Experience Meteora: magic in the middle of the sky6 min read
Perched on fairytale-like sandstone peaks, the ancient monasteries of Meteora have turned into one of Greece’s top attractions. The windswept monoliths that rise above the town of Kalabaka are a magnet to both curious tourists and adventurous thrill-seekers.
The word Meteora derives from meteorology and translates into “middle of the sky”, “suspended in the air”, or “in the heavens above”. In the 9th century, hermit monks applied impressive climbing skills going up the rock formation and settling inside the rock caves and hollows. High above the ground, they lived in solitude and isolation.
A few centuries later, a monk called Athanasios Koinovitis from Athos, traveled to the lands of Thessaly in search of the ascetic hermits. As the Turkish raiders expanded their invasion, the hard access to the top of the rock formations created a wonderful opportunity for the devout followers of Athanasios to settle and meditate in peace.
The monk turned to the hermits as climbing mentors. Soon after, from 1356 to 1372, he constructed the first Great Meteoron Monastery. Over the years, 24 monasteries were built, clinging dangerously to the formidable peaks. Naturally, the region was given the name of Meteora.
With no steps and little access to the world, the stone fortress protected its inhabitants from the warriors. Thus, the monks survived centuries of battles. The only way up or down was with the help of a network of ropes, pulleys, nets, baskets and ladders.
Today there are only six remaining monasteries, home to monks and nuns. All of them welcome visitors from all over the world. Fear not, you won’t have to scale up hundreds of meters of rock walls. Well, unless you specifically came for that. Steep stairs take you up the Great Meteoron Monastery. From there you could explore the stunning views and indulge with a peaceful atmosphere.
Standing on top of the stone spires and breathing the landscape in, one could grasp why the monks created a community there. The Meteora monasteries remind me of a similar place in Spain—Monserratte.
While there is a road that connects all the monasteries, I would recommend hiking through the landscape. For those of you who are all about the nits and grits of the place’s history and culture, better join a guided tour. Unlike other Greek monasteries, here women may enter, as long as they comply with dress-code. Upon entrance you are given a skirt-like cloth.
If you don’t have a personal transport, better rent a car. Beyond the monasteries and mountains, Meteora houses the world’s oldest known man-made structure. A wall believed to be 23 000 years old, which lies at the entrance of the Theopetra Cave. Often shadowed by the visual delight of the Meteora, this cave is just a few kilometers away and holds evidence of continuous human habitation for over 130 000 years.
When you have famished admiring the local wonders, taste their traditional food in one of the local taverns. The mousaka is just one of the countless gastronomical delights with on which you can indulge. If you like mushrooms, try the Meteora truffle hunting which offers an unique experience. And once you get that energy back, why not enjoy some traditional Greek dancing?
Climbing in Meteora
Climbing in Meteora in EPIC! Centuries after the hermits climbed their way up closer to God, modern-day climbers enjoy a vertical pilgrimage of its own. Looking at all the hanging climbers is just as fascinating as wandering sight at the monasteries. There is something magical about climbing in Meteora. Completing a route becomes a ritual that awakens the spirit.
The rock offers unique forms of steps and holds made of pebbles, typical for the conglomerate. Historically, the ethics was to use as little gear as possible. On a multi-pitch climb you may find the first pitch well-bolted, but the second one almost entirely in traditional style.
It is a luring climbing spot to those who enjoy the thrill of having their last protection way below. Climbing can become freaky with no place for protection or at least none you can trust.
You will be like “Holy, Sh*t” on the Holy Ghost route!
Some climbs may be solid, but most are not. It is likely to end up pulling out like a drawer the hold you intended to pull yourself to. So, wearing helmets is a must. To make the most out of your climbing trip, bring a double rope. Most rappels require it.
After you top out, find the metal box with a notebook where you can write your name. Tattoo the pages with the date of ascent and partner in crime. I found it very curious to look through the book and see if I recognise familiar names. Do you?
In summer Meteora is packed with tourists and sending conditions are far from perfect. Late autumn provides both peaceful atmosphere and great weather. Pitching a tent is restricted only to specified campsite. There are two possibilities with Vrachos being the one closer to the crag. You can check route topos here.
If you are a fanatic sports climber and don’t like placing gear yourself, better go for a hike!
Admiring the landscape is soul-nurturing, no doubt. But you would still want to add some activities to that. For non-climbers, the Via Ferrata is just as thrilling. It leads to the top of the Great Saint—the tallest mountain in Meteora.
For those who prefer water, there is an option for rafting during the summer. It is not comparable to other specific for the sport places, but if you are not picky on the matter, it will do just fine.
One could also roll around and enjoy mountain biking. I suggest you welcome the sunrise atop one of the spires. The views are well worth the early effort.
The magnificent views of Meteora are inspiring not only to the wanderers who visit it. The marvels of Meteora have been sets for some major TV and movie productions such as Game of Thrones. Remember the Eyries castle suspended in the air?
Whether you are enchanted by mysticism or have the eyes of a pragmatic, Meteora will dazzle you. Both by its magical aura, and thoughtful architectural solution. Be it on a single day trip from Athens or a multi-day one, experiencing Meteora will surely leave the aftertaste of something special.
Photo sources: personal archive, pixabay