These monestaries are one of the highlights of Greek travel IMHO. Hell, they’re so awesome, I’d say they’re one of the highlights of European travel fullstop. One of the highlights of world travel even? Maybe. So if you’re heading to Greece & Meteora is not on your itinerary, you need to check yo’self before you wreck yo’self fool.
Now I’m not sure if it’s just me, but Meteora seems to have a slightly lower profile amongst travellers than other attractions on the Greek mainland. Like everyone knows about the Acropolis & the other big archaeological sites in Athens, everyone knows about Olympia being the birthplace of the Olympic Games, and about Zeus hanging out at the top of My Olympus banging his harem of hot mythological poontang, but I for one had never even heard of Meteora before starting to plan my trip. And yet, despite the relative lack of hype, this place is hands-down one of the absolute highlights of my travels around Greece.
So why should you go to Meteora? What is there to see that’s cool enough to drag you away from necking beers & being a rowdy drunken tourist on one of the Greek Islands? Well, Meteora is a set of Eastern Orthodox Greek monasteries – previously there were more than 20 sites here, however now only 6 remain, although these are still operational & have a bunch of monks still living in them to this day, which is pretty cool. However, what sets these monestaries apart is the setting – seriously this landscape is ridiculous, sheer cliffs rising straight up from the valley floor, and the monasteries perched on top are one of the coolest sites I’ve ever seen. Meteora actually translates to something like “middle of the sky”, “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above”, and as you can see from these pics, any of those would be a pretty good description of the location of these monasteries. Fuck knows how those old-school monks managed to build these back in the day though, seriously it must have been an absolute bitch, hauling all the building materials up there, fuck that shit.
Naturally these sites were chosen for defensive purposes – in the face of increasing Turkish aggression these cliffs provided a perfect refuge where the residents could be left to do “monk stuff” in peace. Also, compared to the ancient archaeological sites which are the norm around Greece, the monasteries of Meteora are much more recent additions – built between the 14th & 16th centuries (although still pretty damn old, obviously).
The best way to see the monasteries is on foot, however it’s a bit of a climb up from town so you’d better be in at least reasonable shape. Also, if you’re visiting in summer you can expect it to be hotter than eating a jungle curry then sitting in a sauna in a wetsuit, so bring some water & sunscreen. Sadly it seems mass tourism has started to catch on to how awesome Meteora is, as there are now tourist buses plying the roads between the monasteries, and you”ll often find a gaggle of loud overweight tourists at the foot of the stairs up to the monasteries, complaining about how steep the climb looks. While this does detract from the experience somewhat, by hiking the trails between the monasteries you get away from the noisy roads & can enjoy a fairly peaceful walk in stunning surroundings – in fact by doing it this way the only time you’re likely to encounter other people, at least in any significant numbers, is when you duck up to visit one of the monasteries.
The monks keep the skulls of their deceased brothers, because every Tuesday night is bowling night up at Great Meteoron monastery, and they use these skulls as bowling balls. Actually that's not true, I can’t remember why they keep them actually. Still - 3 holes in each - you could totally bowl with those.
Okay, now that we've discussed hiking around the area to see the beautiful scenery & monasteries, let’s get into visiting the monasteries themselves.
To start this off, a quick word about respect. Yes that’s right, respect – R.E.S.P.E.C.T, Find out what it means to me, R.E.S.P.E.C.T, Take care TCB, ooooh sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me etc. As mentioned earlier, the monasteries of Meteora are still operating as places of residence & worship, so your behaviour should reflect this. This means appropriate dress – I heard a load of stuff about having to wear long trousers & long sleeves, however I saw a bunch of peeps being let in wearing shorts so I guess they’re a bit lenient on this, or maybe it was just cos it was the peak of summer & the monks appreciate that making people walk up hundreds of stairs in longs & proper shirts could be considered cruel & unusual punishment. As long as you look reasonably presentable you should be fine, a t-shirt would be better than a singlet, and maybe save the Cradle of Filth shirt with the pentagram on the back for another day. One thing is certain, chicks are expected to wear skirts (long skirts as opposed to the mini variety, don’t want any monk-boners going on up in here), however they have sarong-type skirts you can rent for a couple of bucks at the entrances of the monasteries which you can wrap around on top of your trousers / shorts, since that’s what you’d likey be more comfortable hiking in. Guys you can rent these too, no judgement here you fruity bastards. Chicks should also keep their midrifs & cleavage covered, modesty is the name of the game, see earlier point about monk-boners.
There are also a few sacred places where photographs are not permitted, and some areas may be off limits to visitors during prayer times etc, so don’t be a douche, respect these rules. Finally, each monastery charges a small fee for entry, around $3-4 each. This is now a vital source of income for the monestaries & one of the only ways the residents can maintain their way of life, so don’t be stingy – also just consider that if you’ve walked up to the monasteries from town & are hiking between them, which is all totally free, then these entry fees plus a bit of food (BYO from town) are gonna be your only expenses for the day, which makes for a pretty damn cheap day of top-notch sight-seeing.
So there you have it peeps, if you’re travelling around Greece & looking for something a bit different to the usual ancient Greek temples / columns / theatres (even though those are all pretty cool too), then be sure to check out Meteora. In addition to having an outstanding hike surrounded by some amazing landscape & getting to visit some seriously impressive monasteries, you’ll no doubt come away with some photos which will impress the fuck out of everyone who sees them – seriously, everyone who’s seen my pics has said something along the lines of “holy SHIT that place looks cool” – IT’S A WIN/WIN!!!