Meteora, a rock formation in central Greece homes two towns (Kalambaka and Kastraki) and several historic monateries and nunneries that live on top of the rocks. We initially visited Meteora because Josh loves hiking and climbing, and was interested in seeing the rocks. What we didn’t expect was to fall in love with still-running nunneries, and to feel right at home in the little town of Kalambaka. In this post we’ll focus on the monasteries and nunneries, but know that the town itself is full of interesting people, and that you never really know what makes a place special until you talk to a local!
Some things to note about the monasteries: Each of them have one day a week that they are closed, so check beforehand. Each monastery costs about 3 Euros for admission, and that money goes towards the upkeep of the building. Shoulders and knees need to be covered, and female-identifying visitors need to wear a skirt (or a long scarf worn like a skirt!)
Holy Trinity Monastery: Holy Trinity was the first monastery we visited, as it was nearest to our accommodation and we were able to hike to it. The monastery itself does have a parking lot you can drive to if your party doesn’t want to hike, but as outdoorsy-people who had come to Meteora to hike, we chose that route.
Holy Trinity was built in 1475, and at the time we visited was being refurbished inside. When told this we expected to only be able to walk around the outside of the building, but instead we were able to walk through the main hallway, into the chapel, and see the refurbishments happening from outside. When on the stairs to get in (most monasteries and nunneries have quite a lot of stairs to climb before reaching the entrance), we saw a monk walking out and singing a beautiful song. As we hadn’t expected to see a monk at all, let alone one singing, this set the mood for the day and got us excited to see the monastery and learn more about the history around us.
St. Stephen’s Nunnery: St. Stephen’s Nunnery stands about a 15 minute walk from Holy Trinity. When we walked in we were surprised to see that they weren’t charging for entry. We later learned however that the nunnery was closing for about 1.5 hours, and that any entry within the time that we arrived would be short.
Although our time in the nunnery was short, we saw lots of beautiful paintings, architecture, and relics throughout the nunnery. Just outside of the chapel were multiple paintings depicting ways that Christians had been killed throughout history, whilst inside the chapel sat paintings of Saints all around the walls.
The best part about our visit to St. Stephen’s however, happened when we were about to leave. At the door sat a nun taking tickets and ensuring that all visitors had left before the nunnery shut. I stopped for a second to ask her if the chapel had a relic in it, as I had seen people kissing a case that looked like something important was held in it. She didn’t understand me, but stopped us to give us cards with St. Stephen on them. We thanked her, then as we left we hear a small “excuse me.” When we came back, she motioned for us to wait, then went through a door across from the ticket stand. When she came back she was holding three apples. One more me, one for Josh, and one for her! We thanked her, waved good-bye, and left the nunnery to sit outside and eat our apples. That continues to be one of my favourite memories of the trip, and that nun one of my favourite people to meet while travelling.
The Great Meteoran Holy Monastery: This monastery is the largest of all of them, and holds two museums within it. In one room held a variety of historical documents, and the other is said to hold skulls of previous residents. The room with the skulls was closed on the day we visited, but the room with the documents was very interesting. As a history nerd myself, I loved seeing the old paper and knowing what books and documents from the 15th century have been preserved.
Overall, this monastery is beautiful. However, it wasn’t our favourite. We happened to go on a weekend, so the monastery was crowded with tours, and the line of cars on the road was very long (this monastery only has a small parking lot, so take that into consideration when planning your trip!) We found that our experience there wasn’t as personal as at the other two, and overall it seemed too touristy. Now don’t get me wrong, I would still recommend visiting if you have time, but maybe try to visit on a week-day, to get a quieter, more personal experience.
St. Nicholas Monastery: We visited St. Nicholas right after the Grand Monastery, and let me tell you, it was a completely different experience. For starters, St. Nicholas is one of the smallest monasteries, and is built on top of 80 metres of rock. Which means stairs, lots of stairs. I thought St. Nicholas had one of the best chapels, however, as it was evident that the paint hadn’t been retouched for awhile, and I could see where they had tested certain colours to ensure that the re-touching process wouldn’t ruin the original paint. I told you, I’m a history nerd!
St. Nicholas had one monk in that day, and was overall a nice, peaceful experience. From the roof you can see ruins of another monastery, including an old vase! While we didn’t stay very long at St. Nicholas, we loved the atmosphere there and were very happy to have visited.
Monastery of Rousanou: Rousanou was the final nunnery we visited. As we were leaving Meteora that day, we got to Rousanou for opening, which also gave us the wonderful experience of seeing the chapel lights being turned on. Rousanou is a beautiful nunnery, and the nuns there were so sweet. I did learn that it had the most conservative dress code (the nun that gave us our tickets re-did my my skirt cover to ensure that it was perfect.)
One of the best parts of Rousanou was that it sold hand-made magnets, and Meteora wine! When we explored the other monasteries we noticed vineyards near the bottom of a couple of the monasteries. When we asked, the nun said that the wine was from Meteora, so we bought a bottle and saved it for Christmas! We also bought some beautiful magnets, and got to experience a quiet, beautiful nunnery as our last stop in Meteora.
Overall, I would completely recommend visiting as many monasteries as you can in Meteora. Each monastery had its own charm, and by visiting each of them we were able to learn more about the history of Meteora and its surroundings. Besides the ones that we visited, there is also Varlaam, which is located across from the Grand Monastery, and is also a larger building. Finally there is a monastery that is only accessible by hiking. There isn’t a lot of information online about this monastery, so if you want to visit one of the monasteries that aren’t very popular, I would recommend asking the Meteora tourism office, as they have lots of maps and are very happy to answer any questions.