Castles in the sky
Meteora - A 4 hours train ride from Athens, UNESCO world heritage site and home to the remaining 6 (out of 24) monasteries perched on top of rock pinnacles.
I squeezed in a day trip to Meteora after realising it was a real-life inspiration for 'The Eyrie' (A kingdom in Game of Thrones). Parts of Meteora Monasteries were used as the backdrop in Season 1 even though the cast and crew did not shoot on location.
The journey started from Athens Railway Station. It's a relatively long ride, so be prepared with water, snacks, entertainment and things you need to keep you going. For those who want proper coffee/breakfast, there is a cafe at the Railway to get your caffeine fix. The alternative would be to purchase from the dining trolley during the train journey. For the record, my mobile data refused to work (probably unable to get a signal as we were constantly moving) so good to bring a book with you.
The train makes several stops along the way. The destination is Kalampaka (Town under Meteora cliffs). Some train routes changes at Paleofarsalos Station, so make sure you are on the direct train. Book your train tickets via TrainOSE
Train Schedule (Direct) Athens - Kalampaka (Train 884) Kalampaka - Athens (Train 885)
$ €29 (Coach Class B)
I booked a tour to maximise my 5 hours in Meteora. After much research and comparing between various tour companies I decided to go with Meteora Tour (See their TripAdvisor reviews here). I made reservations via email.
Nikos, my driver and Fontini, my guide picked me up at Kalampaka train station. I ended up on a private tour. We dropped by a local gyros place for lunch. On our way to Meteora (about 10 minutes drive), Fontini explained the history of the place in the van and the places we would be visiting for that day.
I visited the Monastery of Great Meteoron and The Monastery of Varlaam, and stood on the cliff opposite The Monastery of St. Stephen where I was allowed to fly the drone around St. Stephen, but only for a short while, unfortunately. I have slowly come to realise that if you want to do a long drone flight, you HAVE to be by yourself so you can do whatever the heck you want for as long as you want (or until the battery lasts)
There are varying opening and closing hours for the monasteries - do check their schedule if there is a particular one you want to visit. Admission is €3 to each monastery. Only some parts are open to public. Most have an open terrace that opens up to stunning views of Meteora. There are steps to ascend but it is not difficult considering back in the days the monks climbed the mountains. Meteora is an astonishing geological phenomenon with breathtaking landscapes and must be seen through your own eyes to grasp its existence.
Do you know it took the monks in The Monastery of Varlaam a total of 22 years to bring all the building supplies to the summit using a pulley system?
Nikos knew all the photo spots and took many pictures for me, with me, and with Fontini. It was hilarious and I am glad to have their company. Despite limited time there, I enjoyed it very much and I think the tour really makes a difference if you are on a tight schedule. Hiking is possible for those who have more time to spare. If you want to catch the sunrise/sunset you will have to stay overnight. Accommodations are not expensive and Meteora Tour can arrange it for you.
I got back to the train station on time to depart for Athens. Funny how I was on the train longer than I was on the tour. At night it is all pitch dark and you can hardly see anything outside apart from your own reflection in the window. Time to catch up on sleep, or finish reading your book.
$ Tour: €25
All entrance tickets not included.
Top Left to Bottom - Open Terrace at Varlaam
Pulley Basket System used in the old days to lift/lower supplies and people to the monasteries.
View of Meteora Landscape
Read more about the history of Meteora here
In the next article, read about Naxos Island (the largest island of the Cyclades)
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