Woodland Walk to a Meteora Monastery in the Sky

Meteora’s Magnificent Monasteries 

For several hours we’d been winding our way up through ancient woodland when we broached the top of a hill and the largest and oldest of Meteora’s monasteries – The Great Meteoron – came into view.
Perched on the top of its sandstone pillar it appeared to float in the sky against a backdrop of snow capped mountains.

meteora monastery against a snow capped mountain landscape

You only have to have seen an image of any one of the monasteries at Meteora in northern central Greece, either perched atop a sandstone pillar

Varlaam Monastery Greece

Varlaam Monastery

or clinging to the side of a precipice…

Cliff hanging monastery in Meteora

The Monastery of Ypapanti

…to be captivated by both the magical landscape and the mystical stories of the monasteries’ creation 700 years ago, when monks hauled building materials up via pulley net systems to build these remarkable religious refuges on top of and in the sides of these unique landforms.

Hiking Meteora

Pictorial map showing the hike to Great Meteora

The 8km woodland walk up to a Meteora Monastery

While you can of course drive the circuit that circumnavigates the 6 remaining monasteries that are open to the public (there were 24 originally built in the region), I liked the feeling of making my first approach on foot, giving myself the opportunity to immerse myself in the landscape and experience a sense of connection with those who had walked this way before – a mini pilgrimage of sorts!

The sandstone pillars form a labyrinth of paths in between their bases, so I joined a comfortable 8km walking/hiking tour run by the local Visit Meteora office, whose guide led us through the beautiful wooded landscape along a maze of zigzagging paths otherwise only used by shepherds and their dogs.

Autumn colours in Meteora

A bus picked us up before 9 taking us out to the other side of the neighbouring village of Kastraki, where we were dropped off beneath a canopy of trees showing their first signs of autumn.

Pictorial map showing the hike at Meteora

We had barely begun when Lazarus pointed up to a cave in the dome shaped rock above us where the remains of a hermit’s dwelling could be seen – While telling us a fabled tale of its early day occupant (left photo above) I squirmed at the thought of the rock climbing skills required to gain access!

Rounding a few more bends, our path wound around and below another hermit cave, this time ‘boarded’ up with sticks and logs (centre photo), before being lead between Meteora’s characteristic tall steep sided sandstone pillars.

The ground was bursting with toadstools and edible mushrooms, which our guide promptly picked for dinner.

Toadstools and mushrooms found in the woodland below Meteora

Toadstools are left standing, while the edible mushrooms are gathered for dinner


One of the greatest joys of approaching the more well known monasteries on foot is the hidden gems you find along the way that are only viewable by taking this less travelled walking track – ie they’re tucked away off the main tourist route.

Our first sight of the Monastery of Ypapanti was from below –
Looking up the sheer cliff face we could see the struts supporting the hermitage’s overhang out from the ledge it was perched on (top left photo below).

Monastery of Ypapanti

The Monastery of Ypapanti

The path then meandered up and around to reach a plateau, which gave us a wonderful eye-level view directly across the chasm below to the hermitage on the opposite cliff face.
What a sight!

Despite our steady ascent the walking tracks we followed all rose remarkably gently taking us through sections of barren rocky outcrops…

Sandstone landforms at Meteora Greece

…that contrasted with the soft leafy woodland, which was a biophilac’s delight!

Gnarled old trees covered in mosses and ivy beside babbling streams…

Ancient woodland on the way to Meteora

The ancient woodland was a biophiliac’s dream


…with splashes of pink cyclamen and lilac crocuses – the source of saffron – popping out from the leafy forest floor.

Pictorial story map Meteora

Cyclamen and crocuses popped up on the woodland’s leafy floor

The Great Meteoron

Great Meteoron Greece

When the final ascent brought us out over the top brow of a hill to reveal below the largest and oldest monastery in the region – The Great Meteron – I felt quietly awe struck.

Steps up to Great Meteoron

It was not until the 1920’s that stairs were added to the monasteries to allow easier access – So rather than have to winch ourselves up in a net, we went down to a small bridge that precariously crossed the chasm across to its isolated sandstone pillar and clambered up the steps that clung to the cliff face, having gained access through a tunnel hewn out of the rock – (You can see the tunnel entrance in the bottom right of the above photo.)   

Skulls, candles and decoration inside the Meteora Monastery

We now joined the masses who had arrived by car and coach –
You can understand why the monks are not open 7 days a week! (The monasteries operate on a rotating schedule to ensure they’re not all closed on the same day, yet giving the monks solitary time to fulfil their life’s work) 

Inside was a glimpse into the monks’ sacred world.
The simple fundamentals required to nourish the body with the original ancient kitchen left as it must have been for 100’s of years prior for providing sustenance to the religious occupants; there was exquisite ornate decoration expected in a place of contemplation and worship, candles, and a remarkable room of homage to the monastery’s forebears – a room of skulls.


Meteora is situated in northern central Greece – about 360 km (225 miles) north west of Athens.

Map of Greece showing location Meteora

The unique landscape rises above the small township of Kalampaka (pop 22,000)…

Approaching Kalampaka Meteora

where even the chimney pots atop of the houses in the main street are in the shape of a monastery.

Kalampaka houses with monastery chimney pots

Meteora is an UNESCO site that is listed under 5 of a possible 6 Cultural Criteria, the first of which is that it “represents a masterpiece of human creative genius and cultural significance”.

To appreciate the essence of the region I loved this leisurely walk through the sandstone pillars up to Meteora’s Monasteries in the sky, while seeing hidden hermit caves and hermitages along the way. This hiking tour was with Visit Meteora and cost 35 Euro per person or 60 Euros for a couple –

We were out for 4 or 5 hours, which included time in the Great Meteoron Monastery (3 Euro entry), followed by a gentle walk back down along a stone paved path through the woods to be picked up by the bus, beneath the adjacent Varlaam Monastery.

Have you seen photos of Meteora and been entranced?
(and thought like me – I have to go!)

Or more exciting – have you already been?

Do share your experience, or hopes and dreams in the comments below 🙂

37 thoughts on “Woodland Walk to a Meteora Monastery in the Sky

    • Approaching on foot is slow travel at its best –
      Particularly when the destination – a monastery atop a sandstone pillar – is part of the landscape 🙂

  1. What an amazing place. I’d love to do the walk. Your post today had all the elements of a quest wrapped into a fable. It should be part of a book 🙂 I loved the photo of you at the Monastery of Ypapanti – you looked beautiful and the perspective was incredible.

    • Clinging precariously to cliff faces and sitting atop sandstone pillars these monasteries do feel quite fairy tale like (thinking of Rapunzel here) and as you say – seeking it out on foot – did have the essence of a quest!
      Just my kind of adventure 🙂

  2. It’s amazing the way these monasteries are built into the cliffs. I think your choice to discover the Mereora monasteries on foot was a good one. It certainly looks a bit like a fairy tale in the photos.

    • They do have quite a mystical feel –
      And the next day there was a low mist hanging over them making them appear to be hanging up there in the sky and then magically fading away into nothing 😀

  3. I didn’t get any fall colors when I was there last year, but I loved all the hikes I did in the area, stunning. I loved your picture best with you by the cross – priceless

    • Such a magical outlook from that cliff edge across the chasm to the Monastery of Ypapanti –
      So amazing how they built it and accessed it for so many hundreds of years before adding the stairs in the 1920’s 😀

    • Pleased you love my little story maps Toni –
      I’d like to inspire more people to give that type of recording memories a go – They’re so expressive and can contain so many nuances of a trip that often get left out when using only words 😀

    • It is a remarkable region – certainly not something you see any day of the week! LOL
      And there was something really lovely about approaching the monastery on foot – more time to get enveloped and in tune with this rather special landscape 😀

  4. I’m very envious – I’ve never managed to get to Meteora but the more I read about it the more I want to go. And I love the idea of your guide picking locally growing mushrooms for dinner!

    • It was great having a guide who really appreciated and understood the environment so closely that he could show and share its fruits with a personal first hand knowledge 😀
      The combination of mystical monasteries and such a magical landscape are a winner!

  5. I visited the Meteora site a few years ago, we caught the local bus up and walked back down! I must say your woodland walk up sounds tremendous, even though I was thrilled by our venture downhill! I overcame some vertigo to cross those bridges to the moan asterisk! Love your pictures and photos , brings back lots of good memories of the treasures within these monasteries and the outlook from them!

    • Your way of doing it sounds great too!
      I do feel walking through a landscape gives oneself a far greater sense of place and connection with it than just watching it whiz by through a vehicle window ~
      Yes – the contents of those monasteries were stunning too – I loved the intricate silver work… which is worthy of a post of its own 😉

  6. How has this been on my page and I have just opened it! Guess it was like a belated Christmas present to me!! Loved this post as we so many times – especially during our fall stay at the Stone House on the Hill in Greece – talked about visiting and didn’t quite get to it. We definitely will soon! And as always, those ‘jottings’ of yours are spectacular! Happy New Year~ Happy Travels.

    • How exciting to have now owned the Stone Home on the Hill for a year, and harvested your first olive crop!
      If you do make it to Meteora I can recommend the walk up through the woods – its easy going yet so rewarding ~
      All the very best for the New Year too, Jackie and Joel 🙂

    • That is just how I felt when I first saw an image of Meteora and vowed I had to get there to see the place with my own eyes –
      It didn’t disappoint! 😉

  7. We are in Meteora right now and I was looking for some info on the walk to Ypapanti that we are planning with our kids tomorrow. I found your post very inspiring and useful. Thansk so much. Looking forward to our walk. All the best from Greece!

    • So pleased you found the post inspiring and useful –
      I certainly loved this walk – And would happily do it again!
      I do hope you and your family enjoy it as much as I did 😉

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