Meteora in Greece – faith on the top of the world

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“Suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above” – this is what Meteora literally means. It is also the name of the famous area Meteora in Greece where monasteries lie on the top of the immense monolithic pillars and the view makes you feel like in another world. You may have heard stories about that marvellous place from stunned visitors but once you get there you really feel it. I have had the opportunity to visit this place twice and feel the emotion of this wonder of nature and civilization.

ΜΕΤΈΩΡΑ – Meteora in Grecce
The rocks of Meteora in Greece
The rocks of Meteora in Greece

It is easy to go to Meteora by car from Bulgaria – a 6-hour drive from Sofia, mostly highway. Your final point is the town of Kalabaka, in the foot of the rocks, where you can find various hotels, guest houses and restaurants.

Great Meteoron monastery, Meteora in Greece
Great Meteoron monastery, Meteora in Greece

Last time I visited Meteora was in October 2015. We decided to make a slow and calm journey and stay there for three nights although it is possible to go through all the monasteries in just one day. We settled in a wonderful guest house at the end of the town, just under Saint Stephen’s monastery. It was a bit cloudy and foggy but this made the opportunities of great photos even better so we headed to the rocks.

Monastery of Saint Stephen

/Αγίου Στεφάνου/

St. Stephen was the first of the monasteries to visit this time for a couple of reasons. It was the only one I was unable to see last time and it was closest to us. It is also the easiest to reach – you can go there by car, without climbing any steps. Today the Monastery of St. Stephen is a big and flourishing nunnery, hosting 28 nuns as of 2015.

Monastery of Saint Stephen
Monastery of Saint Stephen

The first monks came to the area around 12th century and in the 16th century the small church was built. In the 18th century was built the bigger cathedral dedicated to St. Charalambos where the skull of the saint is being kept until today. During World War Two the monastery was bombed by the Nazi because they believed that rebels were hiding there. Later the monastery was abandoned. In 1961 it was given to nuns which made it a beautiful and flourishing place through the last decades.

The monastery is open for tourists and you will be welcomed by its kind inhabitants – the nuns. However, you are supposed to be dressed properly when entering – long skirt for women (no trousers) and long trousers for men. The nuns can become very angry if you do not respect the dress code.

Monastery of Saint Stephen
Monastery of Saint Stephen

 Monastery Holy Trinity

/ Μονή Αγίας Τριάδος/

We visited the monastery of Holy Trinity just after St. Stephen because it is the closest to it and it is located on the road to the other monasteries. According to the tourist guides it is the most difficult to access because it is located on a 400 m high rock and reachable by around 140 stairs and tunnels in the rock.

Monastery Holy Trinity
Monastery Holy Trinity

It is believed that the monastery was established around 1458-1476 and at one point there were 50 monks living there. However, it used to be one of the poorest monasteries in the area and in early 20th century it had only 5 inhabitants. Today it is renovated and the buildings are well-maintained.

Monastery Holy Trinity, Meteora in Greece
Monastery Holy Trinity, Meteora in Greece
The path to Monastery Holy Trinity, Meteora in Greece
The path to Monastery Holy Trinity, Meteora in Greece
Me and Anna on our way to the Monastery
Me and Anna on our way to the Monastery

Another plus is that it is not crowded with tourists and you can find some privacy there. It is wonderful time to visit the Holy Trinity in late afternoon, at the end of the working hours. Then you will probably meet no tourist groups and you will be able to stay with your thoughts, think about things you might have ignored in you daily life. It is one of the very spiritual places in this area.

View of the Monastery Holy Trinity and the town
View of the Monastery Holy Trinity and the town
View of the Monastery Holy Trinity and the town
View of the Monastery Holy Trinity and the town

Rousanou (St. Barbara) monastery

/ Μονή „Ρουσάνου“/

The monastery of Saint Barbara. Known also as Rousanou, is the next on the road from St. Stephen to the Great Meteoron. It is another flourishing nunnery with beautiful gardens and again a lot of tourists. It is unknown how the name Rousanou appeared. A tour guide told me during my first visit that in the 16th century the brothers Joasaph and Maximos from Epirus built it on the ruins of an even older church named Rousanou. Saint Barbara was an acting monastery until mid-20th century but it was abandoned after Nazi occupation.

Rousanou (St. Barbara) monastery, Meteora in Greece
Rousanou (St. Barbara) monastery, Meteora in Greece

However, an old woman named Eusevia from the neighbouring village of Kastraki continued to maintain the 3-storey building for 20 years. Today it is a nunnery hosting between 6 and 13 nuns.

To get to this monastery you cross a small bridge from another peak. The church contains outstanding wall paintings, wood iconstasis, panel icons and icon stands.

Rousanou (St. Barbara) monastery, Meteora in Greece
Rousanou (St. Barbara) monastery, Meteora in Greece
Rousanou (St. Barbara) monastery in the fog, Meteora in Greece
Rousanou (St. Barbara) monastery in the fog, Meteora in Greece

We had a very funny story during our visit to Rousanou. The nuns were very welcoming and truly happy to see our 9-month daughter there and offer her candies. However, their black clothes scared her to death and she started screaming so loudly that all the visitors knew there was a baby out there. Then on the way out a whole group of Italian tourists stopped to pet her.

Rousanou (St. Barbara) monastery, Meteora in Greece
Rousanou (St. Barbara) monastery, Meteora in Greece

How many monasteries you can see in one day and for how long time to visit Meteora?

Three monasteries in a day are completely enough, I think. After the third one we were both tired and full of emotion so we definitely needed a rest. Most of the tourists try to visit all 6 monasteries in a day which is possible but not recommended by me. If you are a true believer and you think of monasteries as spiritual places and not only museums, you would definitely need more time to feel the energy and atmosphere.

On the rocks of Meteora in Greece
On the rocks of Meteora in Greece
Enjoying the view of the place
Enjoying the view of the place
The amazing rocks of Meteora
The amazing rocks of Meteora
On the Meteora's rocks
One photo from our trip with little Anna (9 months old) and a wonderful memory of Meteora, Greece. Here Anna is eating my tripod and looks quite hungry, impatient to head to a nearby tavern. Meanwhile, Maria and I enjoy the sunset.

Despite the weather was not very welcoming and the thick fog was rarely making room for clearer views, we were not disappointed from our day that was full of amazing views and wonderful emotions from the many photo spots along the road. Here, sitting on the rocks, we enjoyed the peacefulness and serenity of the place outside the peak tourist season.
We had another day coming, full of beautiful places, and headed to the taverns of Kastraki village for a light and pleasant dinner.

A tavern in Kastraki
A tavern in Kastraki

Varlaam monastery

/Μονή Βαρλαάμ/

Varlaam is the second largest monastery in Meteora, very close to the Grand Meteoron. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most crowded with tourists. In October 2015 it looked more like a construction site with new areas being built and the buses full of tourists did not stop coming. I guess that the monastery is a favourite of most tourist guides.

Varlaam monastery, Meteora in Greece
Varlaam monastery, Meteora in Greece

Varlaam is the most inhabited among the male monasteries in Meteora – around 7 monks live there. The legends say that in 14th century a monk named Varlaam came to live here by himself, poor and lonely. I really cannot imagine what it is like to wake up every morning on a 300m high cliff, only you and the birds, not receiving any visitors and not going anywhere.

Varlaam monastery, Meteora in Greece
Varlaam monastery, Meteora in Greece

It is supposed that Varlaam was living around the same time as the founder of Great Meteoron – Saint Athanasios the Meteorite. The elegant monastery Catholicon was built in the honour of Agioi Pantes in 1541-42, by two brothers from Ioannina, the priest-monks Hosioi Theophanes and Nectarios the Apsarades. The main church was decorated in 1548. This is the monastery where you can visit the tower of the old preserved net, used by the first monks for their ascent and descent from the rock, until it was “God’s will to have it replaced”!

Maria and Anna
Maria and Anna

„St. Nikolaos Anapafsas” Monastery

/„του Αγίου Νικολάου Αναπαυσά“/

St. Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery is a wonderful monastery, a little bit shadowed by Varlaam and The Great Meteoron but not less impressive. In 2011 it was the first one I visited but this time we left it for the end of the trip. Anyway, after both visits I concluded that it is probably the most difficult to reach, but every step up is worth.

„St. Nikolaos Anapafsas" Monastery
„St. Nikolaos Anapafsas” Monastery

It is thought that the monastery was established around 12th or 13th century by the priest-monk Nikianoras. The church was founded in 1527 by St. Dionysius, Metropolitan of Larisa. The name “Anapafsas” is of unknown origin; it may be the surname of an early monk or founder.The monastery was abandoned by 1900 and fell into disrepair until it was renovated in the 1960s by the archaeological service. It was then inhabited by Father Palamas until 1982, after which the monastery closed. In 1997, priests of Kalampaka began to open the monastery to tourists every summer. Today, one monk lives at Agios Nikolaos.

„St. Nikolaos Anapafsas" Monastery
Roussanou monastery and St. Nicholas Anapafsas monastery to the back

From the terrace of the monastery there is a stunning view to Kastraki, the nearby village, and the neighbouring rock where the remains of the old Pantokrator monastery lie. Really calm and beautiful place.

The Great Meteoron

/Μεγάλο Μετέωρο/

The Great Meteoron (a.k.a. Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ) is the highest, largest and oldest of the six monasteries of the Meteora. It was established around 1334 by St. Athanasios Meteorites, a scholarly monk from Mount Athos. 10 year later he gathered all 14 monks living in the area and initiated the construction of Megalo Meteora, or the Great Meteoron. St. Athanasios wrote the rules and conditions for living in Meteora. Even today the abbot of this monastery is counted as an unofficial head of Meteora.

The Great Meteoron
The Great Meteoron

The Great Meteoron is reachable by a stone staircase and consists of not only church and living facilities but also a museum complex and a gallery with paintings of the war for liberation of Greece from Ottoman rule.
The church of Transfiguration of Christ was damaged by an earthquake in 1544 and since rebuilt. It was decorated in 1552 by Theofan the Critean and his sons. The paintings include scenes of the chasings of Christians by Romans.

The Great Meteoron
The Great Meteoron
View from The Great Meteoron
View from The Great Meteoron

The monastery is really huge and it is moderately hard to reach but it is worth. Even the crowds of tourists are not so annoying, probably because there is a lot of space up there. If you have time to visit only one monastery in Meteora, choose the Great Meteoron.

Amazing view of Kastraki village from the Great Meteora
Amazing view of Kastraki village from the Great Meteora

The seventh monastery of Meteora in Greece

It took us a lot of power to go to every one of the six monasteries in 2 days but despite we were very tired, one thought did not leave us alone – the seventh monastery. Many tourist guides say that there are 7 preserved monasteries in Meteora but only 6 are open for tourists. However, we had seen photos of the seventh one, called Ypapantis. It is also present on the maps of the area but there are no proper instructions how to reach it. It appears that Ypapantis is somewhere close to The Great Meteoron, within a short walk by a forest path starting near the parking of the monastery. However, there are no signs and we only read some directions on a trekking blog.

A map of monasteries of Meteora
A map of monasteries of Meteora

No matter, we decided to search the seventh monastery despite it was a cloudy late afternoon and we were quite tired, carrying also a 9-month old girl. We took a narrow forest path and followed it for 20 or 30 minutes before we found ourselves on the opposite hill. However, there was still no sign of seventh monastery. A local guy told us that it should be somewhere around but he was not sure either. So after some more wandering through the forest and a dispute with my wife about the coming rain, we turned back without finding the mysterious Ypapantis. Later we checked again where the monastery should have been and it appeared we were on the right path, but we still do not know how close we were. Next time we will definitely find it.

Vlachava village near Meteora in Greece

If you got tired of monasteries and want to go away from the tourists filling Kalabaka and Kastraki, you might want to go to the nearby village of Vlachava, up in the mountain. You will find two taverns there, full of local people. I guess that there might be a wonderful view from up there but we could not enjoy it because of the thick fog.

Vlachava village near Meteora in Greece
Vlachava village near Meteora in Greece

And some other things you might want to know about your trip to Meteora in Greece :

  • If you do not know where to stay, here is how we pick our hotels – through booking.com
  • The monastery of Saint Nikolaos is not open for visitors during winter
  • The entrance fees are 3 EUR for each monastery
  • You must be properly dressed – no shorts for men and no trousers for women. You can borrow a skirt on the monastery’s entrance.
  • It is easy to reach Meteora from Sofia – it takes approximately 6 hours by car and it is mostly highway
  • Prepare at least two days if you want to see everything in Meteora, bring water and power to climb the thousands of stairs up to the monasteries
  • If you are visiting during Easter, bring enough food, water and gas because there is nothing open in Greece on Easter, not a single gas station
  • On weekdays in Kalabaka is quite calm and quiet and some hotels and restaurants might not be working. But you will still find what to eat and there is also Lidl supermarket in the town
Booking.com

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