Plan for the day
We would be driving into Meteora today and I was very excited about it. Finally on our 18th day of travel we would be reaching Meteora. The drive from Metsovo to Meteora would take about an hour and the distance about 60km, so we should be in Meteora by about 10.30am. The rest of the day until sun down would be for exploring Meteora.
I had already booked two rooms with a guesthouse in Kastraki town and we would be spend one night at Kastraki town.
Morning at Metsovo
Our room at Hotel Kassaros had a great view of the town, so we woke up early to enjoy the view of sunrise over the town. Compared to the other Zagori villages, Metsovo was a modern town. Though the roads and the houses in Metsovo were built using stones just like the other Zagori Villages, this town did not have the same rustic feel. Both the hotels where we stayed for a night at Papigo and Metsovo were beautifully furnished, the one at Papigo gave us this “going back in time feeling” and the one at Metsovo had this modern artistic feel.
Breakfast at Hotel Kassaros
Breakfast was provided by the Hotel and was included in the room price. Like all the other parts of Hotel the dining room was very beautifully decorated. Tables, chairs, lights, walls and pictures they were all very classy. The hotel owner must have spent a great deal of money and resources building and designing the hotel, so it was no wonder that his room rates was about twice others.
Breakfast was simple but very nice. Bread, cheese, ham, butter, honey, fruits, etc etc. Yummy.
Kastraki was a village at the foot of Meteora and it was the closest village to Meteora. I had booked two double/twin rooms in a Guesthouse Plakias in this village to spend the night. Before I placed my booking, I was debating if I should stay in Kastraki village or Kalabaka village. Both villages are very close to Meteora and Kalabaka was the larger of the two. In the end I chose Kastraki because I planned to wake up very early to view Meteora in the morning light and Kastraki village would be a more convenient location.
After an hour drive from Metsovo we reached the turning point on the highway E29 leading to Kastraki village. The village was not very large so it was not difficult to find Guesthouse Plakias based on the co-ordinates that were given to us.
On reaching the location we saw a two storey building with two signboards hung on the outside. One stated Taverna Gardenia and the other Guesthouse Plakias.
The lower storey was fully occupied by a taverna and the upper storey looked like rooms which I presumed must be the guesthouse. We could not find a stairs leading up to the guesthouse so we had no choice but walked into the taverna to enquire about the guesthouse. The taverna was empty and after calling out a while, a staff came out from the kitchen to attend to us. We were told to wait while he contacted ‘Nikos’, the host of the guesthouse.
We waited outside the taverna/guesthouse and were feeling very excited as we could already see the gigantic sandstone rocks of Meteora looming up in the air and we couldn’t wait to set off for our sightseeing.
Nikos arrived and we received a bad news, he us that one of our rooms was not available as the previous guest extended his stay due to his car breakdown problem. Not to worry he said, as he had arranged for us to be accommodated at his cousin’s hotel which according to him was a better hotel and naturally would cost more.
The good news was we would not be required to pay more. He guided us to his cousin’s Hotel Meteoritis which seemed to be newer and more modern.
I was pretty happy with this second hotel as I could see Meteora clearly from my bedroom balcony. We left our luggage in the rooms and was on our way out to explore Meteora!!
Meteora (UNESCO site)
The geological landscape of Meteora were formated about 60 million years ago. It was believed that at that time Meteora was covered by sea that retreated after series of earth movement. The sandstone pillars were left as a result of waves, winds and extreme weather conditions.
The first monastery was built in the 11th century on top of these high rock pillars and by 14th century 20 were built. Locating the the monasteries high up on the rocks served two purposes, first was to be closer to god and second to provide security. It shielded the monks from political upheaval and whenever the monks felt threatened they could withdrew the long ladders that provided the only accessible path up to the monasteries.
Today only six of 24 monasteries were active while the others were uninhabited and deserted.
Holy Monastery of St Nicholas Anapausas
We drove for less than a kilometre on the road from our hotel in Kastraki village to Meteora when we spotted our first monastery on the top of a high rock. The Holy Monastery of St Nicholas Anapausas was founded in 1368 and enlarged in 1628. The monastery looked as though it was build into the side of a rock near the peak. The walls of the monastery flushed into the rock vertically and horizontally.
In the past this monastery could only be ascended by ladders and traditional net but because it took a long time to reach the monastery, due to the height of the rock, steps were later carved into the rock. From the base of the rock at the road level to the entrance of the monastery were 150 steps.
Monastery of Roussanou
Driving further up the road from Monastery of St Nicholas we came to the base of the rock pillar where Roussanou Monastery sat. Monastery Roussanou was founded in 1545 by Maximos and Ioasaph and was dedicated to St. Barbara.
Until now the road that we had driven on were on lower ground so the views of the monasteries were very much at a “worm eyes” perspective.
Rounding the bend of the road that curved round the rock pillar of the monastery we came to a stairs that lead up to the monastery. It looked like a long way up.
Later in the day when I was in the external courtyard of the another monastery (Varlaam) I saw Monastery Roussanou from a higher plane. It looked very different from the bottom up view I had before. On a higher ground, I could see that the rock pillar where Roussanou sat on had a narrow and long cross section and the walls of the monastery were built all the way to the edges of the rock pillar at all sides, using up every inch of the surface of the peak. Visitors going up to the monastery had to climb up the stairs and crossed two narrow bridges to reach the entrance of the monastery.Bottom up or top down, both views of Monastery Roussanou were impressive.
After Roussanou Monastery the road started to go uphill gradually. Near the top the road branched left and right. The left would lead to Monastery of Varlaam and Great Meteoron and the right to Monastery of Holy Trinity and Monastery of St Stephen. We took the left road and drove to the end to view the Great Meteoron before backtracking to view Varlaam.
Great Meteoron besides being the biggest is also the highest and the oldest of the six active monasteries of Meteora. Another “est” I would like to add to the list is, it has the long”est” name “Holy Monastery of Transfiguration of Jesus”.
This monastery was founded in 1340 by monk Athanasios, who brought with him 14 other monks.
We could see stairs leading up to the monastery and on the stairs I could see many tourists making the tough climb to the top. As we walked down the road, a delivery van drove by and parked right at the end of the road. A man came out from the van carrying a box. He jumped onto this “metal boxy open container” sat down and was joined by another man. The second man then “drove” this metal box over the cables that spanned across the cliff of the road to the Great Meteoron. Wow modern technology certainly help.
The Holy Monastery of Varlaam
Varlaam was the second largest monastery after the Great Meteoron. This monastery was founded in 1517 on the site of the old hermitage of the hermit Varlaam.
In the olden days access to the monastery was via a series of ropes, pulleys and basket. It was only in 19th century that steps were first carved into the rock to the monastery. 195 steps leading to the monastery that perched on top of a 373 metre cliff.
Today the old pulley system was motorised and was used to hoist up building materials for repair works in the monastery.
It was lucky that we did not have to ascend the monastery using its pulley systems or climb the 195 steps. We accessed it using a narrow bridge that ran from the main road to the compound of the monastery.
The entrance fee was €2 per person and with that three of us, my two friends and I were given clothes to cover our “female parts” that were considered “obvious” in our jeans. Tsk..tsk..tsk… and I thought my pink pullover was long enough to cover all the way to my thighs. I wondered if the same principle applied to men when they visited a nunnery.
In the monastery there was a museum displaying manuscripts and treasures with sparkling transparent stones, were they crystal or diamonds? I saw a monk in the museum and I tried to find out more unfortunately he did not speak much Engish.
After the museum we wondered out into other parts of the monastery, we walked into a room that kept a huge wooden barrel which I understood was the original water barrel and it could hold 12 tons of rain water.
Monastery of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity)
On our way to Monastery of St Stephen we stopped at small set-in on the right side of the road to view Monastery of Agia Triada. This monastery was founded in 1438 by a monk Dometios. It was considered the third oldest monastery in Meteora.
I found the sandstone pillar on which the monastery stood most unique and impressive as compared to the others. It looked like the stalk of a mushroom. Not only was the edge of the pillar vertical it sloped outward making it inaccessible. Nowadays visitors could go up the monastery via a tunnels and 130 steps of stone that were carved into the rock wall of the pillar.
Monastery of St Stephen
Finally we reached the last of the six active monasteries, Monastery of St. Stephen. It was located at the end of the road. This was another large and impressive monastery. A good place to view the monastery would be on an outcrop directly opposite the monastery. The outcrop could be accessed at another set-in on the right side of the road after Monastery of Holy Trinity.
Walking on the outcrop was not easy as the ground was slopey and uneven. The edges of the outcrop dropped vertically down deeply so it was not a suitable trek for the fainthearted. Luckily my husband and I were not afraid of height so we were able to navigate our way safely on the outcrop. We found a good place to sit down, lie back and relax.
The view was magnificent, it was not just about this monastery that perched so high up and so close to the sky. The whole picture included the hundred of tiny houses in the far distance, in Kalapaka village at the base of the mountain.
Dinner before sunset
We went back to Kastraki at about 5 pm for early dinner as we intended to be back at Meteora to view the sunset. We ate our dinner at Guesthouse Plakias because while booking our rooms at this guesthouse I had came across many good reviews regarding the breakfast served at its taverna, Gardenia.
This morning while we were standing in the taverna discussing with Nikos concerning the relocation of our rooms to another hotel, we had caught a wisp of delicious aroma coming from the kitchen. So even though we were unable to stay at the guesthouse and enjoyed its breakfast we were determined to eat our dinner there.
My husband and I ate moussaka and salad. It tasted fine but I must say that the best moussaka I had tasted was our first mousaka in a restaurant in Santorini.
After our meals we asked a staff of the restaurant as to where was the best location to see sunset in Meteora. The old gentleman told us to view sunset from the town at some particular location. Just then Nikos came in to say “hello” and told us a totally different place to catch the best sunset. Go back to Meteora and watch the sunset from a high ground was his recommendation.
Sunset at Meteora
We found a good place to see sunset. Unfortunately many others also found the same place too. So on a small outcrop there were many of us, including a bride, a groom and their photographer.
The sunset view was incredible, so beautiful, so surreal. Standing on that small crop of land we could see layers and layers of mountain ranges in the background, in the mid-ground we saw the tall looming sandstone pillars and in the foreground four of the six monasteries.
We stood on the outcrop for close to one and a half hour. Though we had not move during this entire duration the scene before us kept changing. As the sun set the intensity and the angle of of sun rays varied, the mood of the landscape in front of us changed before our eyes. It was a mysterious Meteora, then it was a golden Meteora, a romantic Meteora, a melancholy Meteora, a ….
By the time we were done with sunset viewing and drove back into Kastraki it was about 8 pm. The village was very quiet and most of the shops were closed. We drove around the village central hunting for a grocery store to get some biscuits. We found one but the biscuits selections were very limited and we left without buying anything. Well that was the disadvantage of choosing Kastraki over Kalabaka.
We were back at Hotel Meteoritis by 9pm, and we were still the only four guests in this 34 rooms boutique hotel.
Our rooms were on the upper level and we had to walk through the staff-less reception counter, and the big dining room to get to the stairs to get to our rooms. Good thing that even though there were nobody at the hotel, the owner still left the place brightly lighted. I believed the hotel owner lived in another building just across the hotel so in a way he was within reach and we did not felt so isolated.