36 Hours in Meteora: A Photographer's Guide



What's up explorers?


If you've found your way to this blog, you were like me, mesmerised by the beauty of Meteora, but utterly confused as to how best spend your limited time here. I've created this comprehensive information blog/ diary/ itinerary / visual portfolio of my time in the area which details where we stayed, how we got there, where we ate and what we saw. All of this with images of maps and the routes we took.


Use it as little or as much as best suits your style of travel. Enjoy.



Ask anyone what they envision when you mention Greece. It's highly likely the answer will be from somewhere throughout the infamous Greek Isles or the ancient city of Athens. For those who choose to look a little deeper into what mainland Greece has to offer, they'll find a magical region, not far from the Capital that continues to blow the minds of all who choose to venture there.


I remember seeing photos and videos when I was a teenager of these incredible monasteries built atop giant pillars of rock. Many of these images depicted a thick layer of cloud weaving its way through the enormous armies of rock. It engrained an itch in my mind and heart that couldn't be scratched until I had seen the place for myself.


Luckily, in October 2018 I would be close enough to make this dream happen, and I would be equipped with just enough time (I hoped) to capture my experience of the site.



Roussanou


Brief History


The incredible monasteries of Meteora date back to around the 11th century and are the 2nd most important monastic community in Greece. Out of the 30 monasteries that were founded throughout history, only 6 are still actively used today, but you can find other smaller monasteries and ruins throughout the area.


Scientists believe that the enormous sandstone and conglomerate formations that are seen here today, were formed over 60 million years ago.




Getting There


It's important to note that 'Meteora' is quite a large area that encompasses not just the famous monasteries but the town of Kalambaka and its neighbour Kastraki. Unless you drive, your best bet is to take the train from Athens Central Station (aka Larissa).


We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how best to get there from Athens as it appeared the only direct/short trains into and out of Meteora were at horrible times of the day. Turns out, that's just how it is.

* Taken from VisitMeteora.travel correct as of NOV 2018


We pre-booked online tickets the night before to Kalambaka. The train does get quite full, even in the low season. Our train ride back to Athens was much quieter being that it left at 05:42 in the morning.


If you get confused, keep in mind that Kalambaka is a terminal station, meaning that if you get on a direct train, you won’t have to worry about getting off at the right station. It will be the last station of the line


Book your train tickets here


* For further information check out Visit Meteora which is the local information centre located in Kalambaka



Kalambaka


Accomodation


Athens

If you are catching the 08:00 train you'll want to stay somewhere super close to the station. While the reviews weren't the best, we chose to stay at the Athens Oscar Hotel, which is literally across the road from Larissa Station. Rooms are simple, cheap and the customer service isn't much better. But it served our purpose just fine. There is a simple but tasty restaurant on the street below the hotel and a large supermarket across the street where you can buy snacks for the train ride to Kalambaka.


Price: $84 AUD p/n

Location: Directly across from Athens Central Station Google Maps

Wifi: Yes

Parking: 100 space garage near by + street parking



Kalambaka

There is no shortage of accommodation in Kalambaka, a quick search online and you'll have options to suit any budget. We chose to stay at the Galaxy Hotel due to its proximity to the train station, main street and our scooter rental company. The price was reasonable, staff were lovely and helpful, and the room was tidy albeit the shower curtain was a nightmare. The food was ok, but nothing special. My partner is gluten free, meaning minimal choice.


Price: $157 AUD p/n

Location: 5 min walk from Kalambaka station. 2 min walk from main street. Google Maps

Wifi: Yes

Parking: Free street parking all around the hotel



Equipment


I was arriving in Greece straight from a tourism project in Italy and was fortunate enough to have my semi-full kit to shoot with. As with anything, it's not all about the gear you have but the way you use it and how you apply its features to the conditions you have. The beauty of the Olympus system is that I can carry two bodies at all times, one for time-lapse and the other to shoot stills. Below is a non-comprehensive overview of my kit that was used.


2 x Olympus OMD EM1 MK Bodies 1 x Mavic Pro 2 + Fly More Kit

1 x Sirui A-1205 Tripod & Y-11 Ballhead 1 x HLD-9 Battery Grip

1 x Mzuiko 7-14mm f2.8 Pro 1 x Samsung Galaxy Note 9

1 x Mzuiko 12-100mm f4 Pro IS 1 x Joby Gorrilla Pod

1 x 40-150mm f2.8 Pro

1 x Mc-14 1.4x Teleconverter



Kalambaka Aerial View From Agios Grigorios


Getting Around


There are a few ways to get around Meteora, each with their own perks that suit the style of visit you wish to have. Basically, you can A) Drive B) Scooter C) Pushbike D) Walk

E) Take a private tour


NOTE: Citizens outside the EU must have an international drivers permit to rent vehicles in Greece


A) The roads around Meteora are sealed and easy to drive (remember on the right side of the road). There is a small number of public car spaces at each monastery, but these fill up super quick during peak hours and there is very little places to stop along the road.


B) If you are confident riding a scooter, this is by far the best way to see Meteora. You can ride the entire loop in about an hour with photo stops. There is plenty of spaces to park a scooter, regardless of the crowds and it's easy to find a spot at the beginning of some hikes where cars cannot park. You will need a bike licence if you want a higher powered model; however there are electric models available for those who don't have one. Be wary of the large buses as they take the hairpin turns towards you!


C) Pushbike is a clean and easy way to see the area. You can rent an E-bike (see below) or a standard pushbike and feel the burn as you tackle the uphill climbs.


D) If you are staying for 2-3 days and prefer a more leisurely pace, there are plenty of walking/hiking trails that take you from Kalambaka up into the mountains and provide access to some monasteries.


As our time in Meteora was limited and we needed to cover a lot of ground quickly, we opted for the scooter. I cannot recommend more highly the Hobby Shop Papatzimopoulos . Sofia who runs the business with her husband is super friendly and accommodating. She gave us great tips on other locations to photography and how to best make use of our short time there. The bikes were good working order, and there was a large selection of helmets and sizes.


Location: Google Maps

Services: Electric bikes, electric scooter without licence, scooter 50-150cc, all ages bicycles, scooter tours with guides, atvs, and automatic cars.

Tel: 003024320 25262

Email: hobbyshop@hotmail.gr

Trip Advisor: 5 star





The Loop


The main loop road that circles the area begins in Kalambaka and circles clockwise through the small town of Kastraki and up into the mountains whereby it passes Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas, Roussanou, Agia Trias, and Agios Stefanos Monasteries. To reach Megaloto Meteora (Great Meteora) and Varlaam, make a left just after Roussanou.


You can ride the entire loop in around an hour with quick stops.


Aerial View of Varlaam & Roussanou

Monasteries


While it's possible to see all 6 of the principal monasteries during your time in Meteora, we found that they were all very similar inside and instead chose to only visit 3. Expect to spend anywhere from 20min to 1 hour inside, depending on its size.


Both males and females are allowed into all monasteries. Large scarves are available to borrow for both men and women who are wearing shorts and singlets.


The cost of entry into all was 4 Euro


Order of Monasteries as they appear on main road


1) St. Nikolaos Anapafsas

Accessibility: Parking along main road with short staircase walk up to main buildings

Summer visiting Hours: 08:00 to 17:00.

The monastery stays closed on Fridays.

Winter visiting Hours: 09:00 to 16:00.

The monastery stays closed on Fridays.


2) Great Meteora (Largest monastery located off side road just past Roussanou Monastery)

Accessibility: Parking near main building. Many tour buses park here. Can be hiked from below. Easy access

Summer visiting Hours: 09:00 to 17:00.

The monastery stays closed on Tuesdays.

Winter visiting Hours: 09:00 to 15:00.

The monastery stays closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.


3) Varlaam (Second largest monastery just opposite Great Meteora)

Accessibility: Street parking, easy access from road

Summer visiting Hours: 09:00 to 16:00.

The monastery stays closed on Fridays.

Winter visiting Hours: 09:00 to 15:00.


4) Roussanou

Accessibility: Select few spaces for parking. Easily accessible by short staircase

Summer visiting Hours: 09:00 to 17:00.

The monastery stays closed on Wednesdays.

Winter visiting Hours: 09:00 to 14:00.

The monastery stays closed on Wednesdays.


5) Holy Trinity (Agia Triada)

Accessibility: Difficult stair climb with amazing views

Summer visiting Hours: 09:00 to 17:00.

The monastery stays closed on Thursdays.

Winter visiting Hours: 09:00 to 16:00.

The monastery stays closed on Thursdays.


6) St. Stephen's (Agios Stefanos)

Accessibility: Easiest of all monasteries. Parking right at the gate

Summer visiting Hours: 9:00 to 13:30 and 15:30 to 17:30.

The monastery stays closed on Mondays.

Winter visiting Hours: 9:30 to 13:00 and 15:00 to 17:00


7) Ypapanti (Hidden Monastery)

Accessibility: 30 min drive / ride from Kalambaka along a rocky dirt road. Lots of potholes. Easy stair case access into monastery.

Monday to Friday, from 10:00am until 2:00pm.



Vertical Rock Formation Aerial View

Itinerary


Day 1


08:20 - Rising early for the direct train from Athens to Kalambaka, we admired the beautiful countryside as it faded from the dusty white metropolis into a dry rural expanse. The roughly 5-hour trip was pleasant with comfortable seats and plenty of legroom.


Remember to check the direction of travel when choosing your seat as the seats do not move. It's also a good idea to book seats near either end of the carriage so you can keep an eye on your luggage.


13:00 - Arriving just after lunch, we dropped off our bags and headed towards the scooter rental shop which was about a 10 min walk up the road. We grabbed a traditional bite to eat at the YAMAS Traditional Greek Tavern located next to the rental company.