Meteora, Greece

Agios Stephanos, one of six monasteries of the Meteora in Greece. Photo Creative Commons License Alan Grant.

Spectacularly perched atop rocky pinnacles in Thessaly, the Meteora monasteries are among the most striking sights in Greece. The name Meteora (Μετεωρα) is Greek for "suspended in the air," which perfectly describes these six remarkable Greek Orthodox monasteries. The sandstone peaks were first inhabited by Byzantine hermits in the 11th century, who clambered up the rocks to be alone with God. The present monasteries were built in the 14th and 15th centuries during a time of instability and revival of the hermit ideal; the first was Great Meteoron (c.1340) and there were 24 monasteries by 1500. They flourished until the 17th century but only six survive today; four of these still host monastic communities.

The nearest major town is Kalambaka (from the Turkish word for "pinnacle"), at the base of the Meteora, which has accommodation for overnight visitors as well as some medieval churches. Neighboring Kastraki has some accommodation as well. Alternatively, a guided day tour from Athens is a popular and easy way to visit. To visit all six in one day without joining a tour, begin with Ayiou Nikolaou Anapavsa, Varlaam and Great Meteoron before 1pm, break for lunch while the monasteries are closed, then see Roussanou, Ayias Triadhos and Ayiou Stefanou in the afternoon. A strict dress code is enforced: all shoulders must be covered, men must wear long trousers and women must wear long skirts.

Varlaam Monastery
This popular Meteora monastery features a pleasant garden and a friendly monk who often chats with visitors there.
Agios Stefanos Monastery
This active nunnery in the Meteora contains an important relic: the head of St. Charalambos, whose powers include warding off illness.
Roussanou Monastery
An active nunnery in the Meteora with a pleasant courtyard, accessible by a new bridge.
Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery
This little 14th-century monastery of the Meteora is approached by a relatively gentle path. Inside it features splendid frescoes by famed Cretan painter Theophanes the Monk.
Great Meteoron Monastery
The most famous and important of the Meteora monasteries, Great Meteoron has a large church topped by a 12-sided dome and decorated with elaborate frescoes.
Agia Triada Monastery
Made famous by James Bond, this is perhaps the most dramatically positioned Meteora monastery. It is perched atop a slender pinnacle and accessible only by 140 steep steps.