Meteora – arguably Greece’s best UNESCO site

Reason enough why you should give the mainland a solid shot

You’ve likely seen it from the skies on one viral drone video or another, but actually seeing these ancient monasteries perched on their precarious monoliths is something else.

Widely believed to be one of the largest and most impressively constructed collections of Eastern Orthodox monasteries, the six buildings sit aloft huge natural pillars that rise from the ground and tower above the surrounding scenery. The site is in a bit of a twilight zone, over four hours from Athens and slightly closer to Thessaloniki, but the trek to get there is worth it in every sense of the word. We hired a car and got 1100 kilometres on a tank of gas, which only added to the mystique of the impressive site.

DO:

Well, obviously the monasteries:

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It’s kind of the whole reason you’re here isn’t it? There are six monasteries in total that can still be visited, and you can easily pick up a map from the town of Kalambaka which sits at the foot of the monoliths. Drive yourself up to the top and either cruise along between the lot of them, or park up and go for a wander. There’s only a couple of kilometres between each one, and there are endless spots to stop for photo opportunities.

Each monastery costs 3 euro to enter, and they’ll provide a skirt for you to wear over your daring skin-tight workout pants as you enter. The Grand Monastery is the biggest of the lot, and an impressive complex with incredible views over the surrounding landscape, but if we’re being honest – once you’ve seen one, you’re pretty much seen them all. We wouldn’t recommend stressing about getting around every single one, the best views are from the outsides of them anyway.

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Crowds gathering for sunset

The best tip we can offer though, is to stick around for sunset. Find yourself a nice big piece of rock to chill out on with a beer (a Virgina, if you will) with the hundreds of others with the same idea. What would elsewhere be the stuff of nightmares – hundreds of others jostling with the selfie sticks and iPads and plastic bottles of wine for a glimpse of the most serene views in all of Greece – it’s actually quite a peaceful and convivial experience.

 

GET THERE:

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There are invariably buses that will get you to Meteora from Athens, but they’re relatively expensive (at about 25 euro one way) and it will take you over five hours just to get to Kalambaka.

From there, you’ll have to sort your own way of getting up the hill to the monasteries (about 7 kilometres or so before you start seeing any action).

This basically means you’re shit out of luck if you don’t head up there via taxi, or if you have exceptionally strong calves that can haul you up the steep road in no time flat.

But if, like us, you literally have 24 hours between when you fly in to Athens and when you catch your next flight to the Greek Islands, we’d strongly suggest hiring a car.

We used Kayak, and managed to score ourselves the most economical car ever made (Ford Estate class of car, which turned out to be a Fiat station wagon), which cost us all of 58 euro for 6/8s of a tank of gas, which got us 1100 kilometres.

Beware of tolls though, and account for about 20 euro each way.

EAT:

There’s plenty of little tavernas where you’ll either inevtiably fall victim of a tourist trap, or sample some good quality local fare, but we opted not to take the risk and head for the Holy Grail of Greek fast food: the humble gyro. While we didn’t take note of the name of the place, there’s a nondescript fast food joint right beside Kalambaka’s main roundabout that sells a bloody decent 2 euro variant. Stuffed full of tzatziki, well-seasoned pork, tomatoes and onion, you’ll be left wondering why the hell the kebab shops on the way home after a big night out haven’t adopted this into their repertoire. And why the hell you pay $9 for one.

Otherwise, there’s plenty of places in Kalambaka to pick up some bits and pieces for while you’re out and about. Lidl is always a cheap favourite, as are the mecca of ice cream and gelato joints that happily feed the overheated masses.

STAY:

Aelos Hotel, Delphi: This is going to help approximately no one, because who else would travel three hours from sunset at Meteora to get to accommodation in Delphi where they can afford to spend only one hour at 6am looking around – before any sites are even open.

Regardless, if anyone is headed to Delphi after their trip to Meteora, or doesn’t mind a thirty minute detour (which actually also helps you to bypass plenty of tolls), this hotel is really lovely. Run by a family, the multi-storeyed building sits perched precariously on the side of a rather steep hill, which might translate into “worrisome” to many, but meant “excellent views” to us. The lodgings are fairly standard, complete with hard-as-a-rock bed the Greeks seem to be so fond of, but waking up with the sun, as it spills over into the valley is something special.

BUDGET:

Car hire: 30 euro

Tolls: 22 euro (including an extra 2 euro charge when you invariably miss your exit)

Accommodation: 30-40 euro for an average-above par booking.com hotel on the way back to Athens

Petrol: 58 euro for not quite a full tank

Food: 2 euro for a gyro, 2.50 euro for Lidl snacks, 1.50 for some much-needed icecream

Total: 146-156 euro.

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