The dramatic rock pinnacles of Meteora will astound you. They rise 400 meters or more above the Thessalian plain in central Greece. Geologic evidence suggests that the pinnacles were created some 60 million years ago. The pillars are sandstone. Many are crowned with elaborate Byzantine Eastern Orthodox Monasteries built during medieval times. The monasteries are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
From about 1000 AD, solitary hermit monks seeking spiritual seclusion inhabited the caves on the cliffs. They reached these dwellings with ropes, nets and ladders. Over the centuries, monks united in communities. The earliest monastic community emerged in the 14th century. Monasteries were built and thrived through the 15th and 16th centuries. By the 17th century, the residents had dwindled to one-third of their peak population. Today the monasteries are still home to a small number of monks and nuns.
The larger celebrated monasteries have been restored and are open to the public today. They are Monastery of Varlaam, Monastery of Saint Nikolas Anapafsas, Monastery of Roussanou, Megalo Meteoro, Monastery of Holy Trinity, and Saint Stephan. A number of lesser known hermitages and small abandoned monasteries in the area are open for viewing. Among them is Ypapanti, built into a cave on the cliffside.
The architecture and art of these cloisters are as extraordinary as are the rocky pinnacles on which they are built. Most of the monasteries are pressed directly onto the rock without any other form of a foundation.
Parking near any of the monasteries is limited, especially during summer months. We had no problems parking in the late autumn. There are now large flights of stairs to reach the interiors of the temples. You may want to take an independent private tour through Viator.com or Getyourguide.com. These two companies are reliable and you will not have to worry about parking if you visit during the crowded summer months.
We stayed in a vacation rental in the tiny, idyllic village of Kastraki. The home was very simple but we had dramatic views of the rock formations all around us. The village boasts an exquisite Eastern Orthodox church where—quite unexpectedly and quite alone—we witnessed a ceremony conducted by a priest. His ritualized movements, surrounded by dense incense, were like a beautiful, slow-motion dance.
There are few dining, lodging and shopping choices in that village, but for us it was all about the view. We booked our vacation rental through Vrbo. The charming nearby town of Kalabaka has a few more hotels and restaurants. If you drive into Trikala there is a downtown area with lots of cafes and restaurants and you see more of the local population. There are also striking views from the roads above the monasteries amidst swirling cloud formations Here you can find interesting roadside cafes for snacks and drinks.
If you are road tripping from Athens consider stopping in Delphi. The setting as well as the ruins are striking and you pass by scenic villages all along the way. It is absolutely a journey you will never forget.