Hiking the Sky
Don’t you just love it when your tour guide does something extra for you?
We went to the Hiking Meteora tour sponsored by Visit Meteora expecting we’ll be getting just the same deal as everyone who went to the area. The morning tour was supposed to take us to the best spots around the “middle of the sky”, through roads that only locals know. But we got an extra treat as soon as the tour began.
The 5-hour tour started at around 8:30 AM. The guide, Kostas, greeted us and took one look at the group. Then he said, “Oh, you all look fit so I shall give you an extra experience”. With this, he led us to the foot of a huge, steep rock — the type that you can’t expect to climb without some equipment. And of course, we had nothing with us! As we moved forward, I heard the Singaporean couple in front of us say, “Oh, this is hard core!”. I can’t help but agree. I guess all of us had been expecting something easy.
The rock was really hard to climb, and Kostas said that it’s not normally where the tour starts. It’s true — the next day, I joined a rock scramble tour also via Visit Meteora. We had the hiking tour with us at the start, and we dropped them off at a different location! ( I guess, Kostas did give us an extra experience).
Of course, it was really all worth it. Not just the one-of-a-kind view at the top, but also the entire trip in itself! We took various paths and rocks, with names like “the Thumb”, “the Bell”, and simply “the Path”. Kostas said that in the olden days, these paths used to connect one side to another. They called these paths names that best described them. For example, we were led up a path where echoes can be heard if you shout. Therefore, this specific rock was named “the Echo rock”.
Kostas also regaled us with stories of Kastraki, the picturesque village at the bottom of the Meteora valley. The picturesque village meant “small castle” in the native tongue. We were told it got its name because it once used to perch atop one of the rocks. It has since then moved, but the name remained.
Bastions of Faith
As we moved up, we found that not the entire path was as hard as we expected. Yes, the area becomes steep at points, but it generally flattens out so that we can walk decently. We passed by some of the monasteries in the area, which are important bastions of the Eastern Orthodox Church. One of them, the Monastery of Ypapanti, was located inside a natural cavity in the rock. It is considered to be one of the hidden sights! Beside the monastery stands the statue of Papathymios Vlahavas, a local hero who led the Greeks in a fight for independence against Ottoman invaders. The uprising was betrayed, but his statue stands as a reminder to all about the value of freedom. We stopped and rested to admire both the monastery and the statue. We also took the chance to have snacks and take a group picture!
The road up also took us to the Grand Meteoron Monastery, where we stopped to explore for almost an hour. It is the biggest and oldest of all the monasteries here, erected in the 14th century and dedicated to the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. The monastery was founded by Saint Athanasios the Meteorite, and the event was considered an important point in the history of monasteries in the area. Despite this importance, there was a surprisingly few number of monks inside!
Within, there are two sights you must not miss. First is the collection of skulls on racks, which belonged to the deceased monks that once resided in the monastery. It is a weird but fascinating sight. There is also a museum that stores priceless religious icons and documents from the olden times.
After the hour is up, we spent some moments admiring the irresistible view from the top, before starting our journey down.
We walked down the path that connected the Grand Monastery and the Monastery of Varlaam. As we did, Kostas talked about the fire that once razed this monastery. Before the fire, females were not even allowed in. However, when the fire ignited, women were instrumental in helping put it out. This act changed history, and women had been allowed as nuns in the monastery ever since!
The hike was, overall, an amazing experience. The panoramic views of the rock forest of Meteora were priceless, and we certainly learned a lot! We were glad Kostas did what he did and took us on the trip’s “hard mode”. It was all worth it!
Other things to do in Meteora: