Why Meteora...Kalambaka, Greece?
It wasn’t in my travel plans at all! I had never heard of it before, had you? After spending 3 days in Athens, my plan was to take the train straight to Thessaloniki and spend 4 nights there. But the day before I was researching the greek holiday that was taking place on August 15th, 2021, Assumption of Mary/Dormation Day. It somehow led me to learn about the spiritual place of Meteora, where 24 monasteries were built in the 11th century. I was intrigued, and then the moment I saw photos of the extreme looking rock formations that the monasteries were built on, I knew I had to get there.
This was a once in a lifetime experience and I was so nearby! Everything online suggested doing a day tour from Athens or Thessaloniki…but then I took a closer look at the map…which led me to take an even closer look at the train line and stops. Immediately, I canceled my first night in Thessaloniki and booked a place to stay in Kalambaka for 1 night. The next morning I booked my train ticket and everything felt right. I was off to the town of Kalambaka to experience Meteora for the greek orthodox holiday!
It was quite serendipitous actually because this area was closed due to forest fires and heat waves when I first arrived in Greece and then opened up just in time for me to build it into my country wide trip along the way. Not only was this a perfect way to break up the long travel day between Athens and Thessaloniki, it also saved about 200 euros by not doing the guided tour and being in a more affordable town compared to the larger cities. Although I didn’t stop to hike Mt. Olympus, we got to pass through its closest train stop and have many views of the beautiful mountain and surrounding landscape, while sadly it still had a lot of smoke from forest fires.
Over 6 million years ago, these free standing rock structures were formed.
There are 24 monasteries, 6 which are active with about 10 monks or less currently living and practicing there.
Meteora translates into suspended in air. The town in which its situated is called Kalambaka.
The 1981 James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only was filmed here.
In Game of Thrones it was used for the Eyrie castle in the sky. But actually the series wasn’t filmed here. Meteora was digitally mastered into the series because of its protected environment.
In the 1920’s, stairs were built up to the monasteries. Before that, only climbing and pulley systems were used. (Think of how they built them!) Today you can still see the pulley systems being used by monks.
Here are my top tips to consider for your trip
Something I did not imagine, and then hardly believed when our host told us. He was pretty sarcastic so it took awhile before we knew he was serious, that truly…the siesta in this mountain town is from 1pm to anywhere between 3pm or even 7pm! This includes taxis! We got to the taxi pick up at 1pm and the driver said, “It’s nap time now. I cannot take you. It’ll be at least 1 hour…” and he drove off! Thankfully we found a cab eventually (it took some calling around to which cab drivers would give up their siesta time).
Hours of operation
The first church we went to closed at 3pm and the next one (about 10min walk apart) closed at 4pm so we got in there as the last few to view! Our cab driver knew the schedules and how to get us there in time. Be flexible because it seems to change often. These 2 were only open a few hours in the morning and then a few hours in the afternoon, the others were closed to tourists at the time. So arriving about 2pm works out perfectly to get to see both churches (just make sure you find transportation in advance as noted above). Every monastery is closed on one different day of the week.
Everything is walkable from Kalambaka town, but I would suggest taking a cab up to the top (highest church you are visiting) and then walking back down, unless of course you are here specifically for hiking purposes. Standard cab cost is 20 euros and takes about 15 minutes, and it might be the most beautiful drive ever.
Sunset was around 8:30pm in August. Despite being a hot time of the year, it was much cooler here than in southern Greece. The sun is still strong, so make sure to have a wide brimmed hat, plenty of water, good shoes and sun protection!
What to wear
Ladies, bring or wear a long skirt. They may or may not have a covering available to wear, they did have a basket of long skirts available for use when we visited. They may also ask for shoulders to be covered, but I was not spoken to about this.
Some of the monasteries are free to enter, all are free to admire from a distance and outside.The entrance fee for the second church was 3 euros (which has updated bathrooms).
Stop for a drink and maybe a swim
There are a number of vineyards and wineries throughout (well of course, as it typically goes with remotely located monks in solitude). These are some nice stopping points as you get closer to the town. And a huge pool so if its hot, bring your swimsuit for a dip!
Take in the Views
Every single place in this town gives an out of this world view. Did you know that Greece has this type of landscape? The best views are definitely from the monasteries and the road winding through the mountains, and there is also an amazing view across the valley looking up to the unique rock formations. From each restaurant in town there are lovely street, fountains, greenery all with the backdrop of such beauty.
Monasteries to visit The Great Meteoron Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour (Ιερά Μονή Μεγάλου Μετεώρου - Μεταμορφώσεως του Σωτήρος) was the first monastery we went to. The second one that we toured is the Monastery of Varlaam (Ιερά Μονή Βαρλαάμ). There are many more that we saw while driving and walking around but it is essential to the experience to tour both of these!
Host El Greco Hostel right in the heart of this sweet town. 3 minute walk to both the train station and the main taxi pick up. Less than that to a number of cafes, restaurants and taverns. About a 15 minute drive or 1-2 hour walk from the vineyards and some of the monasteries which make up Meteora. Very cool and airy in the hot summer months. Lovely outdoor kitchen and seating area. Secure, clean and spacious shared rooms and bathroom. Very affordable (8 euros) in cash. Each room has a small balcony overlooking the main street in town.
The town center is a 10-15 minute radius walk but taxis are widely available especially to go to the outskirts of the town to reach Meteora and other vantage points. The main train in Greece stops here as well as buses. There are also private tours available from both Athens and Thessaloniki.
Where to eat and drink
Stop in at one of the wineries (if open) or the place with a huge swimming pool on the way down from Meteora. In town, there are a number of cafes, two of which I tried and loved, all with freshly baked pastries which were the best ones I had on my whole trip! For dinner, we restaurant hopped between three of the ones in the main square. All were wonderful, affordably priced for a high quality food and dining experience.
This can be a medium range tour price ($170 including transportation) or completely free depending on the option you choose. I then spent $10 hostel, $20 food and drink, $10 shared cab ride for about $40 for this full 2 day experience! The train rides were about $30 and $20 respectively.