A Finger to the Sky, An Eye to the World
In the western area of Greece’s Thessaly region, a forest of rocks stands as an amazing monument to the sculpting prowess of the earth. Immense fingers of rock thrusted out from the earth, forming a breath-taking site. This is Meteora, whose name means “middle of the sky”. And here lies a one-of-a-kind adventure.
How to get there, and where to stay
There are many ways to get to Meteora, but the most common are through bus and train. By the latter, you can get from Athens to Volos, ending up in Kalambaka via a connecting rail. You can also get at this stop from Thessaloniki, and from Athens through one of the two express trains. Athens is also connected to the area by a bus route to Trikala, and then to Kalambaka.
Once there, you have a choice of hotels and campsites. If you wish to be closer to the monasteries, Kastraki might be a better choice than Kalambaka. Meteora hotel is a popular place, as well as Divani Meteora Hotel and Also’s Guesthouse. Just make sure to book early if you will be going in the summer, since the rooms tend to be booked to capacity during peak months. We stayed at Also’s Guest House
What to do
In Meteora, there’s nowhere to go but up (either literally or figuratively). Here are just some of the varied activities you can do amidst the forest of towering rocks.
Rock Scrambling Tour. Prepare for some physical action in this fan-favorite experience where you are led to the top of the Great Saint rock. The tour is led by really competent guides who do their best to make the climb seem easier than it really is! Dress appropriately, and prepare your camera for the breathtaking view at the summit.
Hiking Meteora Tour. This is a different hiking tour, which also passes through some of the more prominent monasteries atop the rocks of Meteora. Aside from its scenic beauty, Meteora is also an important bastion of the Eastern Orthodox Church because of the monasteries located in the area. Perched atop the rocks, the active monasteries are as follows:
- Monastery of Great Meteoron. This is the biggest and most frequented of the lot, and is dedicated to the Biblical transfiguration on the mountain. Erected in the 14th century, it also houses a museum.
- Monastery of Varlaam. This is the second largest, and also has a museum. Legend has it that it became the first to accept females within its premises as nuns, after an incident where women helped put out a fire within the premises.
- Monastery of Rousanou.
- Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas.
- Monastery of St. Stephen.
- Monastery of the Holy Trinity.
While not all the monasteries are visited within the tour, you won’t miss the most important ones. It’s also a great way to learn about Meteora’s history.
Sunset Tour. Another tour run by Visit.Meteora but this one gets you to the most beautiful sunset spot, at the end of the day.
Hellenistic Culture Museum. This museum costs an entrance fee of 5 EUR, and shows you all the books in the region! Though of course, most of them are in Greek so I did not understand much. They gave out iPads to the tourists so we can access more info, but the Internet barely worked while we were there. A girl was kind enough to explain what we were seeing, though. It turns out they were books from preschool to high-school, from Aesop’s fables all the way to algebra and everything in between. It also showed school uniforms, though that one didn’t have any context so it was uninteresting.
What’s more interesting were the two videos shown at the back. The first was from 1922, showing how the monks got up by hoisting a basket. I had heard about this from a guide, but seeing it was amazing. The back portion of the museum also showed a scale model of the Meteora region.
The second video was a more scientific one, a geological explanation of how the rocks came about. This was cool, but it’s something that can have better impact if the guide explains it thoroughly. It was in English (the subtitles are), at least, and shows the process well. For what it’s worth, these videos are worth the visit.
Where to eat
Taverna Paramithi. This tavern is unique as it tries to preserve the Greek local culture. They even have a live Greek band performing nightly! We tried the stuffed beefsteak with cheese, moussaka, tzatziki, and the two local drinks Tsipouro and Ouzo. Tsipouro is a type of pomace brandy originating from Greece, and has about 40-45% ABV. Ouzo, on the other hand, is believed to have come from a type of Tsipouro that was flavored with anise. Neither of them particularly appealed to me after a swig (Tsipouro was too strong) but it was nice to try a local drink for once.
One thing that really stood out for me in the tavern was the excellent service! The owner was just plain lovely, and we went back twice. We would even have gone back again had we had more time! If you’re the type who likes rustic places, the vine-covered exterior that evokes fairy-tale castles is a nice touch. The prices are reasonable, too! It’s no wonder there are lots of people here at night, especially couples dating.
Panellion. This one has a great location, right by the fountain in the center of the town square. It may appear like a tourist trap, but it’s worth the try. We sat among lots of other diners and had beef with sauce and stuffed peppers with cheese (I really love this one!). It was just 14 EUR for the two! The servings were big enough for both me and Andrea.
Restaurant Meteora. I guess this was the fanciest of the three, but it has some really good food, too. That, or we were just into Greek food! With fancy comes pricey, however, though I was astounded at the level of service. The waiter asked where we were from, and when he came back he greeted us and said thank you in our native tongue! I love that — A for effort!
Here we had meatballs in tomato sauce, which was better than the others though smaller in terms of serving. The guys at the next table had some delicious-looking chicken with stuffed peppers. It’s worth having when you get here.
Overall, Meteora is an amazing place especially if you have the physical ability to bear with the climbs and the dizzying heights. Just bring along a few candies and adventure-worthy clothes, and let the region take you to new heights — in more ways than one!