At least one Meteora Greece monastery should be on your bucket list when coming to the Thessaly region in central Greece. Not only that you will be able to see a genuine archeological site and walls that withstood centuries, but also a valley of giant rock pillars that is referred to as a natural phenomenon.
Meteora Greece Map
METEORA GREECE FACTS Situated about 5 km from Kalabaka town, Meteora is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989 while the Greek government declared it an official holy place in 1995.
The word is plural of meteoron meaning “suspended in the air” in Greek. This spectacular natural landscape that was created for millennia, is also adorned by Orthodox Christian monasteries in seemingly impossible locations. The first monks found refuge here as early as the 9th century.
Meteora Greece How to get there
Meteora is now regarded as one of the most important monastic communities of the Orthodox Church besides Athos. By the 16th century, there were 24 clifftop monasteries scattered around the valley. Today only six of them remain active.
If you are not coming with the organized tour from Athens or Thessaloniki, the best idea is to drive yourself to the Meteora Greece monastery. Also, if you are planning a trip to some of the best Ionian islands, makes sure to check if the Meteora tour is available. If not – as it happened in my case – here is how to get there. Car hire is available throughout Greece, so it took me three hours to get from Parga on the coast to the Meteora Greece monastery.
TIP: Make sure to come early. Monasteries are open from about 9,30 am but the parking area tends to get crowded 30 mins earlier, especially if there are a lot of tour buses coming that day. Expect traffic jams between April and October.
Great Meteoron Monastery
A monk named Athanasios climbed one of the highest rock formations in the region in the 14th century only to establish the first monastery here – the Great Meteoron (or the Megalo Meteoron in Greek) with his young follower Joasaph.
The latter was Greek-Serbian Prince John Uresis Palaiologos who denounced his royal titles when he was 22 and became a monk. He was a titular emperor of the Serbians and Greeks between 1369 and 1371 but his rule was limited to Thessaly.
Joasaph built a church during the second half of the 14th century at the Great Meteoron Monastery. Part of the original wall can still be seen given that the church was rebuilt and frescoed in the 16th century.
TIP: Great Meteoron Monastery is open on working days (except on Tuesdays) from 9,30 to 15,30. It will take about 10 minutes to climb up all the stairs from the parking lot to the entrance.
Great Meteoron Monastery is the biggest of the Meteora Greece monasteries. You will be able to visit its museums, the church, monks’ kitchen, and take pictures from the balcony with a great view of the valley.
Monastery of the Holy Trinity
The Monastery of the Holy Trinity is built between the 14th and the 15th century close to Saint Stephen’s Nunnery. It is situated on steep spectacular rock with some great views of the whole valley.
The second biggest Meteora Greece monastery is founded in the 14th century by a monk named Varlaam. It was abandoned for some time but reestablished in the 16th century.
Some of the best pictures can be taken near the Great Meteoron Monastery given that there is a great view of the Varlaam Monastery all the way to the entrance. Rocks can get slippery here so the place is not recommended for those who are afraid of heights. (My companions were even anxious to take a picture of me at the edge of one of the pillars. Still, I am thankful for such beautiful photos.)
Monastery of St. Stephanos
This Meteora Greece monastery is the only one that doesn’t have any staircase but a small bridge, which makes it the easiest to reach and the most popular. Other monasteries have between 150 and 300 steps towards the entrance.
TIP: The entrance fee is 3 euros per person in all the monasteries. If you are planning to visit more than one Meteora Greece monastery in one day, have in mind that summers here tend to get very hot. Also, there are no restrooms outside monastery areas.
Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas
Anapafsis means resting in Greek, so the name of this Meteora Greece monastery is literally St. Nicholas the one who rests you. They say that the name has to do with the monastery’s location given that it is the first on the way and probably was used as a resting place by pilgrims before continuing on with the visit.
Since there was not enough surface on the rock pillar, monks were forced to build the Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas vertically on a few levels.
Being established in the 14th century, the Rousanou Monastery was initially founded by monks, but in 1988 it became a convent. More than 15 sister nuns live in this Meteora Greece monastery today. It suffered severe damage during World War II.
TIP: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, monasteries are closed on weekends. Masks are mandatory indoors, taking pictures is forbidden inside, and you have to respect a certain dress code. No pants and skirts are available at the entrance due to the pandemic. So, you are obligated to come wearing long skirts and pants and to cover your shoulders. Six people are allowed to be inside the church at the same time.
METSOVO GREECE Metsovo Greece is a town in the northern province of Epirus. This is the largest center of Aromanian (Vlach) life in Greece and a popular ski center. The legend says that its name came from the Slav word Mečovo meaning a bear-place. This area is actually a large brown bear habitat. Hence the sculpture of two bears at the town square where the 40 km Bear’s Trekking Trail begins.
If you happen to drive around the area, the best thing to do is to find a few interesting spots to take a break and explore. Given that I drove to the Meteora Greece monastery early in the morning and spent a couple of hours at the Great Meteoron, I was on my way back around noon (just when the traffic jam began to get crazy up there). This time I wanted to make a few stops and not to drive to the Ionian coast in one go. Metsovo Greece was thus the perfect spot for an early lunch after an hour and a half drive.
I read somewhere that Mestovo consists of several small villages with the population mainly in agriculture and tourism. It has a long history in the trade business whose merchants traveled to Russia, Vienna, Constantinople, Damascus.
Given that it is built on the fascinating slopes of Pindus Mountain at an altitude of about 1,200 meters, Metsovo is abundant in snowy winters. That’s the reason why Metsovo is a well-known winter resort. This is where one can admire a typical Epirus landscape with beautiful mountains and thick forests.
Metsovo Greece Things to do
There are a few things to see and do when arriving in Metsovo. The town has a typical mountain architecture with stone houses, wooden balconies, and tiled roofs. The center is adorned by a vast square with restaurants on one side and a park on the other.
Besides the bears’ sculpture, there are several others surrounding the square dedicated to famous locals. Even mountain sheep were depicted. Why is this animal so popular? Well, that brings us to one of the things Metsovo Greece is famous for. One just has to try its different cheeses!
Either being the one called Metsovone which is a semi-hard smoked cheese produced of cow’s milk, or Metsovela (semi-hard, pale-yellow cheese made of mixed cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s milk), you will be able to taste the most popular brands even in a local fast-food restaurant. (Don’t miss the opportunity!) Metsovo is also famous for its winemaking industry.
Try not to skip taking photos from the park since there is a breathtaking view of the mountain slopes. It is easy to recognize the Averoff Gallery from here by its beautifully tiled roof. This is the art museum housing about 200 paintings and sculptures of the 19th and 20th-century Greek artists.
ACHERON RIVER Situated in Epirus, the Acheron River is 52 km long. It springs near the Zotiko village and flows into the Ionian Sea at Ammoudia beach near Parga. It is popular for its stunning gorge with crystal clear waters and beautiful landscapes.
In ancient Greek mythology, Acheron was the “river of woe” being one of the five rivers of the Underworld. Homeric poems described it as a river of Hades.
Even though Acheron River is now an abundant ecosystem and a protected area due to its natural properties, its springs are known worldwide for a mythological content. This was my second stop after Meteora Greece monastery. After taking a nice break at Metsovo, I drove for another hour and a half, descending the mountain slopes into the valley. When I reached the villages of Kanalaki and Glyki, Acheron was minutes away.
Not only that according to mythology, the newly dead had to be ferried across the Acheron in order to enter the Underworld, but this river is said to give special powers, even immortality, to those dipped in. In Dante’s Inferno, Acheron was the border of Hell. Still, legend also says that Achilles’ mother dipped him into the river by holding him by the heel. The great Greek hero couldn’t thus be harmed in any way, except if being hit at his heel.
Acheron River is only 25 km from the Ionian coast and Parga town, to be exact. So, this was a must-see. Even more so when taking into consideration that it was a perfect time for a coffee. Vast parking is provided on the Acheron bank. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of tourists taking a rafting tour given that the Acheron canyon is famous for its rapids.
Even though I knew that the water temperature doesn’t go above 4 degrees Celsius, its coldness still took me by surprise. It gets very cold if you spend more than 10 minutes in there. My feet began to get numb. No wonder that people thought that it led to the Underworld. The river does flow through some dark gorges and goes underground in several places. Legend says that Zeus did that, condemning Acheron to remain eternally underground. Why? Because it allowed his rivals Titans to freshen up and drink from here.
I was also shocked when realized that I could only get coffee across the river, on the other bank. The restaurant could only be accessed if crossing the river on foot, through that freezing cold and fast water, with slippery rocks below and rapids whirling up to my thighs. That coffee got a different meaning after we were looking at tourists losing their slippers when trying to cross over, dropping phones and hats that were flown away and gone in seconds, while some even slipped causing us all to jump in and help.
There’s definitely something fascinating about this Acheron River, even though a bit scary!
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