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.
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.
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
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
Parking: 100 space garage near by + street parking
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
Parking: Free street parking all around the hotel
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
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
Trip Advisor: 5 star
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.
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 buildingsSummer 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 accessSummer 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 roadSummer visiting Hours: 09:00 to 16:00.
The monastery stays closed on Fridays.
Winter visiting Hours: 09:00 to 15:00.
Accessibility: Select few spaces for parking. Easily accessible by short staircaseSummer 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 viewsSummer 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 gateSummer 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.
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.
15:00 - After a quick rundown of the area and some recommendations for sunset we loaded up the scooter and set off for a loop around the main road.
As we were given conflicting information regarding closing times of the monasteries, I highly recommend checking upon arrival.
15:10 - Our first stop was at the Monastery of Roussanou. The low elevation makes this an easily accessible stop. There is parking just behind the central tower on the left (Pictured Above).
You really don't need a great deal of time to explore the monasteries as they are quite small and many sections are blocked off to tourists.
16:00 - We stopped a few times to scout potential sunset locations on our way to the next monastery.
16:50 - As St. Stephen's closing time was 17:30 we decided to sneak in a small visit here. Easily accessible to both cars and bikes, we parked right out the front.
17:30 - We made a quick stop to shoot this winding road I saw along the way.
18:00 - You can't visit Meteora without watching one of the incredible sunsets. Luckily, there are numerous places along the main road with easy access. I elected to set up along one of the more popular locations between Roussanou and The Holy Trinity Monasteries. You can't miss the spot as there is always a lot of people here. (see map at the end)
There are around 5 or so car spaces, and plenty of room to park your scooter.
Get there early to secure a good location for your tripod. There are always a ton of wedding shoots happening here it seems, so expect to be asked to move out of the way quickly.
While it may be busy, it's pretty easy to see why this is the number one spot to shoot from. Using a medium zoom lens, you can compress Roussanou and St. Nicholas into the one image. This is the famous shot you will often see online (See title shot)
The view from the lookout is incredible from any direction. I noticed a pair of climbers standing on top of this peak in the distance which made for a pretty impressive shot that
depicts the scale of the mountains.
20:00 - By now Karina's patience was wearing thin and both our pangs of hungers were at breaking point. Heading back on the scooter we rode back into Kalambaka in search of a restaurant.
20: 30 - Both of us were shattered from the day and weren't too keen on walking far from our hotel to find food. I'd seen the Meteora Restaurant on TripAdvisor the previous day, and it reviewed in the top 5 places to eat. It also seemed to be packed each time we rode past, so we opted to eat there. The food was great and well priced, and the view was terrific. As non-smokers, we both struggled with eating in places like this as it seemed everyone smoked during mealtimes.
21:15 - Time to offload all the day's images onto the hard drives and decide on a game plan for the next day. I'd established that sunrise would be difficult as it rises from behind the mountains behind the monasteries. The forecast was also for clear skies. Time for a good sleep in.
09:00 - After a good nights sleep we discussed what we'd do to fill in the day. Sofia had shown us a great little spot to ride the scooter where we could photograph some other small monasteries and ruins built into the rock faces, so we made this our first point of call.
09:45 - We hopped on the scooter and headed towards the Hermitages of Agios Grigorios and Agios Christomas. To be honest, we had no idea what they were, but Sofia told us that they were worth checking out and were less than 10min ride by scooter.
10:00 - The short dirt road (Red line) led us into the shadows of the enormous rocks that separate Kalambaka and Kastraki. As we neared the end, we were greeted with the incredible sight of numerous wooden structures built into the sheer cliff faces and adjacent to a pair of monasteries that seemed to be inhabited.
10:30 - After firing off a few photos a young man emerged from the monastery, intrigued to see who we were and what we were doing. Walking along the base of the cliff is sketchy at best. Small rocks were falling down every now and then, and it felt like only a matter of time before a large one would fall and hit one of us. Best not to stick around for too long.
10:40 - We followed the narrow bush track (Blue line) for 10 minutes before coming to a large clearing atop a giant bare rock. There was a fantastic view over Kastraki and would have been a great location to shoot sunset had we more time in the area. I took a moment to pop the drone up and capture the long free-standing rock formation that climbers often scale.
11:00 - We'd decided to hike at least one trail during our time in Meteora, and chose the short but steep pathway that leads from the road just past Saint Nicholas and winds its way up to Great Meteora. It was also a path that was hidden in the shade for most of the time and provided shelter to the searing sun.
Sofia had mentioned a cave that went by the name of 'The Dragons Cave' which was supposedly located at the base of Varlaam. The title alone was enough to peak my interest, and it just so happened to be found along the same trail that leads to Great Meteora.
A few hundred metres past Saint Nicholas you'll come to small dirt patch on the left-hand side of the bend (Red Circle). There isn't really room for a car but plenty of space for a scooter.
11:20 - We followed the path for around 20 minutes before coming to a section that made a quick zig-zag up the hill. If you aren't paying attention, you would actually miss the right-hand trail that leads up into the Dragons Cave. By luck, a young family was coming down from the overgrown path so we knew it must be the right way. (Green Circle)
Around 20m further, we came to the first of the large boulders, and with a quick jump up we were onto the next one. It wasn't particularly difficult to climb the further 3-4 large boulders, and we eventually came to the large cave that overlooked the valley.
12:00 - Continuing up the climb we eventually came to the summit which popped us out between Great Meteora and the carpark.
We spent a bit of time here relaxing in the shade and exploring the rooms set up with old relics from the past. It's incredible how immaculate each of the rooms is and the level of detail in the chapels mind-blowing.
Note: Photography is not allowed inside the chapels.
12:30 - Having explored the monastery and utilised the bathrooms, we set off back down the path to our scooter. As to be expected, we smashed the decent in around 25 minutes. Then it was back on the scooter and down into Kalambaka for lunch.
12:50 - A hard mornings effort deserves a big meal. We'd passed this cute little family run restaurant named Taverna to Paramithi on the way to the rental shop and decided to give it a try. It had a family-run atmosphere with lots of plants, classic red and white check tablecloths and a super friendly waiter. The food was great, and when we literally couldn't eat anymore, the waiter brought us out a complimentary dessert of Halva to share. It's the little touches of service that keep people coming back.
14:00 - With full bellies, we opted for a quick rest and cool down back at the room for a couple of hours.
16:00 - The hidden monastery of Ypapanti was another recommendation of Sofias and in fact is depicted on the tourist map that is given out at the shop and other places around the town.
You'll want to get yourself a vehicle which takes roughly half an hour unless you don't mind the 1 hour 40 min, 5km walk. We did see one lone guy battling it out in the heat.
The road is a mixture of dirt and tarmac with enough potholes to stop a tank. So be careful if riding a scooter in.
16:30 - The Ypapanti Monastery is a beautiful, yet small structure built into the side of a sheer cliff face. There were literally no other people around, and we elected to take some photos from the ground, fly the drone and head back to find a good sunset location as this side of the mountains was shrouded in shadows.
17:00 - I wasn't too keen on battling with the crowds for a good sunset vantage point, so I decided I'd look for a quieter spot along the side of the road where I could grab shots of Grand Meteora and St. Nicholas from a different angle.
17:45 - After pulling over to take test shots, I finally settled on a quiet little bend just north of Roussanou that offered views towards 4 of the monasteries. Having a scooter meant we could easily pull over behind the barrier. Karina set up with her book, I set up a time-lapse, and we just waited. (see map at the end).
18:30 - Unfortunately, the skies were cloudless, and the colour I was hoping for was a no-show. Still, it was great to capture shots from a different angle and witness the beautiful golden light as it filled the valley below.
19:00 - After a massive day in the sun, I'd decided that I didn't need to capture any more shots here and we called it a day. We headed back to the rental shop to drop back the scooter and made our way to our final dinner.
19:30 - We opted for dinner across the road from our previous nights meal. This time at one of the restaurants above the water feature in the main square called Taberna Panellinio . This was by no means a hidden gem off the beaten path. And not a place we would have chosen if we had more time to wander the back streets. Still, the food was decent as was the atmosphere.
20:30 - Before heading to the hotel we made a quick stop at the convenience store to purchase fruit, snacks and water for the train ride back to Athens.,
20:40 - Offload images, pack bags and prepare for an extremely early train ride.
Getting back to Athens
For reasons unknown, there isn't a lot of options for train travel to and from Meteora. Our train departed at 05:42 which is a bloody struggle for anyone. I suggest you book your tickets online or at the station the day before you plan to leave (save yourself an extra half hour sleep).
Upon our arrival at the station we came across a handful of different tourists standing around as confused and tired as us. Made even more bewildering by the fact that the only train in front of us was only 2 carriages long! Turns out this was our train, and off we went to our first stop at Paleofarsalos.
By the time we reached Paleofarsalos, we'd gathered numerous other passengers. All of whom exited the train when we did. There was absolutely no signage telling you which platform goes to Athens. Upon exiting, we simply walked to the opposite side of our platform and waited with everybody else. It's best to ask one or two locals if unsure.
Thanks so much for following along. As always, if you like what you see here, please subscribe to my mailing list as I will be posting more articles about my time in Greece and Turkey.
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