I’m sure the drive from Ioánnina to Metéora is very scenic but we weren’t able to see much of it as it was a pea souper for most of the way. We were mightily pleased we took the E90 motorway to get us two thirds of the way there as the original road would have been a twisty, windy up and down nightmare in the fog. Numerous lengthy tunnels along the motorway confirmed we’d made the right decision and we were more than happy to pay the €6 toll. The tolls in Greece are easy as it’s a human at a toll booth. It would have cost us way more than that in extra diesel and stress taking the other road. Fortunately by the time we’d come off the motorway to drive the last fifty kilometres or so the fog was coming and going in patches and there were plenty of places we could pull over to let the convoy of cars behind us get past.
Metéora features in the top ten sights to see in Greece attracting thousands of visitors a year. I’d read about it from several other blogs and was hoping it would live up to my expectations. Despite the poor weather and not being able to see them clearly the humungous sandstone rock formations towering above the towns of Kalambaka and Kastraki are quite imposing. Driving through the two towns we wound our way up and up the road through the towers to a viewpoint five kilometres above the town. Arriving at our destination we sat looking at the greyness waiting for the weather to clear. We’d had a glimpse here and there on the way up of what was to come but the fog/mist was still persistently hanging there obscuring our view.
The natural sandstone towers of Metéora, meaning ‘suspended rocks’, are pretty amazing just as they are but twinned with the monasteries perched right on top they are a wonder. Hermits saught refuge in the rocks towards the end of the first millennium building small chapels for prayer. However, the monk, Athanásios, from Mount Athos founded the first and largest monastery, Magálo Metéoro, on one of the pinnacles in the late 14th Century. Another twenty three monasteries followed but just six are in operation now with others either uninhabited or deserted.
Sitting with a cup of tea looking out at the cars and coaches coming and going I felt very grateful that we had the time to sit out the weather and we hadn’t just got a short window of opportunity to see what we had come to see. If that had been the case we would have had to leave very disappointed. After a couple of hours of waiting there was a short interlude in the fog where I was able to jump out and grab a few photos and stand in awe of what was before me.
It isn’t really known how the first hermits actually got to the top of the vertical rock faces but it is thought they hammered pegs into gaps in the rock and hauled their building materials to the top. Other theories claim kites were flown over the tops carrying strings attached to thicker ropes which were made into the first rope ladders. No mention is made of how many would have lost their lives in the building of the monasteries. I suspect it was many but the H & S police wouldn’t have been invented then.
It wasn’t until as late as the 1920’s that stone steps were hewn into the rocks to make them more accessible. They also now have a cable car going back and forth presumably as an easier way to get supplies across but there are pictures of monks travelling in them too. Prior to that everything and everyone was winched up and down by hand in a rope basket. Apparently the ropes were only replaced when they broke. Mmm, a comforting thought.
We had hoped to stay a couple of nights at the campsite at Kalambaka, which is open all year, to do some washing and make use of the wifi but a sign on the gate said it was closed for repairs so we stayed in a quiet layby not far from Vaarlam Monastery. Nobody bothered us and the police must have passed us as when we drove up to the viewpoint in the morning they were taking someone to task for using a drone for some filming. There was a lot of form filling going on so it’s obviously a no no.
You can just see ‘Ollie’ sitting in his viewpoint carpark below Vaárlam and Magálo Metéoro monasteries.
The six monasteries that are still operational are €3 each to enter so not expensive but there is some stair climbing involved to get to them. I arrived at Vaarlam at 9.00 am when it opened and practically had the whole place to myself for forty five minutes. Photos aren’t allowed inside so outside pictures only I’m afraid. Skirts have to be worn by women but they conveniently provide very fetching stretchy wrap around floral curtains for the purpose. It was the first time I’d worn a skirt in probably twenty years. Nope, no photo.
After visiting Vaárlam I took a walk along the road which traverses the hillside giving epic views over the rocks and monasteries below. Most people were driving and stopping at each viewpoint to take a photo but walking was by far the best way to take it all in. Tim is currently on sick leave with another injury so he was back at the van putting his feet up! I walked as far as Stéfános monastery but it was closed for lunch so I backtracked and had a look at Agia Triáda (Holy Trinity) which was very quiet.
That might have been something to do with the one hundred and thirty steps to get up to it. (I didn’t count them, I took that from Wikipedia)! Agia Triáda featured in the 1981 James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’.
An hours walk on a footpath leading down the hill from Agia Triáda took me across country through the rocks and brought me out to the road below Rousánou monastery.
The following day I took off on my own again with the intention of visiting Magálo Metéoro monastery followed by another walk but when a tour bus overtook me just as I reached the top of the hill I decided to give it a miss and just do the walk. Maps.Me came to my aid again showing me an unmarked footpath leading to what I thought would be a ruin but was in fact the restored Ypapanti monastery, which is currently uninhabited, suspended halfway up a rockface.
What a treat that was. I’d never have found it without my trusty Maps.Me app. I had the most fabulous three hour walk through woods and open countryside passing another two churches.
Metéora then met our expectations and we thoroughly enjoyed our few days there. Tim expects to be back to fighting fitness again in the next week but I think he is secretly enjoying his respite from me whilst I go out on my own!