Travel info for Monasteries of Meteora in Greece

A place of deep spirituality


Monasteries of Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece

GPS: 39.723801671762, 21.632102908243

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Located in northern Thessaly of mainland Greece, Monasteries of Meteora (which translates as “rocks suspended between heaven and earth” in Greek) are rock monasteries perched 300 metres high on massive rocky outcrops. These Greek Orthodox places of worship dominate the valley and gorge of the Pineiós River. According to geologists, this natural site of sandstone pinnacles was once a lake. The lake gradually emptied into the Aegean Sea when the Thessalian Plain lifted. The steep cliffs were formed from the deposits of sediment and have been shaped by erosion over tens of millions of years.

Since the 11th century, hermits have occupied isolated caves in the Pineiós Valley seeking solitude for meditation. At the beginning of the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, and in the hope of escaping the oppression of the Ottoman Turks, monks found refuge in the caves. They belonged to a monastic community that originated on Mount Athos and revolved around the central figure of Theophore Athanase, a Christian theologian and a future Orthodox saint. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, more than 20 monasteries and hermitages, including the Great Meteor, were built on rocky terraces. Confined to their isolation, the monks lived the utopian dream of independent self-sufficiency, practising self-denial in search of spiritual perfection. It was not until the 1920s that the monasteries of Meteora could be accessed by a network of steep steps and suspension bridges.

The second largest monastic community in Greece, after the Monastic Republic of Mount Athos, Meteora today comprises six active monasteries accessible to the public. Another active monastic site, remote from the others and closed to visitors, is the Ypapantis Monastery, also known as the Monastery of the Ascension of the Saviour. This is a former Eastern Orthodox Christian monastery that forms part of the Meteora monasteries architectural complex in Thessaly. Each sacred monastery has its own aura of spirituality, a panoramic view of the region, and a religious heritage of inestimable wealth. A 17-kilometre circuit starting from the town of Kalabaka or the village of Kastraki allows passage to all of the monasteries of Meteora by foot or by car. With the opening to tourism in recent years, the cliffs have become a drawcard for rock climbers from around the world.

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  • The monks’ feat of building on improbable and very difficult foundations several hundred metres above a valley
  • The Great Meteor (Megalou Meteorou), also called the Monastery of the Transfiguration (the largest and oldest of the six monasteries still inhabited)
  • The churches, the relics and murals of the other monasteries, all of which are worthy of note: Agios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas), Agios Stefanos (St. Stephen), Agia Triada (Holy Trinity), St. Rousanou (a female monastery) and St Varlaam (the second largest monastery in Meteora); the monastery of Ypapantis, located to the north of the Monastery of the Great Meteoros (1.5 hour walk)
  • The view of the Pineiós Valley from the top of the cliffs, sandstone spires and gigantic rocky peaks
  • The discovery of orthodox monastic life and Byzantine art; the meeting with monks and nuns
  • Climbing on foot via steps and bridges cut into the rock
  • Hiking and climbing; sunset scenes
  • The Meteora Natural History Museum and the prehistoric Theopetra cave in Kalabaka; the high rock faces of the village of Kastraki (previously inhabited by hermits)
  • The neighbouring region of Zagoria, rich in ancient stone villages and beautiful natural sites (Vikos Gorge, Mount Pelion, the Pindus massif, Vikos-Aoos National Park…)
  • From the time the monasteries were built until the beginning of the 20th century, these buildings were only accessible from long ladders or by using baskets and nets pulled by ropes, pulleys, and winches. Climbing them in these perilous conditions was an act of faith and even sacrifice on the part of the monks.
  • As the name suggests and according to legend, Meteora are rocks that came from heaven to bring people closer to God. Another legend says that the monastery of St Varlaam was built in only 20 days, but that it took 22 years to gather all the materials needed for the construction.
  • Most of the 23 monasteries in Meteora were looted and destroyed by German and Italian troops during the Second World War.
  • Instead of a bell, the monks tap on a wooden board to call for prayer and announce church services.
  • Donations from the faithful and money from visitors ensure the maintenance of the buildings and the preservation of the site.
  • The Agia Triada Monastery was the scene for the 1981 James Bond film, “For Your Eyes Only”, starring Roger Moore and Carole Bouquet.
  • For some years now, the monks have been campaigning for a ban on certain sporting activities in the vicinity of the monasteries of Meteora, which they consider harmful and a nuisance. Their complaint includes outdoor sports such as rock climbing, paragliding and BASE jumping (using a parachute to jump off a fixed object).
  • Kalabaka can be reached by bus or train from the main Greek cities including Thessaloniki (about 3 hours travel time) and Athens (4-5 hours travel time from the capital).
  • Hiking rather than driving is the best way to discover this beautiful and busy area in summer (a map of the trails is available from the Kalabaka tourist office). Alternatively, full or half day tours by bus or minibus are available from Kalabaka or from hotels around the Pineiós Valley. The Meteora site is also well suited for cycling.
  • The opening days and times of the monasteries in Meteora may vary, so check before planning your itinerary. Unlike Mount Athos, women are allowed to enter the monasteries of Meteora.
  • Be sure to cover your shoulders and legs before entering these sacred places (a skirt that reaches below the knees is mandatory for women as trousers are not allowed).
  • The six monasteries that remain in operation can all be visited the same day if you make an early morning start. Entrance to each monastery costs about €3.
  • Local climbing clubs or specialised service providers recommended by the Kalabaka tourist office will be able to teach you how to climb.

Where to eat

  • Greek Tavern Skaros
    (choice of grills)
  • Panellinio
    (family-run taverna)
  • Elias' Garden Restaurant
    (tasty cuisine)

Where to go

  • Old Town of Trikala
    (diverse architecture)
  • Katara Pass
    (mythical route)
  • Pindos National Park
    (wilderness hikes)

Where to stay

  • Tsikeli Hotel
    (budget and family friendly)
  • Dellas Boutique Hotel
    (in the shadow of the Meteoras)
  • Guesthouse Iridanos
    (charming building)