Last summer I drove all the way from Istanbul to Athens to meet up with my friends as part of our annual class reunion. We were gonna charter a sailboat in Lavrio and have some sailing experience in the Aegean Sea. As it was going to be a relatively long drive from Istanbul to Athens, I decided to split it into smaller segments. During the planning process, my parents decided to join me in the car until Athens where they had booked a hotel for their summer holidays. We then decided to make stops in Kavala and Thessaloniki on our way to Athens. After consulting my Greek friends, one more location had to be included in this 1000 km road trip: Meteora!

I had barely heard about the place prior to this planning. Some geological rock formations, some monasteries on the top and stuff. Well, it was not that simple and it was definitely much more magnificent then it sounded. Meteora is away from the Greek coastline. So no usual sights of crystal clear Aegean Sea or beautiful beaches. But it’s the other beautiful features of Greece you experience during the drive from Thessaloniki to Kalabaka, the nearest town to Meteora where you could spend the night in one of the small but lovely guesthouses.

Kalabaka Train Station. It's the terminal station of the train coming from the east. Only few tracks.

Once you approach Meteora, taking the curvy forest road, you already start seeing the huge and incredible sandstone rock pillars in the distance. At first it’s hard to believe your eyes, having heard that there are some man made structures up there. You just ask yourself, how? First we looked for our guesthouse in the town of Kalabaka and we found it after managing to get lost a few times in this tiny town. We stayed at the Monastiri Guesthouse run by a very nice couple and their kids. They’re locals and know the area and the history of Meteora quite well. Clean place with ancient style decorated rooms, very close to Meteora pillars and tons of friendliness along the way. Totally recommended!

Looking at the direction of Meteora from our guesthouse in Kalabaka. You just can't wait to leave your stuff and start climbing.

Meteora is included in UNESCO World Heritage List and it’s not hard to understand why. Geological formations are incredible alright. Yet again, one can find this kind of stuff in various places on Earth anyways. The real deal comes when you start seeing the monasteries built on top of these pillars. You just can’t believe your eyes when you see these six still intact monasteries which were built and renovated in the period from the 15th to the 17th centuries. The main motivation of building them were to protect the monks and nuns who were being taught the teachings of the Greek Orthodox Church. They just wanted to stay as far as possible from ongoing battles and wars of the era. Seeing them today, you just wonder how they built those perfect buildings up on these tremendous sandstone structures with the technological capabilities of the time. Kinda like the pyramids I guess.

You can get within a certain distance to the pillars for each monastery with your car. Afterwards, you have to walk and climb hundreds of stairs. It’s not easy and in fact pretty tiring. But totally worth it! There’s also a museum in the biggest of the monasteries, The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron. Here you could learn much about the history of the monasteries. However, some exhibitions inside were a bit unrelated to the concept, honoring Greek military and political figures in the last 100 years. It’s not that they were bad or uninformative but I felt like they don’t belong there at Meteora. They would fit better in an exhibition at a museum of history in Athens.

My parents and I visited 5 monasteries (one was closed). We were extremely tired at the end of the day. Nevertheless, we were so glad that we had made this detour and seen this amazing place. As were were enjoying our wine in a little taverna in downtown Kalabaka later that night, all we could talk about was Meteora and what kind of amazing things mankind can achieve if determined. By the way, any James Bond fans? The Monastery of Holy Trinity was one of the filming locations of the 1981 movie “For Your Eyes Only”.

Sitting on the pillar.

The way monasteries were built on the pillars is just incredible!

My dad and I with The Holy Monastery of Varlaam in the background.

My parents climbing up the stairs to The Great Meteoron.

Entrance of the Great Meteoron.

Town of Kalabaka as seen from the top of the pillar.

Category: Travel

One Response to Meteora – In the heavens above

  1. Hendrik says:

    Wow. This looks awesome. Pretty amazing type of “architecture”.

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