We arrived into Kalampaka at about 8:30pm. Google maps told us it was about a half hour walk to our hotel, so we thought we might just get one of the multiple taxis waiting out the front of the train station. Then remembered we didn’t have time to get more cash in the rush from the sports bar to our train.
So walk it was.
Three minutes down the road, and I remembered I had a spare €20 in my bag. That would be enough for a taxi! Turn around and head back to the train station. Taxis are all gone.
So walk it was.
We discovered late that the main street, with at least three ATMs on it, was only a street or two back from the train station. Fortunately it was a little cooler than Athens, so was pleasant to walk in, despite the fact it was a slight uphill the whole way. The village we were staying in, Kastraki, was about ten minutes walk outside Kalampaka, and even quieter than Kalampaka has been. We found our hotel without too much trouble, and thanks to some faint up lighting, could make out the enormous shapes of the meteora rocks looming over the village. We had dinner at the restaurant next door which, like the rest of Greece, was littered with cats (and one or two dogs).
The next morning we awoke and looked out from our balcony directly onto a spectacular view of the meteora, with the village winding its way up into the foothills at the base of the huge rocks.
The first order of the day was to book a hiking tour for the following day in the village centre, after which we would take a walk up to one of the monasteries. As it turned out the visitor centre was closed temporarily, so we called the number on the door to book our tour. Then we continued up through the village to the highway that lead out of town and up into the mountains.
We were tossing up whether to follow the road the while way up, or take a hiking tail which took a ‘short cut’ up between two of the meteora rocks. As it turned out, when we got to the base of the hiking trail, another hiker was just coming up and recommended a different path, as he said the one we were looking at had become virtually impassible thanks to some fallen trees and rocks. So we took his advice and followed the alternative path (which we originally dismissed because on the map it didn’t appear to go all the way up to the monastery).
The path was in good condition and easy to walk, aside from its steepness. Constant steps up, up, up. And thanks to the rain foresty vegetation, it was hot and humid. For the first time on our trip, I could feel sweat running down my back. It felt like forever, but really it probably only took half an hour at most to get up to the top. Fortunately, being in a canyon formed by the meteora rocks on either side, it caught the wind beautifully and it didn’t take too long to cool down. Then it was up the steps up the side of the rock to get to the monastery entrance.
We visited the biggest of the meteora’s monasteries – spectacular retreats positioned on the tops of the towering meteora. It cost just a few euro to get in, and I was able to use my sarong as a skirt as required for women (men have to wear long trousers).
The monastery contained a few museum rooms dedicated to the Greek Orthodox history and, I thought, was pretty unashamedly one-eyed when it came to Greek and Greek Orthodox history. That said, it did have some interesting relics, religious paraphernalia and art, not least of all an ossuary filled with the skulls of the monastery’s monks. It also had fantastic views towards some of the other cliff-top monasteries.
We took the road back down, which actually took substantially longer than the walk up (although I suspect that had a bit to do with how often we stopped to take photos).
The next morning we were picked up first thing after breakfast by our hike leader, who drive us up to the base of our walk. It was kind of a hybrid between hiking, rock scrambling, via ferrata and a little abseiling thrown in. Harnessed and roped together, we made our way up gravely rock faces, along foot paths and steps carved into the side of the rock, up crevices between the meteora, until we reached our end point – a cross planted at the meeting point between two meteora, hundreds of feet above Kalampaka.
It was slow going as we could only move one at a time, but this gave us ample opportunity to take photos. We started early enough, though, that we got back to Kalampaka at about 12.
We decided the day before that it would probably be a good idea to hire a car so we could explore further along the meteora and not have to rely on the irregular bus service. It also had the benefit of not having to walk for half an hour if we wanted to go in to Kalampaka. Advice for anyone visiting Meteora: if you do not have a car, stay in Kalampaka. It’s much bigger so has a lot more restaurants, shops, and facilities (eg. Post office, bank, ATMs etc). That said, even in Kalampaka a car is handy for exploring a wider area of the meteora.
We had the car delivered from the nearby town of Trikala, as the local car hire had run out (he was meant to have one returned that morning, but it hadn’t turned up yet). This worked for us, as we had to catch a bus from Trikala after returning the car anyway.
The next day we checked out, then took a drive up to the meteora again and drove along the cliffs, stopping at look outs near the various monasteries. Then after lunch, we took the long route back to Trikala, through the mountains, as recommended by the guy in the tourism office where we picked up the car. In hindsight, driving on mountain roads on only our second day of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road was not a good idea. Anyway, there were some nice views, and we got to Trikala and successfully found where to return the car, ready for our over night bus.