Meteora: Calling All Adventure Seeking Monks

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While I’m assuming that you’re not an adventure seeking monk (and if you are, thank you for reading), this will change your impression of staid, boring monks.

I don’t usually think of monks as adventure seeking, but the ones living in Meteora, Greece more than qualify in my opinion.

Meteora has an otherworldly appearance. It doesn’t look as if it belongs on this earth, and perhaps it doesn’t.
The name Meteora comes from the word Meteor that means suspended, which is what the monasteries atop the natural sandstone massifs appear to be.

Or perhaps it refers to the monk’s sought out mental state, …so different from those of us stuck back down here on earth. Although they do have a monk jail.

Adventure travel in Meteora Greece

Meteora is Greece’s second largest monastic community. The first is Mount Athos. In it’s hey day back in the beginning of the 14th century there were  24 monasteries. Now just six remain, with the rest in ruins.

OK, but getting back to those adventurous monks, which is what you really want to know about right?

Some might even call them daredevils.  Oops, perhaps, that’s not a good word to associate with monks…but I digress…

Me feeling very small in front of the huge sand-stone towers at Meteora.
Me feeling very small in front of the huge sandstone towers at Meteora.

Back in the day, there were only two ways to reach the monasteries 1)  rock climbing the vertical sandstone columns:

Meteora, Greece photo of Varlaam Monastery.
Varlaam Monastery, the second largest monastery in Meteora, and the one I visited.

or 2) being hosted up 373m in a basket made of ropes:

In former times the only way to reach the monasteries in Meteora, Greece was to either rock climb or be hoisted up in rope baskets.
It’s either this or rock climbing, either way, it’s over 300 vertical meters! Brave volunteer Zim demonstrated how it worked but only made it 1 meter.

Seriously, what a choice!  Regardless either qualifies as an adventure, don’t you think? And once again, I’ve got my impression of monks all wrong!

The first time was in  Norcia, Umbria, when I met a Benedict monk.  With a mischievous glint in his eye, he told me I have a lover….  My eyes grew wide…..His name is God! he said as he laughed!

So not only can monks have a sense of humour, they can also rock climb. Who knew?

Varlaam Monastery in Meteora, Greece. If you only have time to visit one of the monasteries, this was the one my guide recommended.
Varlaam Monastery. If you only have time to visit one of the monasteries, this was the one my guide recommended.

Flash forward to the present day and things have changed. Roads have been built and all the monasteries are open to the public. That’s why, according to my guide Sophia, that the number of monasteries has declined.

Monos means alone and monastic translates as to go away to be alone – something that is in direct contrast to being a tourist destination.

That’s why I recommend exploring Meteora with a local guide – they can take you to the places where tourists don’t go!Meteora Monastery photo, the second largest monastic community in Greece.

Safely assuming that you aren’t seeking the monastic lifestyle, (I have very few monk readers that I’m aware of) Meteora is an incredible place to visit.

It’s one of those destinations that will have you saying WOW over and over again! It is very deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site. My first visit to Meteora lasted only a few hours, which is WAY to short.

Trust me, you’ll want to stay longer, so check out these tours from Visit Meteora, a local family-run business with guides who are born storytellers!

 

Make the Most of Your Visit to Meteora with these tips :

  • While it’s possible to drive or take a bus up, for a truly special experience hike up at dawn to catch the sunrise. It’s safe to do on your own without a guide.
  • Every monastery has their own opening hours and many close for 2-3 hours in the afternoon during summer, so ask your hotel in Kalambaka (the nearest town) for the schedule of all the monasteries.
  • If you want to see all six monasteries, allow yourself six days. If you don’t have time to see all six, see these three:
    • The Holy Monastery of Varlaam (the one I visited).  It’s the second largest found at Meteora and was built in 1541.
    • The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas (built in the middle of the 16th century)
    • Holy Monastery of Rousano (founded in the middle of the 16th century)

Getting to Meteora

Meteora is located just over 500km north of Athens.  It takes ~ 5 hours to get there by car.  Check out the map below from Athens to Meteora:

Note:  My visit to Meteora was made possible by Visit Greece but as always all opinions are my own. They did not require me to rock climb or take a basked to visit the monasteries, they kindly drove me.

 

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About Author

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Laurel
Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains Adventure Travel. She's passionate about getting outdoors as often as possible and helping travellers do the same on their vacation in a sustainable way. She's Canadian and grew up in the Canadian Rockies but now lives in Munich, Germany. You can find her skiing or hiking in the mountains most weekends, hanging out with her cat or with her nose in a good book.

Comments

De'Jav
November 13, 2014
Cultural experience with very nice views. Sounds like you had a great time.
November 13, 2014
Great pics and overview. The advice at the end is helpful!! I need to block off 6 days!
December 18, 2014
@Ric - Thanks! I also need to go back and spend more time there.
November 18, 2014
Meteora is a sight that shouldn't be missed by anyone visiting contintental Greece. You have to see it to believe it. It's a monument of nature and human determination. Follow the link above for a timetable of the visiting days/hours of all six monasteries. It is updated to the best of our knowledge. PS Great photos!
December 18, 2014
@VolosTaxi - Agreed and thanks for providing the info about the opening hours of the monasteries.
November 20, 2014
Wow stunning photos. I've never heard of Meteora but it looks like one of those places that should be on everyone's bucket lists. Whenever I see places like this, built on cliff sides, I always wonder how much work went into building it, it couldn't have been easy
November 26, 2014
We just cruised by Mount Athos and visited Meteora on a shore excursion from our Voyages to Antiquity cruise! We had SO been looking forward to Meteora. Unfortunately, everyone else in the world also seemed to want to visit, and so we had to contend with hordes of tourists all squeezing together to climb the steps to the particular monastery and nunnery we saw. Meteora is an amazing site, but it looks like you had more fun on your visit :-).

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