And so to Meteora, a wonderful land of sandstone pinnacles topped with monasteries … Travelling without the campervan was never going to be the same but we were determined to make the most of our now limited time in Greece and we were pleased we stayed and visited Meteora. We were back on the road but in a car and the first difference we noticed was that we had to find a cafe for our morning coffee [and loo stops]! Fortunately there are thousands of cafes in Greece.
Many people drive around Meteora but I think the only way to really see the area is on two feet and if you are able to walk around, spend a few days here and get out, exploring the many paths that wind through the trees below the rocky pinnacles and between the monasteries. You will be rewarded with amazing views away from the many other tourists. The free map from the tourist office shows most of these paths as dotted lines. Be warned, the paths generally do not have signs to indicate where they go and can be difficult to find.
We were staying in the village of Kastraki and on our first evening walked through the village and up to the Adrachit, a tall and thin column of sandstone on a col among the spectacular sandstone rocks. After taking in the views, we took the path towards Agion Pnevma and stopping to take photographs, I heard noises and tracked them down to a tortoise pottering through the grass. We both watched it fascinated as it climbed a steep boulder, occasionally slipping on the slope but grimly determined to make its way.
The next day we walked to Kalampaka over the Marmaro rock, spotting goats trotting down a steep ridge. In Kalampaka we followed the back streets finding the beautiful 11th century small Byzantine church at the top of the town. At the furthest end of Kalampaka is the steep and well-made paved path that climbs up to Agia Trias [Holy Trinity]. After putting on our modest clothes we walked up the steep path cut out of the rock to reach this small monastery. The tiny chapel was cool and peaceful and heavily decorated with scenes from the bible in brilliant colours. Outside this peaceful monastery we sat enjoying the views over Kalampaka and the flat river valley beyond and had our picnic lunch. We followed the road to a flat viewing rock to take in the eroded shapes of the sandstone pinnacles many with monasteries perched impossibly on top. After some searching we eventually tracked down the path back down, about half-way between the parking for the viewing rock and a junction. The path descended steeply through the bushes and grassland to a col where the left path returned to Kalampaka and we turned right for Kastraki. We walked through thick deciduous woodland that was deliciously cool, with huge mossy boulders around us and plane and oak trees. We reached the road at a hairpin bend and picked up the next path that hugged the bottom of the huge rock pinnacles, spotting some climbers high on a sheer face and many more tortoises by the path.
Having explored the eastern monasteries, we set off for those on the western side of Meteora the next day. From our hotel we climbed over the impressive and steeply-rounded rocky mound of Doupiani, a barren landscape from a distance, close up it is covered in lichen, saxifrages and grasses that have managed to establish themselves. This path led to a good bulldozed track which we followed for some time and then joined a pleasant parallel path through oak trees to Agios Demetrios hidden on the side of a pinnacle. This is an abandoned monastery that has been restored and is in a romantic setting high on the cliff. We walked up to the flat rock with the statue of Thymios Vlachavas (1760 – 1809) who fought for Greek independence and was executed by Ali Pasha. From here we had a superb view over the countryside around Meteora; to one side I could see farms, green fields and rounded hills and to the other were weirdly-shaped sandstone pillars. I would have visited Meteora for the rocks alone; the monasteries felt like a bonus. We followed paths busy with tortoises and wild flowers that bought us out at Megalo Meteoro, the largest monastery. We chose to visit Varlaam monastery and found a site that contrasted sharply with Agia Trias. Varlaam had souvenir stalls outside, a gift shop and museum and is easier to access and therefore more popular with visitors. The monastery terrace wouldn’t have been out of place in an Italian villa and had wide dramatic views. Descending back to Kastraki, we managed to find the narrow path from the steps to Megalo Meteoro that took us on a route between two soaring pinnacles. As we walked underneath Varlaam’s pinnacle we became aware of what sounded like large raindrops falling around us. We realised the masons on Varlaam were working on the scaffolding above us and what we could hear was mortar falling around us. We hurried on as a dollop of mortar landed on Mr BOTRA’s arm laughing about health and safety in Greece.