The Grand Canyon of Greece: Hiking to Cliff-top Monasteries in Meteora

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The best part of any good hike is the reward of an epic view.You sweat and trek your way to the top, and your hard work is repaid with a view that makes you realize just how small you are in a very big world.

My hike to the Holy Trinity Monastery in Meteora, Greece did just that. Nestled 1,300 feet up in the cliffs, this modest monastery is one of six that sit atop the natural sandstone pillars. As I ascended the last stone steps carved into the rock, I looked down at the doll-sized town of Kalambaka and felt my stomach drop. As much as I love the beauty of the world from up high, I don’t think I’ll ever kick the fear of tumbling to my death.

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My trip to Meteora was filled with moments like this: feelings of awe and reverence for the natural wonders around me mixed with twinges of fear as I pictured myself accidentally tripping over a pebble and falling thousands of feet. I think the original “hermit” monks would have appreciated these sentiments since they chose these daunting cliffs for their homes in the 9th century to not only keep the public out, but to require a great leap of faith from anyone who dared to join them in their solitude.

Originally, the monks lived in the hollows and fissures of these great rocks that could only be accessed by careful climbing, precarious ladders and pulley systems. According to the stories, the ropes were only replaced “when the Lord let them break.” Comforting.

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Today, all of the monasteries are accessible by car. Since I visited in the tourist off-season, I was lucky to enjoy the beautiful views from each monastery with relatively few people. Chanting monks were the perfect soundtrack for gazing at the beautiful cliffs and mountains in the distance, which had just received their first dusting of snow.

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Of the six monasteries, two are inhabited by nuns—though I only had the pleasure of meeting one monk who came to offer me homemade sweets. He was dressed as all the monks are: in black robes and a black hat with a long grey beard.

With the requisite skirt wrapped around my yoga pants, I walked inside one of the worship chambers at the Holy Trinity Monastery—my favorite one (and not just because it was where the final scenes from the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only” were filmed). The walls were covered with jewel-toned images of religious figures accented in gold. Ornately carved wooden chairs lined the room. I could picture the monks sitting in here, looking out the tiny windows to the natural wonders around them as they prayed together. It was the first time I felt like I could understand the life they had chosen here.

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Closer to sea level is another site worth seeing: the 11th century Virgin Mary church located at the beginning of the footpath to the Holy Trinity Monastery in the town of Kalambaka. The intricate wall murals covering every inch of the church merit a visit.

Kalambaka and the smaller village of Kastraki have a number of great restaurants and accommodations, but I would recommend ditching the larger hotel for traditional lodgings such as the (the Greeks’ translation of Bed and Breakfast). Enjoying a glass of wine and olives in your room next to a roaring fire is the perfect complement to a day of hiking and sightseeing in Meteora.

Category: Greece, Adventure, EUROPE, Featured, Travel

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