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Ever since the first time I set eye on the stunning landscape of Meteora during a road trip through Northern Greece I knew I had to come back for a thorough exploration. The time come a couple of years later when my sister, avid hiker and rock climber, come to visit with a wish list including hiking in Meteora among other adventures.
The monastery complex at Meteora is an absolute must when traveling around mainland Greece. The combination of an unusual yet striking landscape of tall, sandstone rock towers and centuries-old monasteries sitting atop makes it one of the most unique and picturesque places I’ve ever seen.
First hermits arrived at Meteora in the 9th century living a simple life in the caves and hollows of the impressive pinnacles. But it wasn’t until the 14the century that the monasteries were built to provide protection against the more and more frequent Turkish attacks.
At its peak in the 16 century there were as many as 24 working monasteries in Meteora but today only six remain open. Still, it is the second-largest monastery group in Greece after Mount Athos and one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
It is a busy, touristy place especially around the main monasteries and viewing decks. But step on one of the many footpaths of Meteora and you’ll experience a serene and spiritual countryside with amazing views on every corner
Getting to Kalabaka from Athens is easy and quite fast considering the distance, making it one of the best destinations for a weekend trip. You can choose between a train or a KTEL bus based on your preferences. It takes approximately the same time to reach Kalabaka – about 5 hours.
By bus: The first bus leaves Athens at 7:30 and arrives at Trikala in four and a half hours. In Trikala, you’ll need to change the bus to continue to Kalambaka (another 45 minutes). Check out the KTEL Trikalon for a detailed timetable including the bus lines from Thessaloniki and other large Greek cities, too.
By train: The train leaves Athens (Stathmos Larisis) at 8:20 and arrives at Kalabaka Train Station shortly after 13:00. The ticket costs 20 euros each way and is usually cheaper when booked online. Check out the Trainose website for timetables and online booking. The train is not only more comfortable than the bus, but it is also a much prettier ride, too. I especially love the section crossing foothills of Mount Parnassos and passing the historical Gorgopothamos Bridge.
Kalabaka: Kalabaka is the best base for excursions to the Meteora monasteries. The town is not particularly pretty on its own but its close distance to the rocks and abundance of hotels, taverns, shops, and supermarkets makes an ideal choice. In general, you’ll find a lot of budget-friendly options here, be it for accommodation or food.
Kastraki: Looking for something a bit more romantic? Then head to the picturesque Kastraki just 2 kilometers away from Kalambaka. It has few taverns and mini market, too, and is far more pretty hiding right under the rock towers.
Camping Vrachos: I’m not a huge fan of organized campgrounds but I liked this one a lot. It lies halfway between Meteora and Kastraki and except the usual utilities it offers a swimming pool with a beautiful view of the rocks.
By car: If coming by car, driving will be the obvious choice. The main monasteries are all connected by an asphalt road and taking your own vehicle will give you the freedom to choose which one to visit and when. But if you plan on doing some hiking as well I suggest leaving the car in Kalabaka and taking the bus.
Organized tours: When it comes to organized tours the choices are endless. From the classic one-day or half-day tours visiting all the main monasteries to sunset tours or even food and wine tasting, you will surely find one that fits your needs. For the adventurous types, there are guided hiking, scrambling or even rock climbing trips available, too.
Public bus: For self-guided tours to the Meteora monasteries use the KTEL bus from Kalabaka. The first bus should depart from Kalabaka at 9:00 and the last one leaves the monasteries at 16:00 giving you plenty of time to for explorations (but check the time table to be sure). Or take the bus only on the way up to Megalo Meteoro and return back to Kalbaka on foot visiting other monasteries along the way.
Hiking: Obviously, hiking is my preferred way of transportation anywhere and in Meteora especially. Hiking to the Meteora monasteries from Kalambaka is easy, the distances are not very long and even though the terrain is hilly there are no particularly tiring ascents.
The paths are marked sporadically and a printed map was helpful but finding the way wasn’t hard as you can always see one of the monasteries towering above your head. But most importantly, the scenery is breathtaking and only by walking under the massive rock towers and over the old cobbled paths you can enjoy it to its full potential.
Arriving in Kalambaka by the morning train from Athens we only had half a day for our first hike. Therefore, we quickly bought a map, a τυροπιτα (cheese pie) and climbed to the small chapel at Agio Pnevma. It’s hidden on the top of one of the most prominent rocks just outside of the Kastraki village and except for the small chapel, one of the oldest of the Meteora complex, it offers breathtaking views from the top.
To get to Agio Pnevma follow the asphalt road from Kalabaka to Kastraki. In Kastraki turn right and walk up towards the rock towers until finding a paved path. You’ll probably have to either get a map or ask the locals for the directions as the path is not marked well. Once on the path watch out for smaller trails branching to the left. It climbs up on a narrow (but not very scary) ledge on the side of the Agio Pnevma rock.
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 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 a little bit further a metal cross with a bell. The area around the cross is 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 as I did.
After climbing down from Agio Pnevma we didn’t want to return to Kalabaka the same way and instead continued to the main valley of Meteora. We passed the monasteries of Agios Antonios and Agios Nikolaos of Bantova and the old hermit caves carved to the rock face some 25 meters off the ground.
In the map, there seemed to be a path descending from between the two monasteries straight down to Kalabaka. In reality, the path ends at the last monastery end we ended up scrambling down through a narrow ravine covered in some very spiky blackberry bushes. I really don’t recommend it to anyone!
Our second hike started from the Byzantine Church of the Virgin Mary in the old town of Kalabaka. From here, a path leads between the rock towers up to the eastern monasteries of Meteora. 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. After some involuntary scrambling and even rock climbing we found the right path and continued hiking all scratched and slightly annoyed. However, in the next turn, we were awarded for our efforts by the most amazing view of the day. The whole valley suddenly opened up in front of us and we could see almost all the monasteries scattered over the rocks. The misty weather added to the fairy-tale sensation from the beautiful 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) which is quite weird considering how famous the Meteora monasteries are. Moreover, some parts of the trails are in poor condition or covered by thick bushes. However, it’s impossible to get truly lost because there is always one of the monasteries in clear sight to help you get your bearings. And in the end, all this straying is rewarded by amazing views and beautiful hidden spots found along the way.
When we reached the main road it started to rain so we hurried to hide in the monastery of Megalo Meteoro. It is the largest of the monasteries and definitely worth the visit. However, it can get pretty busy, too, even outside of the main season so be prepared to wrestle through the visitors brought up by the organized tours and school trips.
The Megalo Meteoro, or Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ as the full name stands, is the largest and oldest of the preserved monasteries. It was founded in the 14th century by Saint Athanasios Meteorites who not only gave it life but also the name. It flourished through the centuries and remains the most important of Meteora monasteries. For more info about Megalo Meteoro check out THIS site.
Leaving Megalo Meteoro 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 across the hill above the monastery.
It continues on the top of moss-covered cliffs for a big part of the way offering amazing views and utmost tranquillity. We haven’t met anyone else for the rest of the day except for some pretty acrobatic goats munching on the moss on the edges of the cliffs.
Both the Ypapanti and Agios Dimitrios are in ruins even though the first one has been partially repaired and can be visited under special circumstances. They are a pretty sight anyway, glued to the rock face in a quiet, lush valley. Actually, the whole Meteora area was lush and green at this time of year (September) and the woods were filled with mushrooms of all shapes and colors.
From the Ypapanti Monastery, the trail leads along the foothill of the rocks towards Kastraki and Kalabaka. At one point, the views of the Meteora valley open up once more giving the chance to see the stunning scenery from jet another angle!
On the last day of our trip, the weather couldn’t be worse! It was raining nonstop and the whole place was gray and misty. This is not an unusual occurrence in the mountainous regions of Northern Greece especially outside of the summer season. Keep that in mind and bring a jacket even if it’s still burning hot down in Athens.
Despite the bad weather, we decided to embark on at least a short hike before catching the afternoon train back to Athens. Therefore, we took out our stylish plastic raincoats one more time and climbed up to the Agia Triada and Agios Stefanos Monasteries. These two monasteries sit a bit further away from the main group and are best visited as part of a separate tour.
We started from the old town of Kalabaka as the day before and followed the same trail for about half a kilometer until reaching a crossroads. From here, a path climbs up to the right towards the Agia Triada Monastery. From a distance, it seems like a steep climb, but is easy enough and pleasant up close ascending gradually through the forested slopes.
The Agia Triada Monastery, sitting on a top of an impressive 400 meters tall sandstone pillar, is one of the oldest monasteries in the Meteora complex. It was built between the 14th and 15the century and until the 20th century, it was only accessible by foot. Today, there is a road passing close by, comfortable stairs carved to the rocks and even a small lift for the privileged folk.
Agia Triada is one of the few monasteries still permanently inhabited and the part open to the public is not large. It’s worth the visit, nevertheless. It was very quiet and peaceful compared to some of the other monasteries and we could spend as much time as we needed exploring every corner.
The lonely monk guarding the entrance was much friendlier, too, seeing every visitor as an opportunity for sharing stories from his monastic life and travels around Europe. We even got some farewell sweets before saying goodbye!
There is no path connecting Agia Trianda to Agios Stefanos so we climbed up to the main asphalt road, turned right and followed it for about 1 km until reaching the monastery.
The rock of Agios Stefanos was inhabited by the first monks at the end of the 12th century but the construction of the monastery hasn’t started before the 14th century. It was severely damaged during the second world war and later transformed into a nunnery.
Thanks to its position on the southern edge of the rock complex it provides amazing views across the valley of Kalambaka a towards the Thessaly plains.