Meteora

Meteora means “suspended rocks” (or something along those lines) in Greek. The term works, but it doesn’t quite describe the oddity of the landscape. It’s as if someone cored bits of the moon and replanted them in rural Greece. Then sometime around the 1500s, the Greek Orthodox Church decided it was an ideal location for twenty six monasteries, not to mention numerous caves for hermitages halfway up the rock pillars. Presently there are only six remaining monasteries (two of which are nunneries) and the last hermit left in the early twentieth century.

The monasteries themselves are atop of these cored moon bits and getting to them is an uphill, winding process involving lots of steps and switchbacks. On our first day, we found a guide in the manner of a local stray dog who enthusiastically bounded ahead of us on a leaf-covered, largely unused path (it appears most people drive to these sights). This same dog reappeared throughout our time in Kastraki, the village at the base of the Meteora where our guesthouse was. (If it was feasible, I would probably come home with a menagerie of the friendly stray cats and dogs we have encountered.)

A few of the monasteries have little museums, all of them have museum shops and charge 2 euro for the pleasure of viewing whatever they have to offer, which is sometimes little more than the view and a chapel.

My favorite was the Moni Agias Varvaras, a nunnery of the four we visited. It was the most peaceful and homey of the four, I could genuinely appreciate the appeal of living there. The view was magnificent, even through the mists, and the chapel was well cared for and infused with that sense of spirituality that is sometimes palatable in places of devotion, even to the visitor.

The village of Kastraki itself… well, it clearly illustrated that this is the “off season.” We stayed in a lovely guesthouse with a kitchen and a great view of the Meteora from our room. It was not the sort of place that would be in our budget in season – we even had a fireplace. But finding groceries in a largely closed down village on a weekend proved difficult. When we ate out, it was usually just us in a large empty restaurant. Greece is a ghost town in the off season, but I would hate to deal with the crowds that I imagine exist in the summer. Sharing the sites with half a dozen (or less!) other people is much more preferable.

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