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Monday, October 13, 2014

GREECE: Hiking Highlights of Meteora Monastery


When you look at pictures of Metéora, you think adventure! Metéora itself, however, is quite serene. Nestled on six rock pillars high up in the sky, Metéora is one of the most influential monastic complexes in the Eastern Greek Orthodox religion. 

The monasteries themselves were established throughout the ages, with the first ones recognized somewhere within the 11th and 12th centuries. They were perched on the more-than-1,000-foot rock pillars purposefully for protection. Today, Metéora is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the surrounding area offers hikers and adventure-seekers a breathtaking workout and views from the “middle of the sky.”


Eastern Trail
The Eastern trail offers adventure-seekers a half-day hike that is lightly challenging. You don’t have to be a mountaineer to participate in this trek, but you should be in good walking shape. Grab a cab from the town square of the nearest Greek town to Metéora, Kalampaka, and learn that the true adventure here is the drive up to St. Stephen monastery! Can anyone say hairpin turns and unruly sheep? Don’t worry, the amusement park-like ride lasts only about 10 minutes before you’ll suddenly be on top of the world at the glorious St. Stephen monastery, overlooking the scenery below.

At this drop-off point, you will be standing on a cliff that juts more than 900 feet up into the sky… don’t look down! Be amazed at (and take some pictures of) St. Stephen’s monastery; it’s only known as the “world’s most precarious building” because of how it sets on the land. Then follow the Eastern trail to the Holy Trinity monastery, which has an additional claim to fame because it was featured in a James Bond movie.  

It will take you approximately 15 minutes to walk from St. Stephens to Holy Trinity, and you’ll get to ride a cable car part of the way: Well, okay, it’s a single-person cable car system that’s a tad old-fashioned, i.e., it runs via a cable wire and uses a pulley. Yikes!

Once you’ve recovered from your cable car ride, you’ll actually head downward a ways to Holy Trinity. Visit Holy Trinity if you have the chance, and then continue your trek through some of the most beautiful country Greece has to offer as you head through a valley back to your starting point. As you travel along, you will see some of the strangest, yet most breathtaking, rock formations in the valley. You will also be blown away by the engravings once carved into the cliff sides.


An hour and a half later, you will find yourself back in Kalampaka, but don’t stop there! If you need to take a rest, do so, and enjoy a meal or snack at one of the town’s wonderful eateries. Then, continue along the trail to visit Kalampaka’s Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, a Byzantine structure dating back 1,000 years. Mealtime excluded, the entire trek will take you approximately four hours, and it is mostly downhill, so this trail is bit more leisurely than the Western trail.

Western Trail
The more adventurous hiker who has an entire day to spend traversing the glorious cliffs of Metéora should wander along the Western trail. When following this trail, you’ll see four monasteries instead of only two, and you’ll begin your trek after a bus ride out of Kalampaka to the Holy Monastery of Great Metéoron, which is considered the most impressive piece of architecture of all the monasteries and is a popular pilgrimage site of the Orthodox believers.


As I’m sure you’ve figured out, the Great Metéoron monastery rests at the highest point of Metéora, and you’ll have an amazing view of the land below. After you’ve taken too many pictures, head down the winding trail to the next monastery on your list, St. Nicholas of Anapafsas. Take a rest and enjoy numerous other photo ops before you travel about a half-mile to the monastery of Varlaam. Wow! You’ve already visited three monasteries, and if you’re Greek Orthodox, this is an important religious journey alongside being an amazing hike.

Next, you’re going to navigate some sharp turns on the winding Western trail to the Roussanou, a monastery that now operates as a nunnery. Once you’re done visiting the nunnery, prepare yourself (perhaps by saying a prayer inside) for the most treacherous part of the Western trail. Not only will you be met with plenty of curves that you cannot see around, but you need to stay close to the mountain because the tour buses use this route as well. Once you’ve made it down the nearly two-mile road, you’ll be back to St. Nicholas of Anapafsas.


Now, if you’re saying, “A day hike, Theresa? That’s all you’ve got?” okay, fine, I’ll take you true adventure-seekers who are in athletic shape off the beaten path. Prior to St. Nicholas of Anapafsas, you can take a footpath south to Greece’s Kastraki village. Along the way, you’ll be met with plenty of additional rock formations and smaller monasteries, and you have the option of walking back the way you came to St. Nicholas when you are done visiting the village or continuing on to Kalampaka by foot. The round-trip will add another mile to your walk; Kalampaka is an additional 2.5 miles.

Phew! You’ve done some serious hiking, and it was worth every step. The wonderful thing about Metéora extends beyond the awe-inspiring beauty of the area itself and its surrounding land. 

The wonderful thing is that the hikes are not so strenuous that only those in the best of shape can participate. The Eastern trail is the easier of the two treks and offers a mostly downhill incline, so even if you aren’t an aerobics instructor, you can still enjoy the Metéora monasteries. So come on! Strap on those hiking boots and get ready to enjoy hiking Metéora.



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