I have visited Meteora before but always by car, driving right up to the entrance of the monasteries. However, I wondered what it would be like to roam by foot in the shade of the huge rocks. I dreamed about wandering through the wooded valley and climbing up to the monasteries on foot like the pilgrims in the old days. Therefore, when my sister come to Greece for holidays and asked for a hiking trip Meteora was my first choice.
The usual base for the trips to the Meteora monasteries is Kalambaka. The best way to get there is to take the morning train from Larisa Station in Athens. It’s not very expensive at 22 euros for the return ticket (if booked online). It takes around 5 hours and the route is very beautiful, especially when passing the foothills of Mount Parnassus. Accommodation in Kalambaka is plentiful and quite cheap and there is a good selection of shops, supermarkets, and taverns. However, for me, a better choice for lodging is the neighboring village called Kastraki. It’s much smaller, prettier and closer to the starting point of most of the paths.
When we arrived we only had the afternoon for our explorations. Therefore, we quickly bought a map, a τυροπιτα (cheese pie) and climbed to the little church of Agio Pnevma. It’s hidden on the top of one of the most prominent rocks just outside of the Kastraki village. From the distance, it seems almost impossible to get up to the church without any climbing equipment or skills. In reality, it is a steep but pretty easy hike and well worth the effort. Almost on the top of the rock tower, there is a small church carved into the rock and little bit further a metal cross with a bell. It’s a scary place for those of us afraid of heights. Nevertheless, the views across the valley are fantastic and you can always move around on all fours like I did.
After climbing down from Agio Pnevma we didn’t want to return to Kalambaka the same way. So, we continued towards the Varlaam and Roussanos monasteries in the main valley of Meteora. We passed the monasteries of Agios Adonios and Badova, where the hardcore monks used to live in small caves carved into the rock face high above the ground. In the map, there seemed to be a path going from the monasteries straight down to Kalambaka. In reality, the path ends at the last monastery. However, we were lazy to return back to Kastraki and go around so we scrambled down through a narrow ravine covered in some very spiky blackberry bushes. I really don’t recommend it to anyone!
The second day we started our hike from the Byzantine Church of Virgin Mary in the old town of Kalambaka. From there, a path leads between the rock towers up to the monasteries. After about one kilometer it divides into two. The right branch climbs to the monastery of Agia Triada and Agios Stefanos and the left one straight up to the main road.
We took the left one, walked up for a while and got lost. We did some involuntary rock climbing before we found the right path but in the next turn, we were awarded for our efforts by the most amazing view of the day. The whole valley opened up in front of us and we could see almost all the monasteries scattered over the rocks. The misty weather added to the fairytale sensation from the panorama in front of us.
Actually, the whole hiking experience in Meteora was like this. The paths are not marked very well (or sometimes not marked at all) considering how famous the Meteora monasteries are. Moreover, some parts of the trails are damaged or covered by thick bushes. However, it’s impossible to get truly lost because there is always one of the monasteries on sight to help to get your bearings. And in the end, all this straying is rewarded by amazing views and beautiful spots found along the way.
When we reached the main road it started raining so we hurried to hide in the monastery of Megalo Meteoro. It is the largest and oldest of the monasteries and definitely worth the visit. A great surprise was the food truck parked outside selling coffee and hot dogs. We didn’t stay very long though as it was packed with tourists even outside of the main season. I don’t even want to imagine what it is like in the middle of August.
After the lunch, we headed to the less visited Ypapanti Monastery and Agios Dimitrios ruins. The path starts from the top of the car park at the Megalo Meteoro and climbs up the hill and on the top of the cliffs behind the monastery. The views were amazing as always and we haven’t met anyone for the rest of the day. Anyone except some pretty acrobatic goats munching on the moss on the edges of the cliffs.
To my surprise, there were hundreds of mushrooms everywhere. This may not be such a big deal for someone else but Czech people are huge mushroom lovers and passionate mushroom collectors. Collecting mushrooms is a traditional activity for the end of the summer and a very competitive sport. There is news on TV every few days about the biggest mushroom catch and about the number of people who had to had their stomach pumped out because they ate something they shouldn’t have (or because they drunk way too many beers with the dinner and panicked when they got sick later). So this place was like a mushroom paradise for us! It was a real torture that we couldn’t pick them. However, they have to be dried, fried or pickled straight after the return from the mushroom hunt and that wasn’t gonna happen in our hotel room.
The last day the weather couldn’t be worse! It was raining nonstop and the whole place was gray and misty. But we didn’t want to stay in the town waiting for the train all day. Therefore, we took out our stylish plastic raincoats one more time and hiked to the Agia Triada and Agios Stefanos. At least the cobbled path was wide and passed through the forest most of the way so we were covered from the rain.
We visited the monastery of Agia Triada which is one of the smallest ones but very charming and quiet. Except for the very talkative monk at the entrance, anyway. The entrance fee is 3 euros. It was the same in the other monasteries, too, but here it included some traditional sweets before the departure.