The lesser known site, Meteora
Meteora. I had heard that it was a must see place (through my obsessive research), but that it was more known and mainly visited by the Greeks. Meteora is located in central Greece and is known for the towering, oddly-shaped cliffs with monasteries built in and on top of some of them. To me, it seemed like it somewhat looked like photo’s I have seen of Sri Lanka. Our experience was amazing, it should definitely be on everyone’s list to see while in Greece.
Meteora, Home of The Eyrie
Those of you who are GoT mega fans might recognize this place as the backdrop for the aerial kingdom of Eyrie. They never actually filmed the show in Meteora but the filming crew took some shots there to digitally insert as the backdrop of Eyrie. However, in the show, they added additional pillars and such to change the look. This was due to difficulty receiving rights to film there as Meteora is a UNESCO site and they wanted to protect the surrounding environment.
Welcome to Kastraki – closest village to Meteora
We were staying in the small village of Kastraki at the base of Meteora and it couldn’t be more amazing. After a 4-hour train ride through the mountains of Central Greece, we arrived late in the evening to our hotel (found on hostelworld.com) Tsikeli Hotel. It is a family run hotel, and we found it to be absolutely perfect. Standing in the front, or from some rooms, you have views of the Meteora pillars. When you step out the front of the hotel, you are looking directly up at the cliffs, ahhh magicaaaal.
Again, as we were travelling in off season, it was pretty quiet. We walked down the street and had a restaurant, called Protatos, call out to us. It had absolutely no customers but a very pretty patio for us to eat on. Iliad was a server at the restaurant which was owned by his friend. He was extremely friendly and talked with us about the village of Kastraki and the Greeks. The menu as very affordable. Especially the wine!
Time to explore – Meteora Style
In the morning, we had breakfast provided by the hotel. Breakfast was about 5 Euro with lots of food, coffee/tea and juice to fill you up for a day of exploring Meteora. There are lots of tours that you can get from the hotel and I had heard that the hotel will help you arrange for them. Unfortunately, we didn’t plan ahead and were left to walk up the long, long roads leading to Meteora. Walking in Kastraki was probably one of my favourite parts. The air smells so crisp and fresh with the smell of fire from fireplaces. You could hear birds chirping from the hotel window and during the walk around town. It was a big change from being in busy Athens, where you smell exhaust and hear the constant sound of cars and people.
Monasteries or Disney Castles?
The first Monastery at the base of Meteora is called The Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Anapafsas. This monastery was founded in the 14th century. This was the only one we walked to because, holy crap, it was long enough (after having to walk up to the top of the Monastery). Anyway, you can walk up to the top where the monastery is sitting. We were sweaty, out of breath, messes but it was so worth it. As it is an active monastery, women have to wear long skirts. Pants, leggings, shorts or short skirts are not permitted. They do, however, provide skirt wraps for women to wear which can be found right in the front doors.
The experience inside
These monasteries are active with Monks practicing so it is important to be respectful (which you should be anyway). Walking through the monastery is absolutely breathtaking, especially the views up at the top near the bell. There are so many little intricate paintings covering the walls and ceiling, more specifically in the prayer room. Photos and videos are not permitted in this part of the monastery. Getting into the Monasteries does cost money, it was about 3,60 euro each for this specific monastery.
From there we decided against walking up the whole way carrying the camera equipment (we will say that was the reason….). You can catch a bus from the main square for 1,60 euro to the very top. With this, you miss a couple of other monasteries on the way up. It takes you to Grand Meteoron and Varlaam at the very top. To save our cash, we opted to get some video and photos around the monasteries instead of going in which we enjoyed just as much.
It’s a tough go for animal lovers
Unfortunately, one thing I had noticed about Kastraki were all of the stray cats and dogs. There are strays all over Greece, however, this was a stray dog every street you walked down. I am a huge animal lover, so this hurt my heart a bit to see puppies and dogs in such rough shape. At one period, there was a dog sleeping under the awning of a church that was closed to keep him from the rain. One person walked up to pray but clapped and yelled at the dog to leave. The poor guy just wanted to stay dry!
The sites of Meteora are amazing. I wish we had more than one day to experience it and venture into every single monastery…. and save all the dogs.