited by nuns who tend its lovely small garden.
6 Monastery of Áyios Stéfanos (St. Stephen)
The most accessible of all the Meteora, St. Stephen's is approached via a footbridge and there are no steps to climb. In an awesome setting with spectacular views over the valley (from the balcony), it stands close to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. The nuns who live there are welcoming and keep it in perfect order, with a beautiful chapel adorned with frescoes and ornate golden details.
The most convenient base for visiting the Metéora monasteries, thanks to its choice of sizeable hotels, guest houses, tavernas, and restaurants, the town of Kalambáka (Kalampaka) caters for groups of tourists and pilgrims and thrives primarily on tourism. It lies at the point where the River Piniós emerges from the Pindos mountains into the Plain of Thessaly. Kalambáka is 357 kilometers from Athens, to which it is connected by both train and bus.
More authentic than Kalambáka (which lies just two kilometers away), the unspoilt village of Kastraki is built into a hillside below two massive rocky pinnacles and is an attraction in itself. Made up of mid-19th century cottages with terracotta tile roofs and wooden window shutters, Kastraki is a conservation village, so new building is restricted. You'll find several houses with rooms to let, plus half a dozen traditional tavernas. From here, a marked footpath leads up to the monasteries.